Haltwhistle is a small rural town in Northumberland. Geographically positioned in the centre of the country, between Carlisle and Newcastle upon Tyne, its economy owes much to tourism. The neighbouring Roman Wall and the serenity of this secluded setting captivates visitors who, come spring, don hiking boots and DSLR cameras and set off to explore this historic landscape. The Shed, a contemporary art exhibition and project space, offers a graduate programme of artist residencies, exhibitions and curatorial projects welcoming artist interventions in this small corner of the Northumbrian countryside.
Louise Winter’s most recent sculptures make use of readymade objects found in and around Haltwhistle during a two-week residency at The Shed. These discarded objects; a plastic cable duct, an empty crisp packet, a polystyrene cup (etc.), have been salvaged from the harsh Northumbrian winter and re-animated in the gallery space. In stark contrast to the rugged beauty of the Northumbrian landscape and spectacle of the Roman Wall, the objects forming these sculptures are the urban waste of rural life. This is the opposite of what you would find on the picture postcard in the local shop.
Central to the work is the rupture of object-identities; the discourse surrounding Winter’s work is that of collapsing existing meaning and finding new potential for readymade objects. These sculptural interventions are born of subtle working, the artist’s hand is light but purposeful as objects are stripped and reinvested with symbolic meaning.
‘Crisp Packet’ (2015), is a faded, weather beaten empty packet of Walkers Prawn Cocktail crisps, lay on the floor of The Shed. Upon entering the space, one could initially be fooled into thinking that the packet had blown in behind you, but it soon becomes clear that this is not the case. A faint buzzing and scratching sound signals that this empty crisp packet is not entirely static, but rather slowly shuffling across the floor. Inserted into the crisp packet is one of Winter’s signature devices for reanimating objects – the vibrator.
A recurring mechanism in Winter’s sculptures, the vibrator not only transforms objects into kinetic works, but its signification has ties to the abject. This relationship with gender politics is present in other works by Winter, though the tension between object-identity and gender politics is always implicit.
The exhibition consists of five new sculptural works. A minimalist presentation, the geometry of the install is clearly linear. In ‘Two Buckets and a Drain Pipe’ (2015), a length of black pipe balances atop two old upturned buckets. The bold diagonal line of the pipe cuts through the exhibition space, and the deeply faded red and green hues of the buckets interrupt the mainly monochrome gallery space. This work hums. A vibrator in the centre of the tube creates a droning, murmuring sound that is amplified by the upturned buckets.
Winter carefully utilizes the vertical and horizontal spacing of the gallery in her placement of sculptures. The negative space between sculptures becomes the space of sound, as when navigating the gallery the scratching, whirring and humming of works heighten and fade with each pace.
Two works make use of an electric fan, the first of these, ‘Electric Fan, Polystyrene Cup and Pebble’ (2015), sees an upturned fan on the floor play chase with a polystyrene cup weighted down by a pebble. The polystyrene cup continually attempts escape, jumping and darting though the carefully selected pebble provides just enough weight to hold it atop the fan. In another work, a fan sits atop an old stool and swivels so that it cyclically directs air against a small branch affixed to the wall. The branch moves against the force, signifying the natural elements that would usually surround this object.
The sculptures presented in The Shed are temporary structures. After the exhibition, they are to be dismantled and the found objects returned to their original locations in Haltwhistle. The exhibition, in this way, deals deeply with the ontology of art. Once the exhibition is over, somebody who had viewed these objects in the gallery could plausibly walk past them in their natural setting without realising. The process in which Winter works is not irreversible or final. Unlike the neighbouring Roman Wall, these sculptures exist only briefly, and their meaning is momentary, but these humble interventions are just as intriguing as the historic landscape in which they are found.
7 March – 4 April 2015
The Shed, Haltwhistle, Northumberland
Images courtesy of the artist.
Rachel McDermott is an Artist, Writer and Regional Editor of Corridor8