The Indians send signals
From the rocks above the pass
(Difford & Tillbrook, 1979)
In the two years since opening, The House of Blah Blah in Middlesbrough has added to the town’s burgeoning gallery scene with an exciting programme of exhibitions, projects and performances. Its imposing building, which has had many identities, including a life as the main Post Office, is a warren of interesting spaces, which are a particular resource for young artists and musicians, enabling them to see and take part in shows that often feature collaboration and innovation.
The latest show, From The Rocks Above The Pass, features sixteen artists, (Newcastle University’s vintage graduation year of 2015 is particularly well represented). The group exhibition is by MILK, an artist collective who share many of The House of Blah Blah’s aims around sustainable professional development in creative practice.
The installation in THOBB’s main gallery space includes works that examine where painting meets its surroundings; where photography meets 3D printing and where sculpture meets the mechanical and the wearable. The preview night for From The Rocks Above The Pass also featured video by Matt Pickering and performance by Rene McBrearty in the project space in the building’s former Sorting Office. Essentially, this is a show with a true group feeling – plenty of idiosyncratic approaches, shared concerns and humour, making it hard to pick individual favourites.
My long fascination with the gallery’s floor, a timeline of geometric tiles, floor boards and wooden blocks is emphasised by Xylomobile (2016) a playful sculpture by Adam Goodwin that circles the area around its central tether like a donkey in a mill – while delicately playing its own xylophone. 2016 graduate, Yasmin Jeyarajah’s tiny 3D printed Untitled (roast chicken) nestles ghostly at the juncture between floor and wall as if roosting (keep your eyes peeled) and Mark Riddington’s scattered dyed concrete Astronmy Domine (2015) seems to simultaneously reference broken tiles, orbiting planets, clustering disciples and Pink Floyd. On a nearby wall hangs Daniel Davies’ Untitled, an intriguing painting that demonstrates his interest in the partial erasure or redaction of ubiquitous surfaces – possibly net curtains and certainly herringbone fabric and tiles: a powerful mix of digital and gestural mark-making.
I have yet to see any of Maria Abbott’s sculptures worn on the body and so they still hold for me the curious quality of banded Japanese armour in museum cabinets. Displayed on shelves here in THOBB, the highly fetishized quality of Wild Thing (2016) does however speak of the artist’s concern with the commodification of the female body – more sex-toy than military uniform. Across the gallery, the DIY aesthetic of Joe Shaw’s Get Your Own Back (2016) (gunge, perspex, flower pot, screws, copper pipe, timber, bin bag) is a Technicolor yodel of action and consequence. It is in conversation with Juliet Fleming’s Oh You Silly Sausage (2016), installed high on the opposite wall which literally spells out ‘silly’ in hilarious, barely-balanced ‘sausages’. Rarely has a picture-rail seen such a use of ceramics.
Close to the gallery’s entrance/exit hangs Untitled (2016) an oil painting by Matt Antoniak. A portrait – but of the side/back of a head, it causes the viewer to take up a position that mirrors it – shades of Magritte’s Not to be Reproduced (La Reproduction Interdite) (1937). Who’s portrait is this? Is it the artist or it is us?
From The Rocks Above The Pass poses interesting questions about process and practice by holding dialogues between works, media and site that signal that the identity of Northern art scene is both vibrant and strong. The show has been extended until 10 August 2016.
The full list of artists: Maria Abbott, Lily Ackroyd-Willoughby, Keano Anton, Matt Antoniak, Will Burr, Daniel Davies, Juliet Fleming, Adam Goodwin, James Hindle, Yasmin Jeyarajah, Alice Jones, Max Lee, Rene McBrearty, Matt Pickering, Mark Riddington, Joe Shaw
Difford, C.Tillbrook, G. (1979) Cool for Cats, Santa Monica, A & M Records