Andy Wicks Paints Blog

Exploring Regional Spaces – Spike Island, Bristol

Posted in Writings by Andy Wicks on 4 October, 2011

This is the extended version of an article originally published on Rise Art.

Last week saw the opening of Firstsite in Colchester which got me thinking about some of the spaces I’ve discovered on my travels.

I love going to regional galleries. Whenever I leave London to meet friends or family I always check to see what new spaces I can take in whilst there. Most regions now have their own publically funded gallery; many of the newer spaces with striking architectural statements – look at the newly opened Hepworth, Yorkshire and Turner Contemporary, Kent. Both designed by David Chipperfield Architects and both hoped to be the catalyst of regeneration of industrial waterside sites.

An area that has seen much regeneration over the last couple of decades is Bristol’s harbour-side, home to the Arnolfini which has seen its surroundings dramatically landscaped and now finds itself at the centre of busy vibrant city centre. I visited at the end of July, on the weekend of the Harbour Festival – celebrating the city’s maritime past and impressive new surroundings. Hundreds of thousands visited and my plan was to brave the crowds and catch some shows. Anyone who knows this area of Bristol will know that the Arnolfini is right amongst all the festivities, so getting to the door took time but once in, it was empty.

The Arnolfini has been on my radar since a visit in a 2000 when I caught a Liam Gillick exhibition. But on this occasion my destination was also the lesser known Spike Island, a mere mile along the riverbank. Spike Island is a funded space which I’ve known of more for its onsite artists studios. In the exhibition space was Structure & Materials, a show of 3 exciting female sculptors. A Haywood organized touring exhibition which had previously shown at The Hepworth’s neighbour, The Yorkshire Sculpture Park (its 3rd and final stop is the The New Art Gallery, Walsall) in which all the work is drawn from the Art Council Collection.

Installation view of 'Structure & Material', with with works by Becky Beasley and Karla Black

The show features the work of flavour of the month & current Turner Prize nominee Karla Black along with Claire Barclay and Becky Beasley. The building, a former Tea packing factory couldn’t be further from the sleek contemporary spaces mentioned earlier but what it did was leave a massive impression.  Walking into the main gallery you are confronted with a huge triple height ceiling space leading through to a smaller space running parallel. The light was incredible and the works sat sparingly throughout.

Black had a couple of crumpled suspended pieces along with a large powder rectangle marked out on the floor. As always with her work, I had to search through the literature to take in all different everyday materials used (such as toothpaste, nail varnish, soap, bath bombs and polythene) which caused much bemusement to the family members who were dragged on this jaunt with me.

One wall had Beasley’s beautiful yet playful Walnut shelves hinged in various combinations, each replicating the length of her father’s arms, with hinges replacing joints in a variety of flexing positions. In a way reminiscent of Donald Judd’s Stacks which had limply twisted in the middle likes arms of a clock.

Installation view of 'Structure & Material', with with works by Becky Beasley and Claire Barclay

Beasley also presented a series of Silver Gelatin photographic prints of various mundane objects; the images were almost ghostly, reproduced in grey scale, seemingly with two prints joined in the middle by a crease exposed onto the surface of the print. The paper was held onto the backboard of the frame by eyelets piercing the corners of the prints, such a subtle detail but ultimately very pleasing in a show which is aptly summed up in the title, all about Surface and Material.

Barclay’s work consisted of a number of freestanding fabricated metal construction often involving draped fabrics which visually have an element of the everyday, but lack an approachable functionality.

Reading the show in terms of form and shape the works could be seen as crisp and overtly conceptual. But the inventive use of, and inexhaustible list of materials lifts the works and creates a strong connection between each of the artists. Whether its hard metal used by Barclay or soft crumbled paper of Black’s work, there is a fragility and elegance to the individual pieces above the sum of their parts.

Installation view of 'Structure & Material', with with works by Becky Beasley and Karla Black