Text by Michael Mulvihill
Over the past ten years Workplace Gallery has grown to occupy two spaces, a new site in London and the gallery’s base in Gateshead. Workplace seems to be sensitive to the trend of galleries withdrawing from the East End of London back to Mayfair, and so last year launched Workplace London on Conduit Street, near the hubbub of Oxford Street. Their programme continues to represent their roster of Artists in both locations, and their current shows present the work of Tanya Axford, and Paul Merrick in their Gateshead gallery.
Axford’s new work explores a performative materiality, investigating a varying relationship between inanimate materials such as metal foil and reflective fabric, dynamic mediums such as digital projection, sound, and bursts of light from flashguns, with their psychological effects upon the viewer. ‘Choose or Hoard for the Future’ (2014) is a pitch black installation comprising of reflective fabric cut into ‘Vorticist’ shapes, momentarily illuminated by bursts from the flashgun. The effect is Orwellian with an after image simultaneously suspended in space before your eyes, while being impressed upon the mind.
Similarly destabilising is the installation ‘Feel That’ (2014), consisting of five micro digital projectors hung low from the ceiling. They project a closed looped film of foil twisting and convulsing onto crumbled material, accompanied by the sound of its contortions. Reminiscent of the works of the late Helen Chadwick, this work attempts to disrupt what is perceived against what actually exists.
Paul Merrick’s work on the other hand substantially deals with literal materiality, although alludes to metaphoric aspiration in a series of paintings that utilise materials more common to the building trade. Merrick’s paintings are constructed from compression board, some lined with the reflective surface of insulation material, others in the powdery blue, grey and pink hues of the raw boards. All the works are a stand dimension, but most are made out of sections fixed together with builder’s mastic. This conceptual framework is reinforced by all the works (hung like paintings) being Untitled, with the aesthetic effect recalling works by Brice Marden and Ellsworth Kelly.
Where Merrick’s work diverges from this post-painterly canon is through the inclusion of collaged colour images from National Geographic, the Great Outdoors and Wallpaper. This establishes a rhetorical dialogue between the substance of the materials and the lifestyle aspirations they promise, further heightened by the images seeming to depict aspects of the sunshine state of California, and so (perhaps) evoking post-modern notions of pioneering.
Despite the apparent distinctions between Axford and Merrick’s exhibitions, both artist explore and articulate post-modern disruptions and the re-inscription of language. Axford uses materials that dissolve perception to create illusionary spaces, while Merrick articulates materials as signifiers to invite narratives from the common-all-garden. Such strategies continue to question the structure and nature of post-structuralist reality.
Michael Mulvihill is an Artist and Writer based in the North East of England.
Image courtesy of the artist and Workplace Gallery, UK.