REVIEW: GLUE EXHIBITION AT DOWN ARTS CENTRE, DOWNPATRICK, NORTHERN IRELAND
Impact! If you like the cutting-edge art scenes of London, Berlin and New York then this is the exhibition for you. Never has the Down Arts Centre seemed more contemporary or more relevant to the global dynamics of the art world. ‘Glue’ is a survey exhibition of collage by leading artists and academics from across Europe, America and Asia. Half of the exhibition features raw studio works of cut-paper techniques combined with photographic and digital collages. The other half of the show presents works on paper as fully-resolved artworks.
The fresh aesthetic of the exhibition is the brainchild of its curator, Brendan Jamison, an international artist in his own right, who has travelled the world and brought it home in the form of this exhibition. Last year he established ‘Impactica’, a not-for-profit organisation offering curated touring exhibitions to galleries and museums. It links in with curators in other countries and after its debut in Northern Ireland, the ‘Glue’ show tours to America early next year. Professor Craig Coleman will co-curate the second leg of ‘Glue’ at the Hardman Hall Gallery at Mercer University in February 2014. This will be followed in March 2014 by an expanded version of ‘Glue’ at WARPhaus and the 4Most Gallery at the University of Florida, co-curated by Professor Sean Miller.
The exhibition opens with ‘Link’, a striking series of 4 photographic works by Tea Mäkipää, an artist who represented Finland at the 2009 Venice Biennale. Appearing like stills from a film, an individual ape-like character is depicted in a forest-scene, moving out of the trees into the water to fish. Theories of evolution spring to mind, all the more so, given the placement of ‘Link’ next to Brendan O’Neill’s religious posters. These vibrant text works of biblical scripture are intricately carved into with a scalpel knife, revealing the outlines of weapons of destruction. From guns to bullets and rockets, the subtlety of this piece rewards the viewer as they edge closer to the works. This connection between extremist religious views and violence is intelligently placed opposite a collage of George W. Bush, who famously used the term ‘axis of evil’ in waging war through his own deep-rooted religious conviction. Protected behind plexi-glass, ‘W’ is created by Sean Miller from hundreds of tiny chads, the actual punched voting parchments from the controversial election recount in Miami in the year 2000 between Bush and Al Gore.
While Bush entered the White House, Al Gore pursued his passion to campaign on issues of global warming and climate change, themes which are championed by Bethany Taylor, a Florida-based Professor who presents a melting ice-berg with an elaborate network of water pipes, a collage bursting with dynamic energy and an innovative composition that leaves the viewer circumnavigating the space, like an explorer in the North Pole.
Turning the corner, the exhibition shifts into a different gear with Gail Ritchie’s ‘Making Memory’, a recreation of one section of her studio wall from a five year research project into ancestral narratives. Both personal and public - images, sketches, notes and diagrams depict Ritchie’s grandfather and great-grandfather who both served in the armed forces. Dressing in identical uniform and adopting a similar pose, Ritchie inserts herself into these photographs by digital manipulation, attempting to access memories which are not her own but part of her genetic make-up. The project culminates in 2014 with the 100th anniversary of the commencement of the First World War.
Next to this corner of the gallery, another anniversary is reflected in Brendan Jamison’s collaboration with Peter Richards, where vibrant colour-saturated pinhole photography depicts a cold war spy station. Built 50 years ago by the Americans in 1963 on West Berlin’s highest hill, Teufelsberg, it was designed to spy on conversations across ‘the wall’ deep into the Communist East. The constructions of the 5 radome buildings appear like something out of a science-fiction movie, accentuated by the artificial glow of the pinhole photography technique. Continuing the architectural theme, Kevin B. Chen presents fictional cityscapes created from fragments of books, sprouting upwards the configuration has an alluring organic suggestion, like the bulbous head of a flower about to reveal its petals. The buildings also appear to vibrate, as if each skyscraper is about to shoot up into the air like a rocket into space.
Next to Chen, an organic aesthetic is also presented by Craig Coleman, offering photographic imagery that captures objects in flux, hypnotically transfixing the viewer by the sheer beauty and depth of these illusory spaces. Coleman’s seamless collages are made by removing the lens of a 35mm DSLR camera, holding transparent images and objects up to the opening of the camera and then employing small LED lights to cast shadows of these objects into the back of the camera. The transparency of these finished works, combined with the glow of light and movement, offers a strong link to another photographic artist’s work around the corner. Also adopting a non-digital approach, Trevor Wray builds his images with 35mm negatives, layering one on top of the other, with the final image only revealed once the negatives are developed. A yellow outline of a figure walking into the rear of a horse offers a humorous element in a gallery wall punctuated with collages at different levels, creating a visual feast for the viewer. Wray’s fun and playful process also reflects back to the origins of collage around 100 years ago as Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) introduced the medium into the modern art world.
