PXVIII,Platform Arts Members Show, 2018, 6-29 December 2018, Platform Gallery, Belfast

Installation view – from L: G Carson, Damian Magee

If you think that the installation looks like many other exhibitions in Europe over the last two decades,  you may be acutely aware of the spirit of the age,  borrowed from the German language as  Zeitgeist.  Philosophers associated with that idea include Herder and Spencer and Voltaire. It counters the Great Man theory popularized by Thomas Carlyle which sees history as the result of the actions of heroes and geniuses.

For compariosn I selected an image available online from the 2018 exhibition by two Slovak artists

 

Roman Ondak (b 1966) and Štefan Papčo (b 1983), from their exhibition titled Sky Gravity (19 Jan – 16 March, 2018, Zahorian and Van Espen Gallery Bratislava) Ondak called his  exhibition in  South London Gallery (2026/17)   “The Source of Art is in the Life of a People” – a claim easily adapted to Platform members, e.g. Aoife Earley: Street Series 1-3 (Digital photo on c-type photo paper), 2018 taken by iPhone7; “I enjoy the convenience and connectivity of my phone camera” (gallery handout) 

Earley also explores the chance mobile phone photography harvests while the photographer is mobile, i.e. driving or driven.  It may appear obvious for now and here. The implication is that the viewer’s mind drives the aesthetic experience.

Let me digress to test that.

In 1966, the philosopher Karl Popper conducted an informal experiment:  During a lecture at the University of Oxford, he turned to his audience and said: ‘My experiment consists of asking you to observe, here and now. I hope you are all cooperating and observing! However, I feel that at least some of you, instead of observing, will feel a strong urge to ask: “What do you want me to observe?”’

Then Popper delivered his insight into observation:

‘For what I am trying to illustrate is that, in order to observe, we must have in mind a definite question, which we might be able to decide by observation.’

The question for Earley appears to be the value and power of spontaneity. Of a flow which she arrests.

Andrew Glen(b1981) makes the “curious relationship between object, experience and artist”  into a locus that facilitates the choice of a found object.   Yes, it nods towards the Arte Povera, yet, it has an up-to-date root: Glen’s personal collection he started in 2015. On the far wall  the blue-green  Bute wool&found objects is a part of the ongoing series  ATOMICA.   

The cabinet and attached objects carry the title  “E. Gomme”, enigmatic for those of us who do not know the history of the G Plan furniture.  (https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/E._Gomme)

Andrew Glenn is recycling a useful object into a free art by canceling its usability, not miles away from Duchamp a century ago.

When a person visits an art exhibition they carry in their mind both “closed” and “open” questions.

Installation view: D Magee, G Carson, video Alex Brunt.

The closed questions are “a priori” thoughts, likely to be connected to their previous experiences with and memories of art. They refer to similarities and differences. The open ones are those formed by dynamics of curiosity and creativity of the viewer on one hand and the power of the work of art (the artist).

Hayley Gault

It is not a straightforward process –  ‘All observation must be for or against a point of view,’ is how Charles Darwin put it in 1861. Hayley Gault included two long paragraphs in the gallery handout to explain how her curatorial practice which focused on environment and landscape was supposed to champion “ the value of exchange and types of transparency”.  She printed a stack of sheets listing similarities between her father, a farmer, and herself: an artist, curator, activist, researcher, writer.  She named this installation Things me and my father have in common. 

H Gault

Its roots are in installation art, in conceptual art, in early modernism minus Dada,  in the art and language tradition of the 1950s. It also echoes, perhaps unwillingly, the not so glittering removal of specific talent as the indispensable protector of visibility. (I have in mind those periods when we see the hegemony of ideology). Her exhibit confirms Ondak’s statement that “The Source of Art is in the Life of a People”. That includes the visual artist’s ingenuity in crafting questions, expectations, hypotheses, and theories to make sense of their subject – visibly.

This exhibition strips the objects of flattering their makers’ importance.  Instead, it matters what is vitally located in each exhibit.

Christopher McCambridge revives the conviction of William Morris that so-called lesser arts are equal to the rest because they are life supporting. Except, he moves in the other direction – towards the removal of the original practical use see http://www.chrismccambridge.wordpress.com/

 

Alteration, 2018, found fabric, dress, embroidery thread, an embroidery ring

Hand stitching the fabric aims to remember the hand weaving of the cloth before it was more often machine – made.  Both processes (sewn by machine and by hand) are legibly there, so it is not a case of canceling one and replacing it. It is a method of a metamorphosis of one object becoming another. Remember Ovidius Naso? He seduced even  P Picasso to illustrate metamorphoses…

Here, it occurs by replacing the very value of use championed by W Morris.  Yet, McCambridge entertains a similar aim:  to make an object recognized as an aesthetic object by replacing the machine with a hand.

