The Laing Art Gallery and The Newbridge Project have combined to create an interdisciplinary exhibition with a difference. Echoes of Abstraction II presents highlights from the Laing’s modern and contemporary collection, reworking a previous exhibition of the same name. In response, four artists from Newbridge – Jamie Cook, Adam Goodwin, James Pickering and Paul Trickett – have worked together as The Occasion Collective to produce The Bottomless Pit of Outros; an interactive installation that hosts paintings from the gallery’s collection within one of their Edwardian suites.
The Bottomless Pit… is divided in to zones that speculate spaces for living; in order of walking there is a bathroom, kitchen and bedroom as well as a cube-framed non-space that annexes the expected flow. Walls, objects and furnishings are aligned by a hyper palatable colour scheme; cacti and abstract geometric forms punctuate the transitions between zones. Permeating the entire space is an ambient undulating soundscape accented by chimes. The sound’s gentle presence changes how people often behave in this space (there is talking).
In front of each zone a chair offers a firm location from which to enter into another realm of the work – virtual reality re-renderings of the domestic sets that map directly onto their physical counterpart via VR headsets. On/in the VR kitchen a female’s floating arm extends, as if from your body in a convivial (if rigid) sweeping gesture that follows your gaze. Looking around you embody the show-off host, marvelling at panels that sweep around cupboards like the sides of a possessed Rubik’s cube. This humour can be found elsewhere too. A set of decks takes the place of the IRL kitchen sink; a plastic fried egg spinning on one turntable. William Brooker’s ‘Naxos’ (1962), a subtle and mutely paletted painting is also absurdly close to the toilet, which is filled with multi-coloured ball pool balls. Yet the humour is not mocking. Instead, it contributes to the showmanship required to make guests/users/viewers share the projection of a temporary world.
Through the inevitable neck craning to see all facets of the VR galleries, as viewer/ user you become a spectacle. When interacting with Pickering’s bedroom based sonic work via Xbox controller you involuntarily perform as immersed gamer, at home in the tableau. This sense of purpose generates momentum from clues that unfold from the installation’s internal references: spot the floating VR painting fragments or the physical objects impossibly scaled up in their digital renderings; the bathroom’s checkerboard floor looks like an oversized chessboard; its linoleum’s edge is curled up like the Laing’s Blue Carpet – a public artwork and multi use urban space that sits at the gallery’s entrance. Clued into the gameplay, the floor reads like a reference to the chess playing that smoke-screened Marcel Duchamp’s twenty-year production of ‘Etants Donées’ (1966), the stereoscopic peephole work that gave viewers a proto-VR experience. The allure of the puzzle is hard to resist.
As in the world beyond the walls of the gallery, in The Bottomless Pit… there is no easy dualism between real and virtual. The grubby grained low-res water that laps at the edge of a cubed GIF feels more real than the geometric MDF objects that lurk behind set walls. More than through the paintings’ physical and virtual framing, the permeations between realms illuminate the legacy of abstraction that the exhibition presents – one infused with the textures, material and bodily presence of everyday life. Curiously, The Occasion Collective’s immersive temporary world invigorates one’s wider sense of place. The municipal gallery comes into focus as a cultural destination, a host and repository of art to be constantly reimagined.
Echoes of Abstraction II and The Bottomless Pit of Outros, Laing Art Gallery (in collaboration with The Newbridge Project), 22 July – 20 August 2017.
Kate Liston is an artist and writer based in Newcastle.