Peter Mutschler calls himself director/caretaker of PS square in Belfast, while he could be also an honorary white witch or that proverbial Phoenix capable to go on and on in spite of Arts Council withdrawal of financial support.
“Since 2018, we are one of four recipients of the Freelands Artist Programme, funded by the Freelands Foundation, alongside Site Gallery, Sheffield, England; g39 in Cardiff, Wales and Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland. This new programme will provide funding totalling £1.5 million over a five-year period. Each institution will curate a series of two-year programmes with five artists annually, allowing those artists to receive much-needed support across both creative and professional development. This will enable us to work and support 20 Northern Ireland based emerging artists.”
The Expanded Studio Project is grounded in responsive collaboration between 30 artists from two different cities, Nottingham and Belfast.
As such, it is an interesting case of bonding across and above the aura of authorship. To co-produce an object of art, rather than just one of practical use, requires a mind that can, first, consciously discern beauty in the world around it and, second, see that the shared material (idea) can be imaginatively transformed to hold that value.
This essay follows two cases:
Linguistic Ambiguity involves the transformation of matter by Sinead McKeever (Belfast) and Kashif Nadim Chaudry (Nottingham) in relation to a simple command, e.g. Cleanse and Stain and Transition.
The haptic exploration of metal and clay by Christine Stevens (Nottingham) with Sinead McKeever(Belfast).
Linguistic Ambiguity started with McKeever receiving three metres of muslin and a word Cleanse from K N Chaudry.
She selected the sage cleansing ritual, then folded the silk between two blocks of wood.
McKeever then sent to Chaudry 3m of Irish Linen with the word STAIN. He infused the fabric with Tandoori Spices and added the word Erase. McKeever housed in in Perspex cube on a plinth, placing the Cleanse part on the top. The plinth is covered with found material.
These illustrative images keep silent about the visual elegance of this object, its absolute unity of materials so different that the likelihood of their togetherness was null until the imagination of these two artists overtook the real and the found. The insouciant object elegantly overcomes aporia of otherness by making visible the hospitable values of personal freedom and openness to the other. It started with materials and words. It ended near a philosopher’s remark: “Words are for meaning: when you’ve got the meaning, you can forget the words. .” (see Zhuangzi). When I viewed MvKeever -Chaudry’s Linguistic Ambiguity in Belfast – it was its mute poetry, it was a closed object and dark. The choice of haptic values on the surface of the pedestal and the resolutely closed perspex cube that offered unconditional hospitality: reflections of the surroundings.
At the Nottingham exhibition the command was Transition. Chaudry’s cleansed silk appears as too heavy for the slim support, and McKeever’s linen becomes a cloud with multiple threads preventing it to escape out through a window.
McKeever and Chaudry are operating a sense of transcendence that offers a bond, whose coherence admits that visual art, tacit visual art, is a spiritual wellspring. It inspires a feeling of wonder of an immersive transformation of one material into something else. Like in a Magritte’s paintings, but here, accessible not just to sight, but also touch and smell. The current research in related fields proposes that aesthetic qualities exceed functionality and are thus part of strategies for survival (Augustin Fuentes, 2019).
The two artists named their intention as “addressing ritual, identity and cultural heritage.”
Haptic Explorations have their roots in drawings and conversations. The inspiration offered by Viral Landscapes McKeever made decades ago is easily recognisable in her metal sculptures. Inspiration by older work could be thought of as inhaling its memory, artists are often converted to art by art itself.
While both responded to that inspiration each used their usual materials. Christine Stevens preferred porcelain, Sinead McKeever metal, namely mirrored Dibond, aluminium and wing nuts.
The optical softening of the ceramic piece elegantly evokes the remembered haptic sensation, born, as it were, from the ecstasy of welcome influence. Martin Heidegger called the task of re-situation of an object “enframing”. Stevens frames her material by echoing the poetic charge of the metal curves. She makes familiar and capable of becoming convincing a kind of “useless ” objects. They are containers with no opening or too many openings. The bulbous objects are still as fragile as any porcelain cup or plate, but optically they deny that they can break. The humourous interaction softens any possible doubt you may have that the porcelain sphere can collaborate with metal loops. It is also convincing.
Both artists treat influence as a gift, as an uncommodifiable surplus of inspiration. It became more visible in their work for Nottingham.
As the metal loops cradle the squashed clay or broken shapes, they insist on the magic power of one to protect the other. The openness to the other, the ecstasy of sharing, are values made visible and tangible, and without a doubt seriously needed in contemporary societies. Rarely an ethical and political statement has been made visible with greater grace. The poetry of the Annunciation by Fra Angelico comes to mind, its supposed (believed) healing force. In the gallery handout, Stevens and McKeever name the healing of trauma as their leading subject.
Stevens and McKeever achieved aesthetic oneness while respecting the materials differences, like Plato’s Demiurg making the world from circles of similarity and difference (see Timaeus). After the western world and its art plunged into the dreamscape of commodities any attempt to find the way out ought to be hailed.
McKeever, Stevens and Chaudry offer an aesthetic experience that includes the emancipation of senses, the spell of the sensuous, creating intimacy that deflects anxiety born in the world around us. The aesthetics of silence offering freedom from quotidian efforts.
What happens when what you see subverts what you know?
Images courtesy Sinead McKeever.
Note: Expanded Studio Project included art by:
Declan Proctor and Rhiannon Jones; Rebecca Gamble and Sinead Breathnach -Cashel (twice); Marek Tobolewski and Grace McMurray; Hannah McBride and Paul Weber (twice); Heather Wilson and Sarah Tutt; Alex Brunt and Ines Garcia; Tom Well and Louisa Chambers; Zara Lyness and Sarah Tutt; Christine Stevens and Zara Lyness; Chris Lewis-Jones and Esther O’Kelly; Gerard Carson and Roger Suckling; Dr Jacqueline Wylie and Mik Godley; Heather Wilson and Pete Ellis; Declan Proctor and Pete Ellis.