Other People’s Trades
Esmeralda Valencia Lindström and Adriaan Verwée
Arcade Fine Arts
Review by Chloe Hodge
In our current arts climate, concept has taken a back seat and skilled technique is, once again, very much driving the car. The YBAs of the ‘90s are all but done with, and even Saatchi is looking for craft over concept; today’s art world intends to be inclusive, and conceptual art with its supporting essays and deep thought is seen to be exclusive, cold.
Somehow - with work overtly focused upon narrative and idea - Swedish-born, Slade-educated Esmeralda Valencia Lindström presents conceptual work which is intimate and personable, while remaining somewhat sterile in its presentation. For this exhibition she is accompanied by Belgian artist Adriaan Verwée whose work is organic but geometric, man-made yet natural, and the two artists bounce off each other with such subtlety it is hard to catch.
This exhibition requires contemplation, mulling time: in all honesty upon first glance, it could be a show in the process of de-installation. The artists are new, the curating imperfect and Arcade gallery small - but fantastically based in buzzing Angel - so upon first impression it lacks a ‘wow’ moment.
Instead, what follows is series of ‘ah’ moments as objects jar on the eye: a slickly painted grey baton leans against the gallery’s crumbling paint; bare canvas stretchers actually intertwine with one another, unclear where one ends and another begins; a shelf with no base and a mirror face down are rendered useless. Perfectly everyday items become abnormal props indicating a happening.
For Esmeralda the works are ‘tools which read activity in visual material, although there are no initial activities or scenarios which have been reduced’ - this is conceptual art which is entirely accessible as the meaning of the work is indiscriminate and entirely based in anyone’s subjective perception. Still, at times there is a loosely suggested narrative, such as in ‘Nipple Drawing’, where two still projections burn bright leaves on the white walls, black lines scrawled across them, and are watched by a pile of plywood batons. We are told that ‘Animals had escaped out of the log’, ‘whilst writing on the board with his right hand, his left hand had been drawing on his shirt.’ These vague phrases evoke life into otherwise sedentary forms and give context to the projected stills. It is almost like being a child playing imaginary games: anything can take on any identity; it is entirely and intentionally boundless.
Esmeralda’s work is certainly an acquired taste as it is rare to find a viewer who is willing to invest their time and imagination so heavily into understanding a piece of work - we have become used to having the meanings of artworks explained to us via wall-mounted texts, when in fact it is refreshing to be given seemingly oblique items and force ourselves to develop an understanding.
Adriaan’s work however instantly relates itself to this idea of value, worth, use: canvas stretchers, a seat-less stool and bare shelf frame all go unused. They are naked geometric shapes until, upon closer inspection, wood grain becomes visible through the black; the exhibition is overwhelmingly ordered, yet a nod to nature catches the eye here and there. These beautifully crafted contributions from Adriaan are more successful than Esmeralda’s in creating an uncanny atmosphere: almost ordinary, yet not. This is most visible in his framed diptych of paper thin sheets of pastel aluminium, punched and folded like the remnants of a classroom paper aeroplane fight or the creations of a bored businessman procrastinating at his desk. Both artists imply objects left, the residue of an action, while playing upon our expectations and mundane memories.
This exhibition is not a collaboration but a conversation of works: the pieces scrutinise one another and pinpoint odd characteristics - complimentary and coordinated they are not. The viewer is instead placed on an axis, darting from piece to piece.
Whilst stimulating, this exhibition remains frustrating: Adriaan is inarguably the more experienced artist so his work tends to draw attention away from Esmeralda’s which is very nearly, but just not quite there yet - it feels as if it needs a little push, or perhaps simply more room. There is no doubt however that Esmeralda is one to be watched; she states that ‘this exhibition has been very useful in making me stop and look at myself making’ so perhaps this experience will act as the small push that this young British artist needs.
‘Other People’s Trades’ is an education of art in practice, of what it is to be a young artist or - Arcade celebrates its fifth birthday this year - a young gallery. It is exciting to see work from burgeoning new artists which brims with creative enthusiasm; after seeing this exhibition, I for one eagerly anticipate what is to come from these intelligent practitioners and this elegant space.