Art history is also hinted at by Lydia Holmes who has been inspired by the Futurist movement’s (1909-1944) interest in technological advancement. In a contemporary twist and offering a gentle feminine sensibility, an entire wall is devoted to 17 collages arranged at different heights, with the imagery appearing like an assemblage of hybrids, some are robotic, while others appear like organisms growing on an ocean seabed or perhaps they are experiments created in a laboratory. A beautiful rhythm extends across the entire compositional display, and some of the forms, such as the captivating spider-like creature seem to crawl across the wall.
The exhibition perpetually oscillates between global issues on the one hand and the personal and intimate on the other. Perhaps the most intimate romantic work is by Japanese artist Shiro Masuyama who created a collage plan for a public art project at the Tama River in Toyko. Noticing the peculiar phenomenon of couples sitting at equidistance from each other on the banks of the river to ensure each others’ privacy, Masuyama designed booths for each couple with male and female symbols cut out of the back of the enclosed benches.
Delivering a tour of the exhibition, the curator discussed the different approaches that are adopted by 2D and 3D artists and outlined how works by performance artist Sinéad O'Donnell illustrates her strong spatial awareness of objects and the human body. Created as preparation for live events in Mexico in March 2013, the series entitled ‘erasing HER history’ explores the invisibility of women in Muslim and Christian religions. Equally, American performance artist LuLu LoLo combines a passion for historical research with contemporary performance art, often focusing on the dramatic struggle of women from New York City’s past. Transforming book covers to insert her own character in a playful fashion, she employs collage to experiment with new personas that become developed into live actions.
From the fun aspect of LuLu Lolo’s collages, the viewer is then greeted by darker and more horrific themes in the work of Fion Gunn who has cut open ‘Justine’, a French book by the Marquis de Sade, a writer who dealt with themes of sadism and masochism. With sentences cut into tiny strips, the book becomes a mass of fragments, butchered and penetrated with sharp pins. An open red door is attached to the front cover but the pages are all glued together, with the book never able to be opened again. Beside Gunn’s powerful statement, a sense of pain and torture is also revealed in Patrick Colhoun’s collage from his studio wall, with sketches and images outlining the thinking processes behind his carcass-like sculptures. Again, a strong sense of space is revealed in this work as the viewer walks into the mind of the artist as they imagine how the sculpture elements could be arranged on a gallery floor.
A sense of violence also extends into the intricate collages of Stuart Roberts, with a nod to Francis Bacon (1909-1992) in the rapid movement of a contorted face in ‘Puke and Laughter’. With all three works by Roberts, the sense of depth, the use of line and the rhythmic compositions are exceptional, teasing with the viewer between elements that attract and those that repulse. Similarly, Galen Olmsted’s collage, ‘Flawless’, lures the viewer in with glistening diamonds in a beautiful sensual arrangement of form that undulates between elements of gold and waves of jewels. However, on closer inspection, the sparkles intermingle with insects, again offering tension between visual magnetism and repulsion.
Utilising packaging tape combined with photography and drawing, Ciaran Magill’s two works offers the rawest examples of studio collage. The human body appears fragmented by the bars of tape slicing the composition into segments. The red letters spelling ‘Fragile’ are offset by the richness of colour in the truncated figures. These appear as deeply psychological works, exuding a tension that makes for conceptual depth.
The exhibition concludes with Brian John Spencer’s ‘Redacted’, an exuberant display that features the artist’s own redacted job rejection letters combined with a wonderful upbeat arrangement of satirical cartoons and photography. Exploring the issue of youth unemployment in a global recession, from a personal perspective, Spencer both captures the negative impact on the individual and society, but also takes an optimistic position with the collage exploding with vibrant orange text, “inventing the future”. It seems the perfect collage to end the show with, now as we are poised in an economic era of uncertainty across the planet, we look to creative individuals in all walks of life to invent the future we hope to live in.
Like the art of collage, the world is fragmented and in perpetual flux. The ‘Glue’ exhibition offers an intriguing insight into themes that unite and divide us in the 21st Century. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this show is the sheer depth offered by the cross-pollination of aesthetics with history, politics, economics, religion, war, espionage, literature, gender and feminism.
Angela Reid, Sunday April 21, 2013
The GLUE exhibition continues at the Down Arts Centre until Friday May 3, 2013. Open Monday – Saturday 10am to 4pm. 2-6 Irish Street, Downpatrick, Northern Ireland. For an online catalogue with curator’s essay please see http://www.brendanjamison.com/glue.html