A little while ago I mentioned an upcoming project which would see me create my first sculpture as part of WW Gallery’s Patio Projects, a temporary public art program. Each month over the past year an artist has been selected to install a piece on the front patio of WW former gallery space in Hackney Downs overlooking the park.
Here are a couple of the previous projects to grace the site –
For Patio Project #9 Andy Wicks has created ‘Beached’, a towering sculptural assemblage and minimalist recreation of the mooring structures which can be found along the banks of our city’s river. ‘Beached’ takes its initial inspiration from the visceral materiality of these wooden structures: which stained by weathering, rusted and rotten, evoke the history of the central artery of London’s trade industry.
Metaphorically ‘salvaged’ from the beaches of the Thames, the driftwood of our forgotten industrial past finds itself re-imagined, stripped back, reassembled and beached on a domestic patio. Removed from its tide-washed context, and juxtaposed instead, with the architectural language of such residential anomalies as recycling bins, estate agent signs and trellis fencing.
Erased of barnacles, ropes, algae and the other ephemera of its romantic riverside associations, ‘Beached’ becomes an inexplicable object in this residential landscape.
Over the last week I have been working non stop on ‘Beached’ and I’m glad to say its now complete. Moving chunky 3 metre long lengths of wood around the studio was a bit of a challenge but I soon found I took it in my stride (albeit a very different type of studio session compared to handling 30 x 20 cm canvases!). For a couple of days the arch of the form was hanging somewhat precariously from the beams of the studio roof but suddenly with some high altitude drilling and a couple of bolts it became freestanding and a real sight to behold as it towered over me and the rest of the studio. Whilst not wanting to reveal too much of the final form, below are a selection of more ambiguous shots of the work in progress. The sculpture will be unveiled on Thursday 5th July 6 – 7pm and will be on display to the public come rain or shine through to 29th July.
WW Gallery Patio Projects – 30 Queensdown Road Hackney Downs E5 8NN
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.
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.
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.
Andy Wicks’ paintings depict objects that might initially appear otherworldly or imagined, but are in fact real structures for mooring boats that can be seen – should you look – dotted along the River Thames. Existing some place in the no-man’s land between improvisation and ordinary functionality, they appear alternately too decrepit for use, or else modern, robust and sturdy. These mooring stations are called ‘dolphins’, an appellation that seems arbitrary given their utter lack of physical resemblance to the marine creature. Also seemingly arbitrary is their ad hoc composition and materiality: they can be built out of anything from pressure-treated pine to hardwood, reinforced concrete, or steel girders and tubes. Here, form follows function – but there is also a unity to their robust armature and tide-washed weathering, rusty iron, and agglutinated patches of algae fronds. Wicks’ paintings have a striking figure-ground contrast: the backgrounds are often rendered with a muddy-watery effect created by mixing resins, thinned oil paints and other mediums, which the artist agitates into eddies of bare canvas and coagulated paint – a process that echoes the flow of the river itself.
Colin Perry, 2011 Published in Florence Trust 2011 Catalogue
Colin is a freelance art writer based in London and writes for Art Monthly, Frieze, ArtReview, Modern Painters amongst others.
Its been two weeks since the Florence Trust exhibition finished which signaled the end of my year long residency at St Saviour’s. Since then I’ve found myself in and around the studio quite a bit which while empty of my belongings, still had a hold over my time. After such a full on and immersive year it was sad to hand my keys back but as I move on a new set of artists arrive to start their own journeys.
I came to the Florence Trust as an artist looking to experience full time practice, to create time away from the constraints of paid work to see what I could achieve over the course of a year. The appeal of doing this at a residency such as the FT was the support network of fellow artists as well as the studio manager and director, something to ease me in to a new way of working, which isn’t usually available in large closed off studio spaces. On a personal note I’m happy with the shift i’ve seen my practice take in the last year and I believe this really is down to having consistency of thought from day after day at the studio, along with a heap of messing around with paint. But my overriding memories of the FT are the people and the space, being there really made me aware that I am part of lineage of artists who have been using the studios over the past 20 years. But is one dependent on the other? While the space is truly inspiring, beautiful and impossible to hide from, its the group of 11 very different artists coming together who made the experience. As a group consisting of multiple nationalities and artistic backgrounds it was our shared journey through the year that brought people together. Ongoing independent practice may consume the individual but the openness of the studios and communal areas created a schedule for dialogue and banter at lunches, tea breaks and social activities. The changes of seasons and the setting in of winter, while tough was a great catalyst for togetherness and a competitive survival instinct, demonstrated perfectly with varying approaches to polyethylene roof building. The end of winter and the start of spring brought new optimism to the studios with the gardens and wildlife becoming a bigger part of everyday life, our winter film club and pub quizzes turned to BBQ’s and beers.
