Holiday as myth. As fantasy. As a product of memory. As a philosophy of nostalgia. The artists in this show take the traditional holiday excursion seriously, pushing beyond the transient lighthearted pleasures provided by times away into realms of profound reflection and contemplation, pondering its lingering intellectual and emotional legacies upon the self. Day Bowman’s abstract, dream-laden beach scenes conjure days both sunny and overcast, the geography and structure of the landscape suggested in swirls, swoops, squiggles and blocks of paint, coalesced filters of youthful experience, a reminiscence of play and imagination; Anna Barlow’s fevered confections (constructed of clay, porcelain and glaze), smashed against walls , in various stages of being consumed, gleam with maniacal artificiality, trivial and ephemeral, but enduring and powerful metaphors of appetite and indulgence, of the excitements of relinquishing responsibility and exiling stress; Kitty Stirling’s found object and memorabilia pieces (comprised of bingo cards and stamps) rescue transitory articles from oblivion and transform them into venerated artefacts of time spent and time passed-and her deconstructed deckchair absurdly and exuberantly celebrates the resolve of the British character in the face of hardship; Judith Tucker and Marguerite Horner’s uneasy works address abandonment and emptiness through eerie uninhabited or anonymous images of neighbourhoods and roadways, Tucker’s paintings of holiday homes after dark especially charged in their anxious absences; Amanda Wallwork’s stratigraphic column and colour code for the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site (a 95 mile stretch Dorset and East Devon coastline) reveals not only natural temporal geographic developments of landscape but also the cumulative effects of human movement upon the ground, marks and prints left behind, the (sometimes) tense conversation shared between the two; Sophie Marritt’s video piece is a hazy, blurred bus journey from downtown L.A. to LAX captured on camera phone, revealing a sensibility unmoored, a jumbled trip through alienating concrete underpasses with occasional thrills of incongruent verdant life in sudden, fleeting vision; Jake Clark’s colourful, jocular sculptures are fond interpretations of holiday structures (lighthouses, towers, miniature golf courses, hotel room fixtures), as if a young child, still in thrall to holiday, gathers together available materials to recreate beloved locations and objects; Lydia Blakeley’s febrile, restless collages directly confront systems of manufactured fantasy and their subsequent mental and spiritual fallout, impossible images of aspiration, of not-quite-feasible or attainable reality, triumphs of “false”nostalgia. Quite beyond the practicalities of planning for a holiday, and the physical holiday itself, there exists a nucleus of sensual and fanciful engagement, embedded long-term in the psyche. Getting Away continues through 28 July, then transfers to Quay Arts, Newport, Isle of Wight.
To tread or not to tread? The gallery staff are no doubt endlessly amused as each visitor enters the space to be immediately confronted by Dolly Kershaw’s colourful, serpentine path that winds like a stone carpet off into the room-the dilemma and trepidation etched on each guest’s face of whether to purposefully walk along it, or to respect it as a work of art and politely sidestep it, admiring it from a safe, near remove. Kershaw definitively means for the public to directly interact with her work, the process of continual flux between construction and disassemblement its raison d’etre. This ethos extends to the work of the fellow artists in this show, exploring the tensions between manipulation and chance, the synthetic and the natural, the exertions writ onto the canvas, contradictions held in strange harmonies. Sue Arrowsmith’s fragile, haiku treescapes, like troubled, dark Japanese watercolours (echoed in her use of ground Japanese sumi ink) tumble between the abstract and the representational, shapes struggling for definition against inky backgrounds (their resemblance to film negatives is inherent in her use of 35mm colour slides as study guides from her various walks throughout London), the flow and sprawl of limb a revelation of meticulous detail and serendipity. Defects are brought to the fore in Susan Gunn’s panelled paintings, which incorporate base materials, and willingly yield to natural processes-cracks, folds, eruptions transmute into purpose. They are monochromatic conversational landscapes of fracture and imperfection, assertions of both intent and spontaneity. Philippa Lawrence’s bound bonsai trees, constricted limbs dressed in bright cotton threads, animate nature, enhancing and extending a base drama already present in the source body and shape. The pieces exist in a wave of playful asphyxiation, and operate as a kind of resurrection of sorts, as bonsai trees are effectively dead items-Lawrence’s efforts could be taken as elaborate funereal wardrobes, majesterial offerings to the beauty and stature of the natural world, a form of deification.Michelle Benoit’s gelled wall sculptures (of plexiglass and wood) are emotional palimpsest equivalents of the geologic time scales, a suggestion of the interplay, and overlay, of memory and event and sentiment, an encompass of time, directed by light and colour. Chromal isolations of anger, calm, resignation and joy pulse and flash around the anchor of wood, a panoply of a lived life. The sense of the works breathing is strong overall-and indeed, given movement throughout the gallery, Kershaw’s “live” piece may have already transformed by the time a guest leaves-or, in the act of departure, a guest may contribute personally to its alteration, becoming one with the themes of the show. Whispering Colours continues through 19 July
This showcase of street theatre (staged over the course of two weekends, the first in Greenwich with the stunning backdrop of the Cutty Sark and the Old Royal Naval College, the second amongst the concrete canyons of Canary Wharf) continues to be one of my most anticipated events of the year, never failing to ignite my senses. Although this year collectively the pieces didn’t register as strongly in either narrative or artistic content, the overall skill of the performers remains peerless, and there were plenty of highlights. The consummate act of this year’s programme was the Finnish trio Race Horse Company, whose Motosikai is a marvel of acrobatic clowning that builds thrillingly to ever-more outrageous and jaw-dropping antics, utilising such props as axes, bowling balls, skis and stone planks, as well as being a complex of potentially dangerous feats of tumbling and jumping, in which the physical boundaries of the performers’ bodies are pushed to the limit. Sorriso, a sweet, wistful, beautifully costumed tale of a love transcending the grave, performed on stilts (which grants movement an apropos otherworld quality) squanders much of its poignancy on ill-advised audience participation which detracts from the essential intimacy of the central couple. La Belle Escabelle is a lighthearted bit of choreography between two men and a series of stepladders, each move one of escalating intricacy and daring that eventually challenges the core strength of one performer in a climactic, bravura sequence.
Canary Wharf offered more traditional dance, the pinnacle of which was Nomadis, featuring a sinuously hypnotic fluency of movement between its two performers, in flawless sync with one another, two strangers drawn magnetically into the other’s orbit. Bolero stressed the strain and intensity of the central couple’s exertions, the physical exhaustion and grave focus, the grind and demand. Consequencies, with its manic motion, dancers colliding and falling-and occasionally walking over one another-jovially explored being out of step. Gibbon’s dancer/juggler duo suffered a bit in the afternoon heat, sweaty hands defeating precision, but their good nature and easy camaraderie softened the imperfection, and they were able to create moments of poetic movement despite setback (the heightened ambition of many of the manoeuvres is so mind-boggling that achievement of even half of them is still impressive).
Even the works that are not entirely successful will most likely offer a memorable moment or image-such is the breadth of what is on view. Bring on next year!
Please visit my Instagram account for video footage from the event-still images, of course, can’t quite provide the proper perspective.