FRANCIS ALŸS, STAN DENNISTON, ANDY HOLDEN,
BEN RIVERS, UGO RONDINONE, MAAIKE SCHOOREL & GEORGE SHAW
Taking its title from a line in Philip Larkin’s ‘I Remember I Remember’ this exhibition explores the meaningfulness of events in our lives, as opposed to the unadorned fact of living.
Investigating the nearly imperceptible evolutions in everyday existence or the ‘slow history’ that lies beneath the surface of culture, the works delve beneath the rapid succession of events on a human scale, to find the slower currents typical of the history of people — relating to their environment, relationships and the structures that shape societies. The history described by Fernand Braudel as an “anonymous history, working in the depths and most often in silence”.
Francis Alÿs’ work stems from his interest in the factors that shape urban existence and the innovative schemes that ordinary individuals devise to subvert them. Employing a range of media his works involve intense observation and recording of the social, cultural and economic conditions of particular places.
In his 1997 film ‘Paradox of Praxis I (Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing)’, he uses poetic and allegorical methods to address political and social realities. The five-minute film sees the artist push a large block of ice — identical to the thousands that are delivered every morning to street businesses — through the streets of Mexico City. Initially he battles with the traction of the huge weight, struggling on in the intense heat of the day, until all that remains is a small wet stain on the pavement — a poetic rupture that alludes to the seemingly unproductive hardship involved in the daily survival tactics of the city’s residents.
‘Los Soñadores (The Dreamers)’, 2009, Stan Denniston’s nine-channel video installation reflects the artists continued interest in the boundaries between still and moving image, adopting an uncompromising realism in its almost motionless portraits of sleeping Havana street dogs.
At one point, however, the dogs suddenly wake up en masse, rise to their feet and exit the screens. Denniston presents this moment in slow motion, instilling intensity and meaning to their movement; are they being prodded to move on, displaced perhaps as wandering refugees? Playing with the tensions between domestication and the instinct to survive, private ownership and public responsibility, the dogs contribute symbolically to the notion that — unlike many popular tourist-board narratives — Cuba’s social and political systems are somewhat weathered and worn.
Andy Holden’s work incorporates monumental outdoor structures, plaster, bronze and ceramic sculpture, film, painting, collaborative lectures, recorded music and musical performances. Often showing these diverse media together, his work builds a fragmented yet richly textured collision of ideas, references and forms.
‘The Cookham Erratics’ (2011), a series of six sculptures constructed from steel, foam and mixed knitted yarn, presents a personal archaeology from which a disembodied voice recounts a fragmented narrative that Holden has composed — meandering through subjects as diverse as geology, art history, theology and metaphysical poetry.
The films of Ben Rivers are rich, cinematic portraits that challenge notions of scale, perspective and stability. Shot on a wind-up Bolex camera, ‘The Coming Race’ (2006) features hundreds of people frantically scrambling across rocky mountain terrain; the footage is shrouded in an indistinct haze that drifts over the image to cloud our vision; the groups that populate the film exist outside of conventional time.
The destination and purpose of the crowds’ ascension remains unclear throughout the film’s five-minute cycle — it is a vague and enigmatic pilgrimage that sits somewhere between the real and imagined as we witness the eternal struggle of humankind to reach the summit.
Ugo Rondinone’s ‘still.life. (cardboard leaning on the wall)’, 2009, accentuates the sculptural properties of the everyday. The textured surface of the bronze cast cardboard takes on a painterly dimension and in this respect reflects the long tradition of still life — of apparent naturalism underpinned by compositional artifice, and of time suspended.
The bronzes’ lead core reinforces the notion of heaviness, of time slowed down, by pulling it towards the ground to emphasise ideas of impact, isolation and passivity; paradoxically, in so doing, it provides a melancholy reflection on its subjects’ inevitable transience.
Maaike Schoorel’s minimal paintings inhabit a position on the edge of legibility. Her brush strokes suggest outlines, marks, colour and shadow and invite a particular way of looking that allows the images to unravel over time.
Using her own photographs as reference material, Schoorel paints portraits of friends and family, as well as depicting the familiar scenes and activities that reference collective memory. She also alludes to the history of her chosen medium through the subject matter of paintings. After selecting and cropping her photos Schoorel involves the picture in a series of reductions until she wears away the original image to reveal something new.
The paintings of George Shaw comprise a sustained enquiry into the nature of time, place and memory and record the mundane and often overlooked.
Based on photographs taken of and around his childhood home on the Tile Hill Estate, Coventry, Shaw’s landscapes are at once familiar and unsettling. Working from photographs, Shaw renders his work almost exclusively in the Humbrol enamel paint used by model-makers. His paintings have a unique, instantly recognisable quality; a reflective, seductive surface that lifts them from the realm of the purely representational.
There is a haunting quality to the work and one wonders if these non-descript, un-peopled places hold bigger secrets that may never be fully revealed; that they act as a rich repository for our own imagined narratives.