The Basel trip while very near to the end exhibition came as a perfect remedy from possible studio blues and as we all knew each other so well by then was a fun filled trip away with friends. Once back we had two weeks of prepping the space for the exhibition, taking down the 3 central studios opened up the space and highlighted the architecture of the building, perhaps making a strong exhibition even more of a challenge. Thankfully in my opinion and those of many visitors it was a great success for which thanks should go to Paul Bayley (FT Director) for his problem solving and vision for how 11 different artist’s work could sit and read so well together. With a years worth of life on display I wanted to spend as much time at the show as possible invigilating. Talking with visitors about my fellow artists work opened up more readings of their work and created some interesting dialogue. I was happy with the response to my work, we had a huge opening night with far too many people to squeeze chats in with and delighted that a few of my works have now taken their place in a private collection in Italy.
Its been an absolute pleasure to have been able to spend time alongside each of my fellow artists, to watch their working practices up close and share their excitement over future projects and opportunities. If you want to keep an eye on the FT 2011 Artists you can find out more about their work and links to personal websites here.
So whats next for me? Well firstly a bit of a break is in order. Whereas before this year it was a treat to get time in the studio, now it feels like one if I have a day away. With the realities of life once again at my door I will endeavor to seek a better live / (art) work balance to move forward with. The cost of London living makes everything feel like a compromise but if I take anything from this experience its just reinforced my desire to continue doing what i’m doing as much as I can. In the short term I’m going to be sans studio with my paintings and studio packed safely in storage, however I have got some ideas for a series of prints which I will be experimenting with in the meantime. There are also tentative plans on a building which maybe made into studios for myself and a few of the FT 2011 artists, it has the potential to be an amazing studio in another interesting period property, but until more discussions take place I’ll say no more.
I plan to get my curating/organizing head back on and push forward a few projects which have been on the back burner this year. One of those, a 3 person show with FT2011 artist Adam Watts and Peter Ainsworth is coming together nicely and we’re now seeking the right kind of space to exhibit in. I’d also love to do a solo show with the new work some day soon and imagine that the prints could fit nicely with the works on canvas. I’m excited to find time to take in more exhibitions in London having been out of the loop of late, I was blown away by Piccadilly Community Center Christoph Büchel’s immense installation at Hauser & Wirth last week and I still vividly remember his show at the Coppermill off Brick Lane in 2007. Through writing this and summing up it all suddenly feels very final, but far from it, the rigour and dialogue of the FT is something I will be looking to keep with me for the next stage.
Photography: Loren Lazić-Duffy
What do you get if cross Facebook with an art gallery? The answer might well be Rise Art, a community based art platform that offers up and coming artists the chance to sell their work, and fans of art the opportunity to purchase original pieces at affordable prices from as little as £50.
Co-founder Scott Phillips, explains, “Rise Art helps anyone discover amazing work from a curated selection of talented artists. We work with top emerging artists, as chosen by our community and Board of Curators. Working directly with each artist to produce exclusive, original prints in strictly limited quantities’. Owning a piece of genuinely inspired and beautiful art has never been so easy or affordable with pieces starting at £50.”
Phillips continues “Whether you are a first time buyer or avid collector, Rise Art helps you discover and connect with a wide array of emerging artists in a fun, social platform.”
Words: Chloe Di Chiara (Phoenix Magazine, July 2011)
Graduated from Middlesex University in 2006
What sort of person would buy your art?
I imagine someone maybe a young professional. Someone who engages with the city and urban landscapes but also wants something a bit more vivid and expressive.
What media do you use, what is the process?
I work in oil, but it’s very much a two-part process – my paintings consist of a background that dries for two weeks. Then I do a lot more desk-based painting, with much more detail, the top layer is a lot more flat.
What has Rise Art done for you?
They have been great. Making a print edition in collaboration with them is quite unique. Since then they have been quite good at backing me and promoting my exhibitions and just looking at different ways to connect with a market and the wider art world.
What have you been up to since leaving university?
