Maggie Roberts: Glimmer Breach
4 May - 24 June, 2018
Review by Lauren Velvick
Maggie Roberts’ current exhibition, Glimmer Breach, on show at IMT Gallery, constitutes part of an ongoing area of research for the artist that ostensibly began at Res., with Alembic II: Chrominance, a two person show with Ayesha Tan Jones. Roberts is tapping into the current zeitgeist around post-human or extra-human forms of intelligence via specific texts, fauna and digital tools. Whilst there are many artists working with and around these now, along with Roberts, it is her method of ‘fictioning’ and the open-ended, discursive nature of her work that elevates this exhibition. If we are to think about embodiment and technology, their limits, and where the two meet, it is important to create space for an individual experience, as well as communicating a vision of the collective. By eschewing didacticism Roberts is able to make this maneuver effectively, and this exhibition is best approached as a point of pause within a continuum.
This is emphasised by the programme of accompanying events that Roberts has designed, including workshops and symposiums that take some of the themes evident in the exhibition and push them beyond what the work itself is capable of. When I visited on Saturday 19th May, a three-hour long workshop titled Swamp Living was underway in the gallery, devised by Kirsten Cooke, Chris Hind, Stephanie Moran, Joseph Walsh and Roberts. Whilst I’ve experienced many an artwork that seeks to disorient the viewer, the physical and durational nature of Swamp Living communicated this much more effectively than the work alone would have by actively decentering the visual and the hierarchy of upper body to lower. On the back of a flurry of best-sellers and think-pieces in the mainstream media that draw on discredited misogynistic tropes to court the disappointed and disillusioned with supposed rationality, it felt especially pertinent to explore and imagine what it might feel like to be part of a swampy consciousness at this point in time.
The workshop involved writhing on the gallery floor, group reading and oil-pastel drawing, then later in the exhibition’s run, on June 8th, a symposium called Shaping the Message, happens at Goldsmiths, which will presumably take a more traditional form. These events are part of the wider research project that Roberts is engaged with, of ‘co creating alternative futures and the decolonisation of thought, whether human or artificial’ apparently aiming with all sincerity to reroute humanity’s current trajectory instead of conducting a temporary experiment that ends at the gallery door. However, having illustrated the ways in which Glimmer Breach reaches beyond the gallery and constitutes more than the collages, objects and films that make up the exhibition, it is also necessary to recognise how this work reflects Roberts’ inspirations and, in some cases, forms the outcomes of experiments that may go on to be developed further.
For me, the most successful works in this exhibition were a set of paper collages and laser-cut stencils that are interspersed with digitally produced collages, films and one floor-based work. IMT Gallery is split between two spaces, one larger and more brightly lit at the front and then a smaller space at the back that enables different forms of display and engagement. The differences in lighting between the two spaces are pertinent due to Roberts use of metallic and iridescent pigments on the works-on-paper, with titles like Toxic Lake 5.0 and Emanations of a Cosmic Octopus. The shimmering effect of these materials is subtle here, not producing a glossy or illusory surface, but instead reminding us simply and directly of how our vision or lack thereof is dependent on outside factors, and on our bodies ability to process them.
The two films, Cat Ice Trickster Remix and Second Skin, are positioned in the back room with Cat Ice Trickster Remix on the floor underneath the stairs, a smaller version of the gesture towards disorienting bodily hierarchies that was magnified in the Swamp Living workshop. Cat Ice Trickster Remix depicts in digital rendering, a scan made through water, with the data visualisation emphasising the limits of human vision and evoking the potential for understanding animal ways of seeing. It’s clear that Roberts feels an imperative to seek out ways of thinking, seeing and communicating that offer options beyond what we’re currently struggling with, but the work on show here isn’t instructional and implicates the viewer as something like a research subject as they interact with the work, making a quote given as part of the Swamp Living workshop particularly pertinent; “nothing ‘happened’ but everything is changed. no process, no production; just position and condition, that is, relation – to recall the definition of potential energy.”, viveiros de castro (2016) ‘the relative native’, p287-8.