Friday, 27 July 2012

Michael Samuels at Spacex - This Was Tomorrow

The new exhibition at Spacex opening this Saturday, July 28th, is This was Tomorrow by Michael Samuels. Bloggers and tweeters were fortunate to get a preview of the work earlier this week.

Samuels' work has a fun quality and incorporates bright colours and integral lighting - although pieces in the current show are a bit more subdued than previous ones. His works have evolved over time from work incorporating miniatures to stacks of reconstituted furniture with the look of highly individual but slightly unstable robots.

All the pieces in this exhibition are constructed from recycled furniture (Formica and G Plan) and objects from the 1980s (habitat lamps, eight tracks and speakers) and have a distinct architectural dimension. For me, apart from nostalgia, they evoke influences ranging from the Memphis group objects of the 1980s to Mondrian and Robyn Denny's work in the 1960s.

Ettore Sottsass for Memphis - Carlton room divider

Although the works appear improvised, they are carefully crafted. Samuels uses skills similar to those employed by another of my favourites, Joe Tilson, and also owes something to the Constructivists.

Joe Tilson - Ziggurat

The G Plan furniture itself evokes memories from a previous time. For me, G Plan will be forever associated with the Harrison Gibson tower store in Ilford (which also housed the Room at the Top club) and fights outside with local skinheads. I think it will spark memories for most people - even if it's only memories of gran's furniture. I'm slightly embarrassed to say that I still have a couple of Wharfdale XP2 speakers, as featured in the main work here, doing service in my living room.

The largest piece is a reconstructed behemoth sideboard which fills the main gallery. Strangely, Spacex have covered the windows, which does show off the lighting effects better but also gives the work a slightly menacing feel.

In the corridor there are two smaller works hanging on the wall. These are perfectly crafted pieces (and do make you wonder a bit about assertions that Samuels' work is spontaneous).

The three pieces in the second gallery space are of an intermediate size and, because this gallery has no natural light, throw shadows and coloured light across the walls. I particularly liked the piece entitled metronome, which represents the pendulum and its horizontal motion with frames arranged at right angles.

The works have a nostalgic quality but, with their orange & blue clamps, clever use of coloured panels - reminiscent of Hans Hofmann's push/pull stuff - and architectural style, they are also elegant abstract constructions.

Hans Hofmann

The Spacex blurb says that Samuel's practice "can be characterised as a form of contemporary bricolage. He breaks down the furniture to a point where it can no longer be identified for its intended use, thus heightening the tension between the function of the objects and their immaterial value." Fair enough.

In all, this is an exhibition which can be enjoyed on a variety of levels and everyone can find something to take away. It's a satisfying exhibition that will make you smile.

Meanwhile, you can ponder on the terrific mindmap (above) produced by Rachel Sved during her work experience placement at Spacex - And at Jez Winship's Sparks in Electrical Jelly blog you can read a thoughtful analysis about more of the roots and influences of Michael Samuels' work. The exhibition runs from 28 July (3-5pm with introduction by the artist) and then Tuesday to Saturday until September 15th.

Finally, as a postscript, I would just recommend a couple of related items: This post from the Voices of East Anglia blog about brutalist architecture from the 1950s and 1960s (from which comes the above photo of Le Corbusier architecture in Paris). I would also recommend the book shown below about Memphis objects, furniture and patterns, which has some great colour illustrations and is available relatively cheaply secondhand in paperback. Some true design classics from the 1980s here. Examples of Memphis Group work can also be viewed online here.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Missing Scenes – An Evening at Hanging Rock

Missing Scenes – An Evening at Hanging Rock was presented by Louise K Wilson at Exeter Phoenix on 5th July - an evening during the final week of the Topophobia exhibition at the Spacex Gallery. This performance event consisted of Peter Weir’s original 1975 movie interrupted periodically with comments from three people who had read the book and then been interviewed about it by Wilson.

Louise K also introduced the showing, explaining  something about her obsession with the film and its subject matter. The introduction was entertaining, and the comments of the three participants, who came from disparate backgrounds and had contrasting views, added a new dimension to the viewing. However, the number of interventions was not great and they weren't distributed in anything like a regular pattern - which meant that the viewer often became immersed in the movie but was then rudely awakened by a reader's interjection. At the end Wilson tacked on a teaser - a rapid stream of text which might reveal the solution to the Hanging Rock mystery.

Oddly, at the end of the event there was no further discussion - just polite applause - which was a shame as it would have been interesting to hear the views of those in the audience and it would have rounded off the event, giving it a pleasing symmetry (although it has to be said that by the end there were a lot of restless people due to the very basic seating in the Phoenix Black Box 'cinema').

