artists & participants
Perhaps the most instant decision was to include Alan Bond’s proposal to remake The Planetarium. This domed sculpture, made out of old doors and other reclaimed material, will fit snugly into Gallery Three at The Nunnery. The work, which has been assembled in a number of places before, but never in London, plays humorously with ideas of perception, distance, the sublime, and our impossible attempts to artificially re-create these experiences. Similarly, Brignell and Raimes’ DVD footage of inner and outer space – taken from extreme close-ups of hand made models – show trips into a subterranean world that are as much in the tradition of Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1871), as they are science fiction voyages into unknown parts of the cosmos. Maslen and Mehras’ work also deals with found or reclaimed material. Their defunct lightboxes taken from the London Underground contain photographs of landscapes populated by mirrored figures that displace their surroundings and natural environment. Much like Robert Smithson’s mirrored interventions into landscapes, these pictures deal with reflected and refracted ‘non-sites’, and the work they have included in this exhibition coincidentally shows a single figure located in an unusually floral Death Valley. If this provides another link to science fiction, then Giles Corby’s floor piece Underworld (2006), with its light box and volcanic stones placed on false joists, looks as if it could have been lifted from any futuristic film set from the last forty-five years.
Daniel Lehan’s small framed diary pages at first seem straightforward, yet within the context of astronomy and Alan Bond’s work, show another concern for the configuration or alignment of stars, this time in the form of astrological readings and newspaper predictions for the future. Situated at the end of each page, next to the events of each day, Lehan has chosen a number of forecasts that closely resemble the events of each day in an uncanny manner. Within the context of the sublime, Dawn Shorten’s series of small fixed pictures of cloud formations also relates closely to this feeling of the ‘beyond’ or a false mid-distance that indicates a suspended feeling of reality.
Of the artists in the show, perhaps Susannah Hewlett and Danny Pockets are the most unusual within this context. The theatricality of their work is important. Hewlett has chosen to show a series of video works, some of which act as documentation of her performances. All of her work deals with a sense of acute embarrassment, absurd situations, and ideas around repetition. This is demonstrated in An Evening With (2006), a film that consists of a theatrical cast who constantly perform a series of bowed farewells. Pockets is producing a new series of posters for the exhibition, each of which pictures a blue plastic bag caught in the branches of a tree. Surrounded by quotes from Marx, each poster humorously presents an apocalyptic scene redolent of failed theory, utopianism and humanity.
It sounds like an unusual thing to say, but a number of the other works simply appeared to choose themselves. David Saunders, who has been active since the late 1950s, and who has been written about in the legendary journal Studio International during his long career, shows medium sized abstract paintings that are located within a very British tradition. His paintings are decorative, yet subtly demonstrate a political edge, specifically in works like Shatila (2005), which refers to the loaded history of the refugee camp in Beirut. Having spoken to Saunders during the selection, it was interesting to find out that he taught Brian Eno in the late 1960s, someone who’s had a massive influence on music and culture through his solo career and work with Roxy Music. By turns, Gordon Cheung, an artist from a younger generation, makes shimmering dystopian images of buildings and architecture that are painted onto a ground of newspaper, which are mainly old copies of The Financial Times. He’s already becoming well known for his paintings, and is currently taking part in ‘British Art Show 6’. Here his work relates well, specifically to the context of painting in the exhibition.
It’s unfashionable to talk about skill and ability in this day and age, but the other artists have been chosen for demonstrating a visual intelligence in a very clear-cut manner. Mandy Hudson and Robin Dixon have adjoining studio spaces, and both artists make small-scale paintings that concentrate on modest subject matter and use paint in an interesting way. Dixon’s pictures show unusual figurative constructions in what look like fictional landscapes, and some resemble the slightly graphic, Slade School feeling of Victor Willing’s paintings from the late 70s and early 80s. Hudson’s pictures concentrate on diminutive scenarios, or details that go unnoticed in life. Her pictures of the small weeds that grow between the cracks in the pavement, for example, show the micro as opposed to a macro sense of infinite ever-expanding space that’s prevalent in other works.
The remaining three artists, Ruth Solomons, Deborah Crofts and Tomoya Yamaguchi, all make large-scale abstract pictures. Solomons’ work is gestural in nature and similar in form to Saunders’ smaller paintings, and there’s a comparable lyrical ability and sense of accomplishment in her work. Deborah Crofts and Tomoya Yamaguchi’s work is dynamic in a very different way. Crofts uses icons and symbols in an explosive mixture of pop imagery, while Yamaguchi’s pictures repeat a motif of white concentric circles on a black ground. The different combinations of pattern and scale indicate a cosmic or spiritual concern. The imagery is ornamental, but also indicates a zero point through its linear reference to black holes or the void.
In terms of titles for this exhibition ‘The Stars Down to Earth’ stuck quite early on. The collection of essays by Theodor Adorno from which the title is taken, speak of irrational systems of thought in contemporary culture, and these are analogous to the themes that exist in this exhibition. In the lead essay, Adorno analyses an astrology column in The Los Angeles Times from 1953, and shows the extent to which certain ideas have penetrated our culture and the dangers they might hold. What is clear from his examination is the manipulative nature of such beliefs, the effect on extreme religious and political groups, and the difficulty with which certain patterns of thought seem to die. The relationship that these texts have with the positions that exist in the work of the chosen artists – most noticeably in those works made by Alan Bond, Giles Corby, and Daniel Lehan, whose astrological predictions also present an uncanny and irrational narrative located in the heart of everyday life – seemed undeniable. Yet despite the fact that Adorno’s theory remains sophisticated, classy and relevant, it’s exciting to think of other possibilities that escape these dominant theoretical positions. Perhaps in a more positive respect, this exhibition’s title also refers to the boundless limits of the human imagination and the moments within art that escape philosophical determination.
It may seem inappropriate, but within this context there’s a no-nonsense quote that seems to free any dichotomy between theory and practice. It comes from the artist and former musician Don Van Vliet, the legendary lead member of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. On the back cover of the outfit’s 1971 album ‘The Spotlight Kid’ three small lines read: ‘The stars are matter, we’re matter, but it doesn’t matter.’ Perhaps a sceptical relationship with the spiritual and the infinite is unavoidable, but for me, this quote seems to say it all.
Andrew Hunt is an artist, curator and writer. He has recently been Assistant Curator at the Norwich Gallery and EAST and the director and publisher of Slimvolume Poster Publication. Hunt is also Reviews Editor for Untitled magazine and a contributing critic to Frieze and a number of other publications.
Catalogue excerpt by Andrew Hunt
The Stars Down To Earth
Kurator: Andrew Hunt
mit Alan Bond, Brignell and Raimes, Gordon Cheung, Giles Corby, Deborah Crofts, Robin Dixon, Susannah Hewlett, Mandy Hudson, Daniel Lehan, Maslen & Mehra, Danny Pockets, David Saunders, Dawn Shorten, Ruth Solomons, Tomoya Yamaguchi