A cold a windswept First Thursday allowed me to finally engage with ‘Poly’ the current Park McArthur solo show at Chisenhale Gallery. I’ve visited this gallery several times before but this is the first time I’ve seen it so stark and bare to the point where I nearly asked the person at the desk whether we are mid-install. Had I arrived too early or too late or was it that a talk or event had occurred which commanded for the main room lights to be on full beam, the doors swung fully open and the room mostly, completely clear of anything?
By the door are three imposing structures. These sculptural forms connect us to an act of temporality – of being neither in nor out of the space. The block is high density polyurethane which degrades through absorption. The material is reminiscent of something found in the walls of houses or laid down in attics to allow for insulation. Its presence is normally never noticed – this is a fabric exposed as it publicly degenerates.
Nearby plinths house dioramas of detritus spilling from neat steel trays – prophylactics piled up amongst nitrile sterilised gloves, cling film and foam appendages. We bear witness to the chaos of intervention, the daily slog of necessary and sometimes superfluous medical commodification. Here the main lights act to encourage a sense of demystification. McArthur exposes every component in this show to be examined, explored and scrutinised – we are afforded the ability to wonder and wander amongst this wasteland of human necessity.
Whilst the polyurethane blocks at the door absorb the gallery’s acoustic potential, beyond the plinths McArthur has created a body of work from a super absorbent polymer, a post-war scientific remnant used mainly in incontinence pads and sanitary products. Liquid expanding on the paper absorbs the room’s humidity, silently expounding and growing. Whilst one manmade form degrades through absorption, the other expands. Both shift and change as they take on board the weight and presence of humans entering and existing in the space. The room swells. Two bar heaters keep it at a constant heat. The lack of mood lighting, darkened corners, music or otherwise gestural acts normally appropriated by contemporary artists allows for our presence in the space to feel under scrutiny.
Of course the singular act of positioning someone in the room won’t result in a huge structural change to the polymer and polyurethane works but a collective mass of bodies swaying through the show will eventually take its toll. With this in mind, though, it’s hard to feel a connectivity to a collective mass when it’s not directly obvious how individuals permeate space. Our clinical remains might indicate a presence of a body or comment on its functionality but it doesn’t highlight the issues facing that person’s physical lived experience. McArthur questions whether we can challenge assumptions of the act of existing as a structural and physical dialogue between the needs of the individual and the role of the wider society to which it belongs.