Something similar to a replacement appears on the surfaces of  Dreaddgerm, which Gerard Carson describes/defines as ” a manifestation of stratified oily techno objects, dredged from antediluvian sludge territories morphed into objects that speculate on the dark forces of techno-capitalist time”.  (Gallery handout)

Quite! I give up, but do not deny the link to the 1918 manifesto by Tristan Tzara quoted below.

To impose your ABC is a natural thing—
hence deplorable. Everybody does it in the form of crystalbluffmadonna, monetary system,
pharmaceutical product, or a bare leg advertising the ardent sterile spring. The love of
novelty is the cross of sympathy, demonstrates a naive je m’enfoutisme, it is a transitory,
positive sign without a cause.
But this need itself is obsolete.

(see http://writing.upenn.edu/library/Tzara_Dada-Manifesto_1918.pdf)

Gerard Carson may agree with some of Tzara nonsense as nonsense, but in visual terms, he is a dead serious player for tacit communication between optic, haptic, and illusionary.

Dreddgerm, 2018, wood, thermoplastic, epoxy resin, silicone, borax crystals, PVA glue, chain, spraypaint

Consider his Statement

Stretched like elastic, it’s untethered from hermetica, blooming from conjunctions.

A speculation on futures via a tenuous materiality that is constantly on the verge of dissipating.

(Re)Mixing  from the mutating jungle of matter, feeding through a viscous interstitial mesh.

(http://gerardcarson.tumblr.com/Statement)

I see the chain and I read a sculpture, a rough immobile silent sibling to the chatting mobiles by Alexander Calder.  Its prettiness gives way to terrorizing sadness of broken lives,  broken by those dark forces, he mentioned.  In between the cascading down and never reaching the ground, it seems to stutter J’accuse (thinking of Emile Zola). And then it wiggles out and pretends that nothing matters, whispering: I am a construct.

Rachael Campbell Palmer 

exhibits installation with sculpture and print. It may be thought of as three objects not connected, but the way they are placed is softly considered to signal togetherness.

She gives it all one title: “Untitled (Inventory), 2018 (polyester casting resin, concrete, plaster, digital print). Maybe she entertains the thought of a chain, and not just of grouping. After all -she prefers traditional techniques – a kind of a chain, a thread,  between now and before. In her statement on the gallery handout she singles out the connections to locations and memory and preference for multiples, both an association with time. The supreme chain.

Image result for https://rachael-campbellpalmer.squarespace.com

Her trees(or magnified weeds)  are like personages  – meeting in a meadow … I hesitate to rule out conflict, or an accident.

Moving away from the back wall, the visible space is dominated by Damian Magee. 

Theta Waves”,2018, Graphite on paper, brass eyelets, paracord

Its dorso is empty.

He suggests that it is a “depiction”  of Gigantomachy from the Pergamon Altar, based on a low resolution digital image.  (Gallery notes, image downloaded from Wikipedia))

It would appear that the drawing selects a perceived rhythm of the volumes as a wave of subjective attention.  Magee makes another claim for his drawing: ” This treatment of a fragment …seeks to explore the ways in which time has informed phenomenological shifts in the experience of cultural objects.”   As I understand it in relation to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit published in 1807 and based on a precious philosophical intuition: consciousness is not a completed institution, it is constructed, transformed to become other than itself.  As if the selected wave is how the sculptural fragments appeared to Magee’s consciousness when he aimed to capture the essence of what he observed.  That subjectivity is one of many possible.

Iolanda Rocha  lets her subjectivity move on and on, claiming equivalence for each state of what she saw, recalled or imagined.  Those rich pickings are downsized by the summary title “Schema”. 

The seven small paintings/prints (cyanotype and gesso on wood (all 2018)  do not tell a story that has one beginning and one end.    Each stands confidently alone and together as if there were identity between the two states of being.

 

However the absence of nature – beyond signaling the atmosphere – become a significant sign of anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism.

 

Hannah Casey-Brogan aims at the intimacy of seeing, viewing, by altering the expected, normal,  when observing a small format image.  Her “Untitled” (oil on aluminium, 2018) does not fully escape into abstraction, allowing the red become an arch above a melee of either a very distanced crowd or some insect, or just a multitude of dark traces.

Another small-scale object is made with several materials: text, paper, vinyl, glass and frame. Jane Butler ‘s School of Thought #4,2017.

  

Reminiscent of the preoccupations by the Art and Language of 1967 -70  – it seems to be re-visiting the group’s early conceptual concerns as shown in the example below.

