Roadside Museum featured a selection of artworks excavated from a twelve-month burial in a roadside field in West Lancashire. Curated by artists Gordon Culshaw and John O’Hare, the ‘art residency’ involved 13 artists’ work selected from an open call, which were then buried in a designated plot and exposed to organic decay in naturally acidic soil. The excavation process was documented and featured in the exhibition alongside the remains of the artworks.
The exhibition venue – a terraced-house basement in the Beeston area of Leeds – echoed the underground habitat that the artworks had resided in during their year-long ‘development process’. Not all the original artworks survived the burial and the fragments of those that did presented varying degrees of fragility. Preservation measures, such as the plinth which encased Peter Trukenbrod’s (miniature/reconfigured ‘Equivalent VIII’-esque) ‘Sugar Cube’ and Stig Evan’s text/painting fragments in ‘Untitled’ which were cleaned and fitted into display units, performed the conservation function of museological display. However, the stuffiness and pomposity usually associated with the display of priceless and rare museum artefacts were disrupted by the several artworks which were able to be handled.
The works spanned various media from painting and sculpture to sound and photography. Several artists utilised analogue media, such as tape cassettes and slides, as if to suggest that the burial and unearthing of this media were symbolic of the resurrection of the postmodern analogue medium. Chris Wood’s ‘Untitled’ took a recorded soundscape from the farm burial location, which was then subjected to the land’s natural decomposition of the tape reel, and Graham Dunning’s ‘Sound, loss and decay – Music by Metre’ experimented with the analogue process through abstract soundscapes on a looping turntable. The two exhumed book works on display by Topp & Dubio and Barbara Ekström also arguably represent archaic forms of media in contemporary culture; one only partially decayed and one almost entirely.
The erosion of surfaces during the burial process was another theme shared between the artists. Verobika Lukasova’s ‘In Time / Underground Occurrences’ examined the effect the burial had on 120mm transparencies, and Raksha Patel’s ‘Untitled’ consisted of prints taken from a 35mm film shot on the farm location before and after burial. Fred Martin’s ‘Exvagus’ also emphasised the surface erosion of material, but instead of examining the effect on existing works as Lukasova and Patel had done, Martin buried a blank zinc plate and made prints from the patternation resulting from soil erosion.
Samira Shafiei’s buried painting ‘The Unending Series’ transformed flat surface into sculptural installation through the decay process. Originally the largest work in the collection, the canvas was buried at the bottom of the demarcated plot. A projection showed some images of the original work against a brick wall, which effectively juxtaposed the materiality of the wall against the spotlit sculpture. The decomposed grey mass of canvas and paint, littered with broken bits of frame, took on a new life reminiscent of 1960s anti-form sculpture.
The deliberate erosion of information and history is antithesis to the traditional museum conservation process. Both the artists’ and curators’ selection of works for Roadside Museum was unique in that they consciously chose works to undergo a specific but limited degradation and decay process. Using a variety of rare and analogue materials and museological techniques, the combination of contingent object and curatorial framework provided a thoughtful interrogation of decay as a developmental process and excavated remains as finished artworks.
Image: ‘The Unending Series’, Samira Shafiei, 2015. Image Courtesy BasementArtsProject.
Further information about upcoming projects at BasementArtsProject can be found here.
Alice Bradshaw is an artist, curator, writer and researcher based in Leeds.