In any interaction with art, there exists an artist’s intention, a viewer’s reaction and perception to this intention, and the psychological nexus created by this connection, producing a third state of being-the best art remains averse to the static and fixed, and will ease itself into multivalence, absorbing and channeling each individual interpretation. The work of both artists represented in this show devoted to the theme of collapse (and potential for rebirth-or at least temporary reorganisation) are sterling examples of this ethos, at first seemingly one thing, but upon close inspection of detail and form, quite another. Kate Palmer’s intricate canvas landscapes may initially appear as aerial studies of complex rail network systems, squalls of white noise, or medical spreadsheets of brainwave patterns, but are in fact founded in the narrative geometry of tracks (each a personal tale of both free will and structured control) left behind in Alpine environments (Palmer is a snowboarding enthusiast, and it’s not a great leap to see how this immediately informs the work). A visceral energy surges across the canvas, seductive layers draw you deep into the frame, definition teases then coyly rescinds, lines intersect, break apart, drop suddenly, twirl and spiral, obscure dramatic stories of turmoil and mania suggested, voices embedded. Like looking directly into a blindingly white expanse of snow, both an absence and depth occur at once, soft surface with possible hidden peril. A table in the side room allows a visitor to intimately leaf through pages and pages of Palmer’s sketches, several chapters in her process, on parchment paper so ethereal to the touch it’s easy to imagine it could have been produced using snow powder as base material. David MacDiarmid’s sculptural creations, cheeky and playful and animated, gambol about the space amidst Palmer’s (mostly) mounted work with conceptual synergy. Two’s Company, a table duet, fools with perception from first look, as the piece that you assume looks the most vulnerable and delicate (spindly, haphazard legs, soft wood) is actually quite a deal stronger than its partner, which appears fuller, denser, more solid, but upon touch is of weaker, less substantial material, and the bed of which is without base, all assumptions blasted. MacDiarmid is consistent in this process, tricking sight with material-paper pulp and wood mimicking concrete in the aqueduct creation Flow, polystyrene mimicking marble in Duck and Cover-reforming and recalibrating possibility. Bent Over, frivolously positioned just at the edge of a mantelpiece, is a kittenish bondage homage, its elegant brass body a demure curl that could turn lethal should its copper coil suddenly spring, a threat in waiting. Collapse and Lean To, cane-like figures bent and gnarled, in woozy posture, steady themselves against a wall, two exhausted but undefeated gallery goers determined to see it through. The two artists complement and engage one another in a dialogue regarding constant, excitable flux and instability, positioning this sensibility as perhaps existence’s most meaningful, terrifying and resonant. Collapse continues through 24 March
A boy. A girl. Chance encounters on the Tube, in the queue at Caffè Nero, interest stirred, a concentration and attention paid to small personal details, a tentative and bold step towards first words and communication-with breathless brevity, writer (and actor) Cordelia O’Neill sharply limns the arc of a relationship from its burgeoning start through to its eventual capsize on eruptive grounds of circumstance and sad, supreme indifference of the universe. An omniscient narrator orbits around the main characters, a suggestion of some greater (cosmic?) force acting beyond the couple to construct an alliance, the two heedlessly and helplessly in its grip, foolishly following its template, not for once believing that there is anything other than the traditional trajectory in place. Small quibbles with in-laws, friends, preferences, each other’s personality traits and characteristics gently trouble the surface, but remain benign in threat, until a truly tragic turn severely, and with sweeping suddenness, wholly destabilises and breaks connection-with sanity, with comprehension, with sense, with basic belief in a benevolent universe, and ultimately with one another. O’Neill makes the audience keenly feel the sting of this piercing event, the gulf it creates, the intractable grief that consumes, hardens and exiles especially one individual. The audience is just as beguiled as the central couple, so breezing along on the heady tumult of a relationship in progress that when the ground is abruptly altered, it’s left as scalded and bereft and unmoored as the characters. O’Neill also does something very skilful with the narrator, who almost imperceptively shifts into an aspect with a much more personal stake in the story, so subtle you long to go back over preceding moments, now armed with the knowledge, to witness how she may have been all along building it into the script. This piece is emblematic of the opportunities a festival such as Vault provides: a forum and space to develop and produce work by forcefully talented emerging artists, with bold voices and fearless style. Vault continues through 18 March-in addition to the list of arts events, the venue also hosts a restaurant, cafe and bar, plenty of areas to gather for an evening’s full, satisfying entertainment.
One of “urban guerrilla” artist JR’s now signature large-scale Xerox photo sculptures greets visitors to this new Mayfair gallery devoted to street artists (the latest residence for the established Lazinc project, a partnership between Qatari businessman-and former spouse of Janet Jackson-Wissam Al Mana and Banksey’s erstwhile dealer, contemporary art specialist Steve Lazarides ), an arresting pair of sporty legs, tennis-shoed, jutting out from the first-floor windows, as if in frozen act of backward gymnastic move (the “other half” of the piece, the arched torso, lives just inside the entrance). Less an overview of JR’s career to date, the focus of the show is specific to his creations for the 2016 Rio Olympics, some of his most ambitious and colossal to date, celebrating the grace, strength and poetry of the athletic form, installed quite spectacularly in outdoor locations across the city: a high-jumper, in astonishing mid leap, just clears the top of an apartment block; a swimmer emerges, mid-stroke, from the seaside; a diver soars off a pier just about to land in the welcoming water. Anchoring each figure is an elaborate system of scaffolding which in and of itself is quite a feat of construction. For maximum effect, either distance (which rewards the majesty of each sculpture in relation to surrounding environment) or tight, close focus may be the best angle from which to view the work. On display are a series of architectural studies for each work, illustrations, prototypes, 3-D models, sketches, even some intriguing inked transfers of the images onto rough-hewn planks of wood, which are rich and successful works of their own. The visitor is given the opportunity to immerse the self in JR’s process, from initial conception to final production. You long to project yourself for just a brief moment to Rio circa 2016, to witness the monumental appointments. Ever since happening across an abandoned camera in the Paris metro in 2001 (so the myth goes), JR has taken to the streets, snapping portraits of marginalised, fringe-dwelling people, his work taking on an increasingly socio-political bent (recent projects address the plight of women, migrants, Middle Eastern conflict, favela gang activity, and he is Oscar nominated for his collaboration with iconic filmmaker Agnes Varda, “Faces Places”, a documentary travelogue in which the pair traverse the French countryside in a photography van encountering local communities, leaving behind magisterial images of the town populations emblazoned on local buildings, a visual encomium of the common people). Some may dismiss JR as all flash, but I believe that a generous and engaged sensibility informs the material, a sincere interest in and concern for those unfairly treated and enmeshed in cultural and political warfare, staging a very visible and public confrontation. Giants concluded its run on 28 February, but have a look at the gallery’s website, and please engage in further research online for JR’s various activities.