Map to Not Indicate 1967 Art & Language (Terry Atkinson; Michael Baldwin) born 1942, born 1945 Presented by the Institute of Contemporary Prints 1975 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P01357
 Alex Brunt installed a digital video, 19 mins, 2018 titled  Spit and Honey,
both those materials descending onto a head of a willing person.
Reminiscent of cinema verite it exposes the visceral, the setup, the observed, fragmenting the whole, perhaps in a hope of lessening the chance of absence of any subversion of the intention, by sympathy or its opposite.
The exhibition felt like a sanctuary of vanishing ideals.  Subdued.
Images courtesy Platform, and Simon Mills.
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Travis Somerville and Ian Cumberland at Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, 04.08 – 22.09 2018

The gallery calls it a “simultaneous solo exhibitions” connected to “the current themes (….) explored by the GTG  2018 – 2019 programme of approaching ways of looking” (Gallery handout). Like Humpty Dumpty I – you- GTG may  give those words different meaning. One is that the gallery programme aims to present some distinct ways of looking. But – by who? The curator? The artist? The viewer? Is it not always the case?  Seduced by the 20th C obsession with “la différence”, often that becomes the main value.  However, these exhibits allow for sameness to enter.

Travis Somerville, Invasion, 2017, graphite and charcoal on feed sack, Soviet issues gas mask and bag, 118x96cm
Travis Somerville, Invasion, 2017, graphite and charcoal on feed sack, Soviet issues gas mask and bag, 118x96cm

Painting or drawing a person transmutes a sentient person into an inanimate object. Nevertheless, verism holds on to more of the “soul”.  Nothing new about that. Look at Gentile Bellini’s self- portrait, how similar his way of looking at the live body is to that of Somerville above. I am not suggesting the debt of the younger to the older artist. Rather, a comparison of pose and modelling illustrates that the ways of looking do not depend on temporal context. Whereas, using vintage cotton pick sack as a ground, does, as do references to a Soviet gas mask and bag.

Gentile Bellini, Self-portrait, 1496 -97
Gentile Bellini, Self-portrait, 1496 -97

Bellini also added accessories in a portrait of another:  In line with the trends in European portraiture of the time, Bellini depicted the sultan in resplendent detail, his three-quarter profile framed by an illusionistic archway.

Gentile Bellini, Portrait of Sultan Mehmet, 1480
Gentile Bellini, Portrait of Sultan Mehmet, 1480

Mehmet is also represented by the trappings of Islamic authority: His red caftan and luxurious fur mantle are accompanied by a headdress (a wrapped turban over a red taj) that indicates his rank and religious identity; a piece of jewel-encrusted Ottoman embroidery hangs down the front of the frame; and the three crowns of Constantinople, Iconium, and Trebizond flank him on each side.

Travis Somerville, Exiled, 2017, Graphite and charcoal on feed sack, Soviet soldiers epaulets, 106.7 x 96.5 cm
Travis Somerville, Exiled, 2017, Graphite and charcoal on feed sack, Soviet soldiers epaulets, 106.7 x 96.5 cm

Quite a few “samenesses” between the then and now.

I am not sure that the double meaning is intentional in the terms GTG prints in its handout: “approaching ways of looking” – from where? to whom? by what? Are ways of looking distinct from ways of seeing? 

The verbs seeing, looking and watching, situate each activity in subtly different realms of attention and meaning.  In life and in art. Yet – what I see  I perceive as a process to make visible – even, particularly,  the invisible, e.g. empathy, fear, insecurity.  Human condition.

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Travis Somerville, This Land, 2017, graphite on vintage cotton pick sack, appr 256.5 x 133.3. cm

Drawing and painting, both have near hypnotising capacity to find correspondence between a fleeting perception and the unmovable marks on the ground. Between seeing and naming.  Between observed and made up.  I recall  Paul Klee: “Art does not reproduce the visible, it makes visible.”

Therefore, thinking of the art, I tend to replace the words “ways of looking”  with “ways of making visible”.

In the above drawing, the fatal experience of being “lost at sea” between escape and arrival arrests the retrieval of that experience in one moment.  While the reality is inherently fugitive.  As is generally the case with visual perception.  It may imprint on memory if my eidetic memory is good.  The rest is, as Balzac pointed out,  indéfinissable.

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On the image immediately above – a challenging 8-part painting by Travis Somerville that echoes Géricault’s Raft of Medusa, with its political charge. The Raft, 2016, demands to fragment perception into a stream of many partial views, resisting offering one all-embracing one.

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Travis Somerville, The Raft, 2017, Oil on Canvas 8 sections, 67 in. x 126 in.

It successfully transfers to me the impossibility of grasping it as a whole.  Like any of Breughel’s “tableaux”.  The event’s dynamic is not susceptible to one dominant view. This ragged composition mediates an experience of being inside a story.   There is no sign of the order of Alberti’s disegno.  Instead, the colours weep, accuse, make hope not to be swallowed by dark waves. The darkness of what it is they collectively make visible.

The choice of painting it in fragments removes the narrative from sliding into sentimental historical drama. Instead, it revives a mechanism of restraint akin to  Zola’s “j’accuse”… and hits hard the central issue:  the tragedy strikes and unfolds, strikes and unfolds … its duration unpredictable.  Homeland Insecurity  mirrors the experience as it would be lived,  a part after a part.

