I am immediately halted by a seemingly floating fragment. This is Michail Pirgelis’ ‘Kapsel 2’ (2012), carved from the interior of an aeroplane’s domestic unit. This abstract sculpture is the first work on show in ‘Under a falling sky’ at Laura Bartlett Gallery. The exhibition, comprised of works by five artists, tackles shifting perspectives on labour, industry, technology and nature.
Three framed works follow. Each are titled ‘Diptychs/Untitled’ (1983) by John Divola. These enhanced illusions show a close-up of a dolphin, a series of variously coloured squares in the action of flipping, the sawdust from a caged animal and a fan next to an ice cube. The blue, cyan and magenta tinted photographs suggest a varying and transforming of the image’s subject. Divola warps the images, leaving their representation wrestling between the symbolic and the deictic.
Directly in front of the three works, lying across the floor, are two nickel-plated brass rods, ‘Untitled’ (2015). The objects are again formed beyond common recognition. The poles show grazes and scarring that suggests a violent or, at least, misinformed use of machinery. The work is by Daniel Turner, whose practice often hones in on industrial decay and the discontinuity of waste materials.
‘Pre’ (2016) by Pirgelis is an aluminium window frame from the same geographical area as ‘Kapsel II’. Sought from aircraft bone-yards in California and Arizona, the sculptures’ only alteration are their surface manipulation caused by the heat of the sun. The story of the debris is retold, furthering the distance between the original and present state of the work. The works also probe the question of wasted labour. Once functional, these aircraft parts have a precarious future. The ambiguous afterlife of an aeroplane is distilled in the resurrection of these redundant objects.
Cyprien Gaillard shows three sculptures on plinths titled ‘Untitled (Tooth)’ (2015). Reminiscent of prehistoric dinosaur teeth, later realised as ground digger bucket teeth, the now retired fangs make visible their history through indexical dents and nicks. Whilst heavily involved in the creation of new landscapes, these forms of machinery are also bullishly required in the demolition of former landmarks and landscapes. Gaillard presents these teeth as densely layered artefacts of both creation and destruction.
‘Agatha’ (2012), a psychosexual sci-fi video from Beatrice Gibson, is based on a dream from the composer Cornelius Cardew. A muffling narrator of no apparent gender accompanies the film shown in the corner of the gallery. The viewer is taken on a journey through an untouched, ambiguous landscape; coagulating literature, sound and authorship. Although unspecified, the landscape on view could easily be mistaken for Lancashire or Yorkshire, places with a vernacular keenly apparent to those who inhabit the area. In its placement and subject, this work seems distanced from the others. Though sharing interests, the film is disguised by vagueness and transparency. Gibson’s video endeavours to put forward a language that is self-interpreted. The equivocal nature of the work suggests an unwanted approach. The imagery acts as a setting for other narratives to play out. This is an untouched landscape screaming for activation.
The silhouette of a sprinting dog is revealed on a silver gelatin print. Titled ‘Dogs Chasing My Car in the Desert’ (1996), Divola’s photograph reveals the beast embodied in the works just witnessed. This final work seems to confirm a narrative within the exhibition that is hinted at throughout, for each work is a revealing of an unexposed fragment. Though perhaps not instantly recognisable, the works here might be understood as strange kinks of technology and labour. The fictions told are put forth as a kind of folklore. Through storytelling and discovery, a great beast is revealed. Metaphorically speaking, this creature presents itself as a revolving hindrance – the influence of technology on labour, industry and nature. By sifting through these gaps of obscurity ‘Under a falling sky’ mines the mystery and myth of some of the potential outcomes of this unfolding relationship.