Equally interesting for me was the movie itself, which I hadn't seen previously. It is very much a movie of its time and all the while I was reminded of other movies and influences - The Go-Between, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Zabriskie Point, Sirens, Women in love and so on.

In fact the first half of the movie held up pretty well. It has a moody and eery feel combined with Jean Brodie-esque adolescent longings and preoccupations. The soundtrack is particularly effective, using aboriginal/pan pipe sounds which later build to a rousing crescendo of organ and choral work. For me the film would have worked if it had finished right then, when the girls took off their shoes and walked off through a gap in the rocks. This was, after all, 1975 and still close enough to the heyday of Erich von Däniken, author of Twilight of the Gods and its follow-up volumes.

After the girls disappeared, the movie seemed to lose its way. In part this was because the influences suddenly seemed to be more Hammer Horror and Granada's Sherlock Holmes. The film also seemed to lurch into whodunit and class conflict territory but with some oddly comic moments. The below stairs scenes had a touch of Benny Hill about them (and the guy cavorting with the maid was a dead ringer for the one who blows up the van in the Italian Job).

I think that perhaps the movie merits a second viewing in more comfortable surroundings (after a while the Phoenix chairs had really taken their toll on the viewers' concentration). Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable evening and an interesting commission by Spacex and the Topophobia curators.

If you're interested in Picnic at Hanging Rock why not try the quiz at  Alternatively, if you want to solve the mystery of Hanging Rock take a look at this and/or you can buy and read the missing final chapter of Joan Lindsay's book.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Topophobia at Spacex, Exeter - Ending this Week

Topophobia Curators: Eggebert and Gould

Topophobia, the title of the exhibition at the Spacex until the 7th July, is defined as the fear of place. It is the connecting thread between the works of ten contemporary artists who are on show here.

Polly Gould and Uta Kogelsberger

The project has been curated by Anne Eggebert and Polly Gould who also contribute to the show. It follows on from a previous exhibition organised by them in 2003 entitled Nature and Nation: Vaster than Empires, which also brought together the work of a group of artists to explore the similarities and differences between imperial powers and their possessions using botany and landscape as metaphors for their cultures (which worked a lot better than it sounds – see the book/catalogue ISBN 0951826212).

Marja Helander and Almut Rink

The current exhibition was initially conceived as being environmentally focused but, in its conception, shifted to the fear of place. There is a wide variety of work on display. Some of it is easy to appreciate simply as works of art in their own right, while others benefit from having an understanding of the piece in the context of the artist’s wider work.

Anne Eggebert

The contributions of the curators are amongst the most accessible. Polly Gould has produced glass reflective globes that stand on circular watercolours of the Antarctic, based upon the sketches made by Edward Wilson from Scott’s expedition. The result, which is apparently based upon early attempts to produce illusionistic images, is like a pinhole camera effect (like the one on the observatory next to the Clifton Suspension Bridge). Meanwhile, Anne Eggebert has produced detailed pencil drawings of places in the style of Google Earth, linked with drawings that illustrate why the location is significant.

Abigail Reynolds

In the same room there are other accessible works: Abigail Reynolds has cut old photos to reveal alternative uses at other times – a simple but striking effect, particularly when, for example, an image of the Greenham Common countryside is intercut with images of the Women’s Movement camps at the same location in the 1980s.

Finally there are Uta Kogelsberger’s photographs which do a sort of Magritte Empire of Light thing by showing us photographic detail that the human eye alone could not see at night; and Louise K Wilson's installation which is a continuous performance of a madrigal performed in a previously top secret Cold War testing site.

Louise K Wilson

In a second room of the gallery there is Almut Rink’s work which uses architectural modelling software to show us plants and whole worlds being created electronically. If you look at the catalogue accompanying the exhibition you see that she is posing weighty questions such as Can digital images serve as surrogates for experiencing nature? and other existential issues. This is a case where it is helpful to read the catalogue and to look at the wider spectrum of the artist's work. Spacex helpfully provides plenty of associated reading material and catalogues that can be perused in the cosy lounge area.

Matze Einhoff

Other exhibitors include Matze Einhoff, who has produced a video of where the Berlin Wall once stood, employing big screen production values; and Marja Helander, who has produced photographs contrasting modern life with the traditions of her Sami nomadic ancestry.

Emily Speed

In the darkened third gallery room Emily Speed has created a body fortress made from shutters; and David Ferrando Giraut creates a state of anxiety with his filmic pan of the aftermath of a car accident.

David Ferrando Giraut

The Spacex is having a bit of a makeover – The gallery is more welcoming, as is the new website. Why not call in and see Topophobia? – It’s on until the end of the week and it's free. Link to the Topophobia website here.