I’ve been practicing and I haven’t really taken a break – I worked for an art framing company and met a lot of artists. I would recommend any kind of job to a student that can get your near to artists!
What’s next for you?
At the moment I am doing a year long residency at The Florence Trust [a studio space for selected artists set within a Grade 1 listed church], hopefully there will be opportunities from there.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?
Just look at lots of exhibitions, find out what you like and enjoy, and start to develop your ideas and try things. When you’re young it’s good to not be too defined at that stage.
What inspires you?
I guess my current work, it’s very urban and about the city in a very abstract way. As part of the process of researching I walk along the river Thames with my camera.
This is the extended version of ‘Making Sense of Art Basel’ originally published on Rise Art.
In keeping with Lorena’s article ‘Trading Places’, the question ‘Are art fairs the new blockbuster exhibitions?’ kept running through my head as I wrote my review of last week’s edition of Art Basel.
As part of The Florence Trust studio residency each year gets to go on a summer’s art trip, previous years have seen Glasgow and Liverpool biennale so when it was announced we would be going to Basel the excitement was clear to be seen. This would be my first visit to Switzerland and my first art fair outside of London. We flew on an early flight on Tuesday morning ready to catch the VIP preview. Walking through the airport to our departure gate should have been a clue of the world I was about to step into, with a YBA, a couple of famous gallerists, critics and numerous faces all etched into my consciousness who I was unable to place at such an ungodly hour. This budget airline flight contained the sort of art elite not usually found canned in to no thrills travel. As an artist, the idea of the art fair doesn’t excite me as it would the gallerists, collectors and maybe even the general public. But walking onto that flight was a real kick.
‘Art Basel’ is the main fair, while there are a handful of satellite fairs spread across the city as well as special events and late night openings at many of the museums. I must confess that I probably spent the least time at the main fair. But I did make sure I caught the UK galleries – Modern Art, White Cube, Sadie Coles etc and some of their European and American counterparts. But to be honest I didn’t have the stamina to compete with the excited moneymen and hangers on at the VIP preview.
Art Unlimited joins the main fair building at Messeplatz. It’s a large hanger style building and offers large curated site specific projects of individual works by big name artists. Each showing with their respective galleries but unlike the fair these aren’t manned sales booths. On the side of Unlimited was Art Statements which I would compare with the Frieze’s Frame, an area for solo presentation from younger galleries held within the main fair. I enjoyed Rodeo (Istanbul) who presented work by Emre Hüner who took Fordlandia (a city Henry Ford built in the amazon to extract rubber to produce tires) as inspiration for a varied set of sculpture and drawing of this failed utopian.
Other pieces of interest at Art Unlimited were Sarah Morris’ film Points on a Line which explored the Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and Philip Johnson’s Glass House. As well as David Zink Yi’s Untitled (Architeuthis), a giant squid of legend recreated in ceramics and coated in copper and lead secreting an oily solution.
Outside of the main fairs there was plenty to see, with free shuttle buses linking you from one to another. Volta is set further out from the centre of town and had a far more relaxed feel to it which made for a more enjoyable experience. Although it wasn’t particularly busy so I’m not sure how the galleries felt? There were a number of British galleries on display here including Nettie Horn, Room Gallery, Vegas Gallery and Madder 139 who had some interesting G.L Brierley paintings. While former Vyner Street stalwart David Risley showed a good group of painters with his now Copenhagen based gallery.
My favourite of the fairs was definitely Liste, which shows galleries no more than 5 years old and artists under 40 (much like our own Zoo art fair). It was set in a stunning former brewery Wartech just off the North bank of The Rhine and had a much cooler feel to it with challenging spaces to hang works. The show definitely had a more curated hang compared to Art Basel and gave off the impression of project spaces rather than Salon hung sales booths. There was a conceptual feel throughout with a leaning towards sculptures and installations; good examples of these were Limoncello, Hotel (both UK) and Liudvikas Buklys solo presentation with Tulips & Roses (Belgium).
Other events I took in over the 4 days were Francis Alys’ Fabiola at The Schaulager, a reconfigured version of the show seen at The National Portrait last year, here mixed in to their permanent collection. The beautiful Foundation Beyeler, which can be found a 20 minute tram ride out of Basel, had an incredible show of Constantin Brancusi & Richard Serra in the Renzo Piano designed building (famous for Pompidou centre). Not forgetting the Swiss Art Prize which saw the Florence Trust’s very own Annelore Schneider take home an award as part of (collectif_fact) with collaborator Claude Piguet. Some of our group got to the Museum Tinguely which was heaped in praise for his kinetic sculptures and interactive displays, there was also a high profile exhibition ‘Car Fetish. I drive, therefore I am’ – definitely one for next time!