 

Mediation of reality by subverting the convention by control and absurdity appears in a display of the five exhibits by Ian Cumberland  in Gallery One.

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The title A common fiction appears both ironic and wondrous.  Is it a futile literalism that turns a portrait into a genre, à la Pieter Breughel the Elder? Just with one person, not as many as the 16th painter would do.  Or is it turning a portrait into a still life?

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The first “tableau” includes a carpet covering the floor, also painted on the panel with a fallen man. Suspended from a rough wooden support on the painting’s dorso, the body is seen from its back,  moving its head slightly now and then, movement afforded by the virtue of lens-based media.

Higher up on the wall, two video screens run information about various health issues.

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The All Consuming Selfie (2918)   presents a tromp l’oeil of the carpet around the hyperrealist (photorealist) rendering of the body. The painting and its support are the mute, unmovable parts.  The faith in the power of the painted image is immediately undermined by screens with words on the wall and projection of the pose of the man seen from the back.  Is it a pleonasm? Is it needed because the trust in mute poetry is waining? Matching up the two modes of representation cannot escape the dominance of “la différance” in the perception of visual images and text.

Adrian Navarro (Boston, 1973. Living and working in London)  pointed to a paradox inherent in painting practice.

“Man is an alienated being who thinks he is free. The same thing happens with painting, it is a free and expressive medium whose aim is the communication of a view of the world, where that freedom is not possible. This is the paradox I try to represent. “

Cumberland also explores the dichotomy between confinement and freedom inherent in painting and by focusing on a figure,  extended to the human being.

Ian Cumberland, Boom and Bust, 2017/18, oil on linen, video.
Ian Cumberland, Boom and Bust, 2017/18, oil on linen, video.

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To a certain extent, the installations are similar to still life.  The presence of the human being does not violate the terms of still life, as formulated by 17th C Dutch paintings.  Hypnotic ambivalence erases any chance of hebetude. Like Paul Cezanne, the painter is first true to the motif, but after that he plays with omens of impermanence.  Spark -germinate-unravel.  There are clues in brushtrokes and in attachments of real objects: flag, cage, wood, neon, carpet….

Ian Cumberland, Manufacturing consent (detail), 2018, oil on linen, wood, metal, 200 x 340 x 156 cm
Ian Cumberland, Manufacturing consent (detail), 2018, oil on linen, wood, metal, 200 x 340 x 156 cm
Ian Cumberland, Manufacturing consent, 2018, oil on linen, wood, metal, 200 x 340 x 156 cm
Ian Cumberland, Manufacturing consent, 2018, oil on linen, wood, metal, 200 x 340 x 156 cm

Quiet confrontations of representational accuracy and installed objects create less dissonance than the sudden “blind” gris-en-gris divided brushstrokes. Could be intentional or not. Make me think of decay.

Objects are there as if the painting needed them.  As if without them it would be incomplete.  Their “reality” results in estrangement of the painted part.  The question arises – what kind of alienation is that?

Ian Cumberland, False Flags 2018, oil on linen, mixed media
Ian Cumberland, False Flags 2018, oil on linen, mixed media

Marxism  defines alienation as hiatus between the worker and the product of work.  That’s not the case here.  Bertold Brecht established that estrangement enhances criticality and awareness.

That is applicable to these exhibits.  The caged painting and the woman’s gesture align to indicate a court procedure. Only to be undermined by the domestic setting behind her.  So this alienation is both similar and different from Brecht’s proposition.

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Ian Cumberland, Get the look, 2027-18, oil on linen, neon
Ian Cumberland, Get the look, 2027-18, oil on linen, neon

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Handwritten over the above  painting is the cost of each item in GBP, e.g. material, the model, etc.

Listing the model is a significant marker, that the painter works in the European tradition  – not the newer way of using photographs or video or cinema stills.

That leads me to conclude that this painter defends representational figurative painting by wishing it, letting it, win a competition with real objects.  That is, what I sense to be foregrounded. Through exposing it to estrangement, alienation works like Shklovsky’s foregrounding or defamiliarisation.

In his 1917 text Art as Technique he distinguishes poetic language from ordinary language :

The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.” (Shklovsky 16)

Cumberland  moves in the world of common reality, such as the animation of inanimate objects, but evolves defamiliarizing the viewer and provoking an uncanny feeling.

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The slowing down of perception ( like the smear of the blind blue-grey of the pills onto the hand) injects energy into a physical system of paint to “originate” difference, change, value, motion, presence.  Making painting strange (e.g. both by tromp l’oeil of the carpet and confrontation with real carpet) motivates comparison and recognition of “la différance”…

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Images courtesy Simon Mills and Golden Thread Gallery.