Eighty One, London
21 March - 20 April 2013
Review by Henry Little
Open Plan is the second exhibition curated by Henry Kinman at Eighty One, an underground concrete space on Curtain Road. Each artist produces work by transforming, recasting, reorganising or reorienting low-fi, low value materials and forms. Jess Flood-Paddock’s bicycle seats are typical in this regard. The artist borrows the familiar bicycle seat to create a pair of works, enlarged several times and mounted on a trestle-table plinth. The enlarged forms attain the condition of sculpture while retaining their original appearance and the tables, sourced from the ubiquitous flat pack, utility supplier of low grade furniture are reborn as an accoutrement of ‘high’ art.
In Bryan Dooley’s works we find a similar appropriation and recontextualisation of everyday materials. A wall mounted work comprises a metal panel which hosts a pasted photograph of a log cabin exterior which apparently holds special relevance for the artist (who returns to the site on a regular basis). Slung across the work is a long thread of wooden beads, of the variety normally found on the driver’s seat of unlicensed mini-cabs. Around the edge of the metal panel, providing an enlivening luminous orange halo around the work, is a hunter’s tape used to mark a protective trail through the woods, signalling to other gun bearing hunters following behind. Dooley’s other work, a tall minimalist, maroon oblong in the middle of the room, is adorned with a swag of lurid fabric with a repeated motif of an aspirational and stylistically crass American home. Both works appear to marry or quote typically ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultural artefacts and objects. It’s difficult to neatly compartmentalise the sum total of either piece. The first is undoubtedly lively as a visual and tactile, sculptural experience, as is the second. But in both, natural materials are mediated, either through manufacturing or image, and colder, man-made textures more consistent with low grade retail are prioritised.
Samara Scott’s work, a length of toilet roll suspended from the ceiling and painted with small, brightly coloured patches of watercolour, is typical of the artist’s interest in decorating humble found objects with discordant and apparently illogical abstract marks and coloured stains. The piece has a disarming fragility: walk too closely and it wavers unnervingly in the breeze. Another work, this time wall mounted, is an amorphous, asymmetrical plate of coloured glasses coalesced into a messy puddle of lurid colours. The work is held in place by marshmallows mounted on screw heads. The dialogue is one of murky, directionless mixing, and a soft, gummy malleability. Almost artless to look at, the overall impression evokes the muddy composite of colours in a well-used Play-Doh pot. The aesthetic continues in Gelitin’s reworking of the Mona Lisa at the opposite end. In a rough approximation of the image, sculpted from coloured modelling putty, the effect is almost a pastiche of ‘outsider’ art. The result alienates the original image and its context, returning an object which speaks of play, irreverence and childhood in opposition to the gravitas of ‘high’ culture.
Absurdity resounds in George Henry Longly’s wall mounted fabric and steel work. A large, baggy piece of linen, dyed orange but leaving silhouettes of string vests and steel corner beading, is affixed to the wall with farcically oversized steel discs or ‘washers’. The silhouettes evoke negative space, while the baggy, colourful fabric speaks of a tactile abundance, and the washers fasten the piece with a heavy handed sense of purpose.
The inclusion of Thomas Hirschorn is an important recognition of the artist’s influence on this otherwise much younger generation of artists. Hirschorn has long used biro, packing tape, refuse sacks, pornography fragments and magazine clippings in a practice which is as histrionic and intentionally crass as it is delicate, provisional and flippant. His work included here is small but typical of his output: a found image from the internet of a gruesomely deformed corpse is juxtaposed with posing models in a fashion advertisement. Mounted on cardboard and laminated with Sellotape in an asymmetrical panel, the images pointedly contrast the conditions of flesh with grotesquely opposite objectives. This homemade, provisional and low-fi aesthetic of appropriation is one which has gained significant currency for a generation of early to mid-career artists both at home and abroad.
Other artists included are Peles Empire, who exhibit large wall mounted photocopies and an accompanying object. A collaborative piece by Thomas Downes and Amy Petra Woodward presents geometrically configured accumulations of stationery products and computer screens. While Robin Shepherd’s photographic abstract works produced from close observation of construction site hoarding graffiti are appropriately framed in chipboard frames.
The aesthetic interests and formal strategies at work in this exhibition prioritise a creative predisposition towards cheap, mass produced and otherwise mundane quotidian objects. Perhaps seeking uncanny, visual or sculptural possibilities in the overlooked, there is otherwise a porous, open artistic agenda which emphasises a sense of play and productive, meandering digression. There is, similarly, a recurrence of sculptural concerns which embrace all and any materials for their textural qualities, regardless of original use. We thus find what could be best described as a formalist or Modernist interest in the found object. Objects are not retrieved from the everyday to overturn the notion of the artistic object, but instead exploited for their visual and sculptural possibilities.