The party of the week had to be the Vitra party at the famous Vitra Campus (just over the German boarder). A stunning location with buildings and structures by a who’s who list of celebrity architects, including Herzog & de Meuron, Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry amongst others. The sun was shinning, DJ playing from the Jean Prouvé designed Petrol Station/come DJ booth for the night and delicious never ending supply of Canapés and drinks.
So are art fairs the new blockbuster exhibitions? Through my artist tinted specs I would compare art fairs to theme park. They offer entertainment for the masses with short lived thrills, and after so many paintings I know I saw some good pieces but I would struggle to name more than a handful of them. With high price entry and long queues it’s certainly not how I would choose to view art, no matter how good. But what the art fair does do, especially in a place like Basel, is to ignite a city for a week and open up all the museums for people to explore. In London our commercial galleries open shows of their biggest sellers to coincide with Frieze, whereas Basel seemed to have institutions from across the spectrum celebrating all things art and design. To me Basel was more exciting when I went outside of the main fair to some of the stunning museums that open all year round. But with a record 65,000+ people in attendance this year who can argue with the formula?
If a blockbuster exhibition is a high profile, glitzy affair then maybe the art fair is just that. The blockbuster is something our museums should be producing. However with cuts in funding in the UK I believe it’s the private patrons and blue chip galleries of this world that truly have the ability to produce a blockbuster exhibition without the claustrophobic fair setting. Just look at Gagosian’s (Britannia Street, London) Picasso and Crash (A Homage to JG Ballard) exhibitions last year – epic in resources and scale without compromising the viewer.
I wrote this article recently for Rise Art which was first published on their website, it describes details on my practice, influences and techniques. My Art Basel report will follow later in the week.
My paintings are worked on in groups, each one is made up of two distinct layers. Both layers are painted with oil paint, but both do different things. I like systems and order, and creating defined rules to work by. I explore the city with a camera, then reference it on the canvas.
Im a fan of German abstraction, as seen in artists such as Albert Oehlen whose use of chaos could end up looking as a dark oily mess, but he somehow always makes it work. I think I respond to elements of visual discord which simultaneously please and repel the viewer. I’ve also been looking at Gert & Uwe Tobias’ woodcuts recently, which sit between dark fairytale narratives and graphic geometry. The woodcuts are used to produce one-off pieces and, as such, have a painterly feel, with the imperfections and glitches from the process unashamedly on display.
I explore the city with my camera to find oddities and intrigue. I find myself drawn to the materiality of objects especially industrial sites and those where function outweighs design. I particularly look for sights where weather and pollution have worn surfaces down letting mold or rust set in. My current series has taken me to the River Thames where I have been studying ‘dolphins’, or mooring constructions. Objects which have mostly long lost their purpose now sit slowly being worn by the tide eventually to be reclaimed by the riverbed. So far I’ve covered about 50 miles from Kew in the west to Thamesmead out east. While the motivation for doing this was originally to get photographs to feed my paintings, I’ve actually really enjoyed learning about London through the riverside architecture. It’s fascinating to see how people live and the varied levels of wealth, with much of the social housing now turned into expensive modern flats the riverfront is starting to lose its individual character.
I make my paintings in a two-stage process which when viewed separately, could be identified as works by two different artists. At the start of a piece I’ll be moving round the canvas laid flat on the studio floor, smudging resin into the weave of the canvas with gloves so it pools over the surface. Then pouring thinned oil from jars, tilting and adjusting the position of the canvas to create the background.
Once dry I paint the foreground structure that sits on the resin ground. The foreground is painted with the canvas flat on a table and in contrast to the background is painted carefully with fine brushes to create the straight architectural lines. Its the layering of messy action painting technique and controlled graphical detail which interests me and perhaps gives me renewed energy having time working in both head spaces. While the resin backgrounds reference process painting and a wealth of abstract art history, they can also draw comparisons to rapid flowing water or weather systems.
The names of my paintings come from the Atlantic list of Hurricane names where each storm has its name taken from a list of alternating male and female names. The naming of each painting imbues the structure a gender and reinforces the personification suggested by the portrait orientation canvas and composition. While also referencing the weathering of the dolphins and the eddies that appear in the painted grounds.
