On the second floor of The Harris Museum and Art Gallery a small number of works have been chosen by curator Clarissa Corfe to respond to Richard Hamilton’s ‘Oculist Witnesses: According to Duchamp’.
The title alludes to a specific element within Marcel Duchamp’s piece, ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)’. The ‘image gravure’ detail depicts symbols taken from a commercial eye test. The circle and three elliptical rings resembling a halo and radial sunbeams were reconstructed by screen print on a large sheet of glass by Hamilton in 1966.
The room is spacious, a proportion of the floor space is occupied by a large geometric structure by Sovay Berriman. The walls are sparsely hung with a total of two paintings and three frames containing reconfigured postcards.
Facing the sculpture, and minutely mirroring the events in the room, stands Hamilton’s wall mounted Oculist Witnesses: According to Duchamp. Impossible to ignore, it commands your attention quietly like a holy relic. The clear, pure aesthetics hint at indecipherable secrets.
The two oil paintings included in the show, and placed either side of the glass, are current works by the artist Lindsey Bull. Dark and brooding, the ambiguous characters suggest disturbed psyches, lost in dilemma and oblivious to scrutiny. Observed simultaneously, the colours and contours correspond almost magically with the lines and angles of Sovay Berriman’s sculpture.
Berriman looks for the abstract in landscapes or experiences. Exploring the nature of objects, she develops moments or matter into drawings and sculpture or ‘markers’ as she calls them. The Entertainment Suite is an ongoing project which evolves and mutates according to its environment, in this case, to the atrium ceiling above it. Using the title of the show as a starting point, this version attempts to explore notions of observance and openness. Jutting, concealing, exposing, the shards of acrylic rear up and ricochet into empty space. Imprisoned centre stage is a large blue cloth bundle, a ‘marker’ intended to suggest emotion or angst. Inspired by surrealism, her work acts as a trigger for the imagination, the sculpture leaves its closed form and enters what Duchamp described as the fourth dimension (what you can’t see with the eye).
The postcards by Ruth Claxton may be small in size by comparison, but as a response to the Oculist Witnesses they are very relevant. Bearing in mind the original procedure used by Duchamp of painstakingly scraping away the silvering right up to the drawn line, these finely cut found postcards echo the same skill. The references to the historical resonate perfectly with the almost alchemic quality of the symbols on the glass. Her concise distortions corrupt the original image, uncovering streams of conceptual abstract forces.
This is not a large exhibition and benefits as a consequence. Each piece of work has space to communicate in harmony with its neighbour. The visitor leaves the gallery with the sensation that the surrounding works are gathered around an altar, each fervent response an offering, not only to Duchamp’s concepts and Hamilton’s accomplishments, but also to the mysterious influence of the glass’s simple iconography.
Sam Pickett is an artist based in Preston.
Oculist Witnesses: According To Duchamp, Harris Museum and Gallery, Preston.
2 May – 4 July 2015