Stephenson Works, South Street, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 3PE

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Rubén Grilo: The Need For Speed
CIRCA Projects, Space Release #13
21 March - 18 May 2013
Review by Michael Mulvihill

Rubén Grilo is the latest artist to become the focus of CIRCA Projects’ Space Release programme. Launched in October 2012, Space Release investigates the relationship between artwork and site. The programme supports this enquiry with a fifteen-month project centred on three solo exhibitions that set the agenda of events. The programme has so far hosted exhibitions by Emma Hart and Heather Phillipson, installed within the renovated nineteenth-century building known as the Stephenson Work, where Victorian engineer George Stephenson built the world’s first modern steam locomotive - a fact that has provided a staging point for Grilo’s exhibition ‘The Need for Speed.’

The show preludes with a video, ‘Candle Riddle Videogram. Light-junk TV, Burn Again’, projected onto hand bleached stretched denim showing a composite image of various electrical plugs whose legs have been replaced by burning candles. Inside the main exhibition space hang three large sheets of denim, ‘Pattern Free. Ripped from Zara’ They are cut and bleached by laser, and reproduce precisely patterns used by Zara, a company originating from Grilo’s home region of Galicia, Spain. On the wall are mounted three high definition flat screen monitors which comprise the work ‘Untitled.’ One acts as a projection screen for a laser animation; another displays a composite animation of an airbag being destroyed by fire; the third monitor is dead, its power cables cut. The space smells of bleach used to wash airbags and high gain projection vinyl, which are displayed on ironing boards and furniture from the office of George Stephenson. Played throughout the installation is the ambient sound of disused railways reclaimed by nature. The sounds are interrupted by speech from ‘The Quest for Fire’ (1981), in which a group of primitive-men explain that fire is something that can be made, rather than a thing of magic to be conserved.

The works have all been commissioned this year by CIRCA Projects, and Grilo uses the historic space of the Stephenson Works to locate the origins of our accelerated digital age, drawing a trajectory from the development of the steam locomotive to the digital mimesis and duplication of bleached patterning in ‘Pattern Free. Ripped from Zara’. The exhibition reveals itself like a cryptic riddle, imbuing the objects with a kind of esoteric allure. Yet Grilo’s enquiry is precise, and he attempts to divest the objects and information of contemporary commercial occult, instead refining the articles as materials for art production. This enquiry may also attempt to critique the basis of our current economic structures, founded upon the myth of ever-accelerating growth. To this end ‘The Need for Speed’ also marks the beginning of a long-term term project ‘Slater Tapes’, following the path of Samuel Slater who, in the eighteenth century, produced an exact replica of a patented British textiles machine in New England, giving rise to the American Industrial Revolution and gaining the epithet ‘Slater the Traitor’ in the United Kingdom. By embarking on this project Grilo presents Slater, with Stephenson, as rubric figures that have set ‘contemporary life’ speeding along its accelerated and fated path.

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