My current working practice comes from collecting images from the man made landscape, these forms have been set along the bank of the Thames and while I’m fascinated by their shapes and construction I also have a close affinity with the river itself. As a form of research I have been going on long walks along stretches of the river to take photos but also to learn more about the lay of the city and its flux. The architecture, history and potential for redevelopment is clear to see wherever your standing. Much to the west of Vauxhall has already been turned into new river side apartments, Butler’s Wharf and the central stretch of the southbank has kept its old facade but seen Starbucks and the chains take over at street level. While areas on the approach to Deptford Creek are showing signs of decay but the developers are not far away. Whatever is happening around the river bank, the one constant is the river itself, it continues to have an air of tranquility and open space, the perfect place to explore and clear your head.
I’ve started to document my walks on Googlemaps –
Artist-Curators Andy Wicks and David Northedge discuss Superunknown, their exhibition currently at Edel Assanti which examines contemporary culture’s visualisation of the future.
Andy Wicks: Superunknown came about through a mutual fascination for the wealth of literature and film exploring dystopic landscapes and in particularly the work of JG Ballard who has influenced both of our practices for some time. The exhibition was built from wanting to delve further into these worlds with a mixture of artists to create a landscape of our own.
How do you think this exhibition builds on the current legacy of the superunknown? What does it add in a contemporary sense?
AW:The title actually came from Soundgarden’s album – Superunknown. We wanted to have a title with impact, something ambiguous and all encompassing. Superunknown seemed to have the grandeur needed to take on this subject matter, its the type of title which you could imagine with certain visual associated with it whether old B-movie / 60s or 70s Sci-fi novel. I hope that it adds something to the idea of the unknown, it’s our version, our prediction of what the future could hold. Superunknown is a show of contemporary artists at various points in their careers, each has a strong voice and vision within their work, hopefully in viewing this exhibition the audience will gets some sense of stepping into this world.
AW: The artists are a combination of people that David and I have encountered over the last few years, work that we’ve spotted in other exhibitions, recommendations from fellow artists and contacts made through art related jobs. They all have something within their work that shared the sort of the aesthetic we were going for. There has been a lot of dystopian and Ballard references in the visual arts over the last few years, since we started discussing the concept for the show there’s been Gagosian’s Crash exhibition, the homage to Ballard earlier in the year, prior to that a group of young artists put on a show at a warehouse belonging to Damien Hirst in South London, also called CrASH, along with many others across the country. We thought it would be good to have our own take on it, with artists that we admire and who we felt would create tight and interesting show.
Aside from Ballard’s Crash, which films and books have influenced your concept of the superunknown?
David Northedge: We both read a lot of Ballard before writing the proposal. I wouldn’t say Crash was the main influence, it’s more that Ballard has a great knack of prophesying the next five minutes, a kind of visionary present rather than a distant future land, and this runs through all his work.
AW: Reading the classics in my teens – Orwell and Huxley – those books really stick with you. Films such as Brazil, Battle Royale, The Terminator, 28 Days Later, and Children of Men, and then there’s been a heap of big post-apocalyptic CGI films out lately. What was refreshing was reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which really looks at the opposite end of things and strips it back to make it about a single relationship rather than a race. The whole melting pot of influences got us thinking and perhaps it was McCarthy that put us onto a more open idea of the unknown and hope.
How much of a political dimension is there in this exhibition, in relation to climate change for example? It seems to suggest the self-destructive tendencies of our age, the lack of self-regulation.
AW: We didn’t want the exhibition to be all doom and gloom, a lot of recent visions have shown total destruction in post apocalyptic worlds, and certain works in this show may have elements of that, but we also aimed to explore our hopes, dreams and fears. We wanted to show light with darkness, elements of the psychedelic and human spirit amongst chaos. Some of the works show toxic sky and destroyed worlds which can’t help but be political, even if they do so indirectly through referencing works of film and literature, many of the classic books were written as warnings to future generations about what could happen, whether its through control states or through human actions. I think the digital side of the exhibition has an interesting political angle, elements of pixels, matrix’s, static and markets, these data streams that fill all our lives, areas of communication which are new and growing rapidly which can’t be properly regulated, user generated content on the web – blogs such as this one.
Have the two of you curated many shows, either solo or together?
