Within a stone’s throw from the Winter Gardens in the heart of Blackpool lies Abingdon Studios. The artist-led organisation is typical of countless others throughout the UK, tucked away but serving a vital purpose to the local arts community. Entrance to the exhibition is discreet; within seconds one begins navigating upwards via several flights of stairs. The studios are an intimate environment for housing practices and promoting new and visiting artists. Continuation and/or duration is a conceptual project presented by Norwegian artists Margrethe Aanestad and Elin Melberg following a micro-residency in Blackpool. It focuses on the ‘abstract expression of universal existence’ realised in the form of a collaborative installation.
The main sculpture presented at the rear of the space was a large, textile-based design called ‘Awkward Blue’ (2019) by Melberg. A rich, uneasy sculpture, prompting abstract thoughts of family stories, quilting, fishing and grandmother’s old shawl all rolled into a visual texture of dissonance. Scanning over the piece, the need to find patterns is abruptly halted by seemingly uncomfortable wounds gaping in the textile. Vibrant and colourful buttons bring elements of joy into the otherwise intentionally awkward sculpture. Melberg has also included three examples of her ‘Mosaic Drawings’ series (all 2019). Each mosaic utilises random colour, form and sequence akin to a scaled version of a patchwork quilt. Viewed closely, the shapes overlap, yet have a carefully coordinated script for meditation.
Aanestad’s own paper-based works are equally as intriguing, with her series ‘The Elements of Beginning’ (all 2019) experimenting with paper and ink to its full potential. ‘Gold Light’ has been created with gold metallic ink distributed over the whole medium. The uneven spread of ink has corrupted the paper resulting in unusual properties of reflection and texture. ‘In To Vastness’ is a deep, rich visual where ink has been allowed to drift, absorb and spread around the paper completely. A snapshot of violet, purple, blue and black has mixed and dissipated unevenly. There are certainly visual parallels here with Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still, who also used large expanses of colour to create meditative responses. The third piece from ‘The Elements of Beginning’ series is called ‘Sun Ocean’. Another example of Aanestad’s colour field abstraction which explores the infinite and ephemeral properties of thought and existence. The hues created demonstrate how the ink has somehow dyed the paper. Like a sun setting over a vast sea, the artist has been able to capture its movement via absorption. All three abstract images abandon figuration whilst exploiting the properties of ink and its expressive power of colour assimilation into the material.
The remaining two pieces in the show are intended to be viewed in combination according to the curator, Garth Gratrix. Margrethe Aanestad’s ‘The Nature Collection II’ (2019) combines textile and marble to contrast ideas of fragility and robustness. The marble shows its qualities within its patterns and smooth exterior. Similarly, the softness of the fabric exudes its own attractiveness; yet the relationship is visibly uncomfortable. Aanestad’s ‘The Golden Dusk’ (2019) is a powerful abstraction of pastel colour. Hypnotic in gesture, its shape is unforgiving in its ability to tap into the subconscious. The ideas which Aanestad has examined circulate around abstract dualism contrasting tenuous and robust properties. This even goes as far as the way the prints are attached to surfaces; further, this curt approach is potentially encouraged in allowing the pastel to potentially spread when the project is transported and displayed.
Universal existence is a broad subject, especially in areas of spontaneous expression. Examinations of the ephemeral and the perpetual can often lead to Foucault based analyses regarding power and subjectivity; not in this case. Both artists have created meaningful works that capture subtle differences between materials, scale, fabric and even presentation.
Continuation and/or duration, Abingdon Studios, Blackpool.
24 October – 14 November 2019.
Michael Orr is a freelance media creative based in Preston.
Continuation and/or duration was a collaboration organised by Garth Gratrix.