Upon hearing the term heart shaped like a baseball bat, one conjures up an array of imagery. Is it meant to evoke a disjointed view on love, a tender cry towards a sense of achievement perhaps, or even a gutty nod towards the threatening, competitive traits we occupy? Either which way your cookie crumbles, it feels as though such a poetic remark was purely designed only to test the limitations of our imagination. Its significant others, arguably irrelevant.
Senses already agitated, we step into Oreil Wrexham’s PERICLO, a space for risk and experimentation, to view the work of artist Alfie Strong. Strong, too often placed in the jumble sale setting of haphazard group shows, rewards curator James Hedley John Harper’s faith in him by designing a refreshing and reassuring solo exhibition. Cohabiting in two parts, Heart Shape Like a Baseball Bat first appears as a impressionistic set design. A slick heather-like purple tone covers the walls. The floor is amassed with a limestone grit. It is considered. The second part would be the array of new works Strong has designed for this exhibition, which when placed in this well crafted landscape like setting interrupt the whole atmosphere. We are made to feel more aware of this uncomfortable ambiance, upon realising that scattered amongst the limestone are human teeth. Teeth that the artist makes clear have been knocked out.
The underlying presentation of Strong’s new work explores his self-confessed misunderstood experience of the every day. Amassed with personal details, a wooden bench crafted by his father features, there is a thorny violence to Strong’s voice that is muddled up and interwoven into his artistic talents. The seamstress skills he showcases in ‘Shiva Tha Destroya’ and ‘Well, I wouldn’t bother climbing that mountain either if I was going to get airlifted to the top, but unfortunately I have to climb it and its going to take ages, wear me right out and i’ll probably die on the way up’, are plain to see and speak for themselves. But they are disjointed by the childish like tactics he imposes. Conveyed perfectly in ‘Stationed After Millennia Shifting 750 Miles On Ancient Sheets Of Ice’, where Strong has painted white emulsion paint, and then papier-mached over a two large white limestones.
Strong’s strength rests with his ability to conceal yet show just about enough to leave us intrigued, and not baffled. A line which sometimes he misjudges. With references in this exhibition alone to Hinduism, Sesame Street, Jason and the Argonauts, it is too easy to shrug off such an abundance of explanations. Complex, Wrexham is a more than suitable setting for the alluring sentiment of Strong. Sandwiched in-between the beautiful Welsh mountains and the architectural honour of neighbouring Cheshire, Strong has a bit of this defiant Wrexham swagger and confusion about him. Well aware of this position though, he is able to revel in. Typified perfectly in ‘A Whole Daze Ritalin’, a plasticine model of a bowl of noodles and slices of avocado. Retaining it’s fake aesthetic this work represents a poor man’s meal, filled with aspirational hope and great irony.
Referencing an array of folklore, mythology and popular culture, Strong’s showcase shares similarities to the late and great Alton Towers roller coaster, The Corkscrew. Closed back in 2008, The Corkscrew had a slow, suspense filled 75ft ascent, before hitting a 68ft drop and reaching speeds of 44 mph. Known for its camel hump 180 degree turns and corkscrew inversions, towards the end of it’s life The Corkscrew became rough. Head bouncing side to side off the safety padding, one would leave the Corkscrew thrilled, disorientated, but with a slight headache and stiff neck.
Ashleigh Owen is an artist based in Manchester.
Images courtesy of PERICLO.
Heart Shaped Like a Baseball Bat, PERICLO, Wrexham.
6 November – 19 December 2015.