DN: We have worked on a few things together in the past, actually more so than individually. We did a two-man show on Vyner Street a couple of years ago which went well and it spiralled from there. Finding somebody who you feel comfortable working with and can rely on is difficult but invaluable. Just logistically putting on a show this size would have been a nightmare for an individual.
AW: While searching for the right space for Superunknown we put on a small three-person show called ULTRAMEGAOK in pop-up space in Hoxton. Along with our own work we also included Matthew Atkinson, so it kind of acted as a prelude to Superunknown and got us thinking more about how we would want to approach a larger version with further works of a similar aesthetic. This has certainly been the biggest thing we have done to date but having known and been in dialogue with the artists for some time it made the hang surprisingly easy with us both so familiar with the work.
How did you find it fulfilling two roles within the same show: as both exhibiting artist and as curator?
DN: When we first started talking about the show we drew up a list of about 15 artists who we felt could bring something to the Superunknown project. I thought that we had a good brief for the show, but we invited so many artists, because honestly, we were not sure whether we could attract people like Mike [Ashcroft] or Gordon [Cheung] to show with us. However almost everybody said yes, so we had to go from thinking about an intimate space to thinking about something much larger and more testing. So in the end it became much more about the project than our work. I think you need to remain objective about the show, to make it work as a whole rather than make it a crass ego trip.
AW: Including our own work in the show needed to be justified, we didn’t want it to be a token gesture so it had to feel coherent with the others. I set myself an earlier deadline to complete my painting, I guess I treated it like any other show, as if I hadn’t seen the brief before, so as to approach it with fresh eyes without the baggage of knowing what everyone else was putting in or how I could see it hanging. The last thing I wanted was to be worried about finishing a painting on top of having a heap of admin to do at the same time. Once I had finished at the studio I could put my curator’s hat on and enjoy the organizing and the practical side.
There’s an interesting mixture of abstraction and realism in the show. I’m thinking of the contrast between, for instance, Michael Ashcroft’s The Huntsville Times and Sayshun Jay’s Statictest. Do you feel that abstraction lends itself better to postulations of an unknown future?
DN: We didn’t want to be restricted to one or the other when selecting for the show. There is a novel by Ballard called The Atrocity Exhibition which is formed by many paragraphs of text which at first seem unrelated but slowly the imagery and subjects of these texts begin to resonate and an underlying story appears. I see the two disciplines of realism and abstraction within this show as a kind of drifting in and out of consciousness. You see something as definite as the image in Mike’s piece at the entrance of the second gallery and each piece after becomes more abstract until you reach the abrupt ending of Jay’s Statictest, in which so much and so little is happening simultaneously.
AW: A lot of the abstract work deals with the digital age, replacing contact and real world experience with a virtual landscape. I think both the abstract and the representational offer something of the unknown; with traditional landscape the viewer can either buy into a vision, or (perhaps naively) dismiss it as being too far fetched, whereas with the abstract it can be harder to call.
As you mention, traditional forms of landscape painting appear throughout the show. Was it your intention to use these traditions to highlight the difference between the past and a possible future, perhaps to cling on to the past?
DN: If it does that then it wasn’t intentional. Perhaps that happens more directly within Andy’s practice. Comparing the past to the present tends to polarize emotions into past equals comfort and reassurance, and the future being uncertain and daunting. We wanted to embrace the future in Superunknown and for it to be anything but the well-trodden cautionary tale routine.
AW: Alternatively I think some of these landscapes highlight similarities between the past and future: rather than being dramatically different it offers ideas of devolution and returning to a simpler, less developed state.
How does the superunknown operate specifically in your own work?
DN: I’m interested in beauty and vulgarity, or more specifically when one becomes the other. I source imagery from plastic surgery websites and society magazines. These images are manipulated through a painterly process which subverts the intention of the original image, onto which we are encouraged to map a fictionalized reality to achieve our individual hopes and dreams, turning it into something nightmarish.
AW: The painting I’m showing in this exhibition, Earl, is the continuation of a series I’ve been working on which explore derelict structures, they are set against rusting back drops which take the object out of their surrounds recreating it as a floating abstract form, devoid of context or history. Earl depicts a wooden dolphin in the river Thames, they are posts or structures which boats would have been moored to but are now mostly rotting away. I like the fact that they still exist in the modern day as a relic to an industrial past. Its the sort of element I could imagine in a landscape torn apart, objects that no longer serves a purpose but has survived until now and could continue to exist amongst our more modern surroundings of high rise and cars.