Downwards is a bold, minimal exhibition by artist Stephen Forge. The show, Cactus’ first since The Royal Standard’s move in August, is an installation that feels like a deviation and fresh start for both the artist and venue. The exhibition features one work in the form of an installation: a floor raised roughly three inches from the ground and supported by metal legs. Atop this platform is a rich, royal blue carpet. In the middle-left of this flooring is a rectangle where the carpet is absent, revealing the gridded steel beams of the platform. The vivid carpet contrasts with the grey concrete flooring. A sock encrusted with plaster is draped over one of the beams.
This installation takes up a third of the space. The rest is stark white, a classic white cube – a departure from Cactus’ old site where the Oriented Strand Board flooring was a notable feature. It draws attention to the new site and the differences between new and old. It has a bodily effect too: revealing the mechanics of the floor makes your consciousness shift into it, mapping out the continuation of the beams you can see. It makes you aware of your contact with the floor, the slight height off the ground, the closeness of the ceiling. You inhabit this work, enact the alteration of the architecture. The sock, however, grounds you. In many ways Downwards feels like a stage for the sock. It feels like the focus, sat as it is in the space carved from the carpet. There is a beginning of narrative, something outside of the artist’s critique. The carpet and plaster-encrusted sock both sit on the edge of materiality and the human. Forge speaks of this piece as emerging from his previous work in theatre. The visible part of a theatrical stage is the least interesting bit. Backstage, the supporting structure is much more compelling.
There are a lot of mechanics exposed in this works – that of architecture, of the gallery space and of our habit of anthropomorphising. It is because the work houses many divergent meanings that it can be questioning without resting on any one idea. It is a strong statement, but the message is unclear. Much like the backstage, the support for something that happens elsewhere, this work is not delivering narrative but the structure needed for it to emerge. Downwards, a deviation from Forge’s usual constructions that focus on human gestures, or on constructions that resolve themselves and offer no adaptability, is clearly a testing piece, in a gallery trying to settle into its new home. It is a perfectly apt first exhibition for Cactus in its new situation. It is a work of beginnings.
Downwards, Cactus Gallery, 24 February – 19 April 2017.
Devon Forrester-Jones is an artist and writer based in Liverpool and co-director of Surtsey Projects.
Image: Stephen Forge, ‘Downwards’ (2017). Courtesy of Devon Forrester-Jones.