Spatial Narratives, at The Auxiliary Project Space, Middlesbrough, is the first solo exhibition by artist Loucey Bain, and it coincides with The Auxiliary’s fourth anniversary as an organisation. Curated by director Liam Slevin, the show is the result of Bain’s year-long embodied research into the visual narratives and social relations of the building, drawing on her roles as artist, studio holder and gallery assistant.
The installation and series of drawings act as a reader for a set of interior locations within the 11,000 sq ft warehouse building, at a time when the absence of a landscape of journeys is keenly felt across the world. Using the very stuff of the building itself, Bain narrates stories of the individual and collective through fictive forms, and through presence and absence, to construct a place of the self at a particular point in time.
Five plasterboard floorworks form a topographical installation stretching across the gallery space, emphasising Bain’s characteristic use of the fold in repetition. Developing her exploration of the material since her 2019 grad show at Northern School of Art, the folds suggest the possibility of potential actions, distorting space and time, bending, stretching, and pulling back on themselves to reveal inside/outside couplings.
‘…the infinite fold separates or moves between matter and soul, the façade and the closed room, the outside and the inside.’ Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, 1993.
The muted palette of pink, blue, green and grey, integral to Bain’s chosen material, relates to plasterboard’s specific fire, sound, moisture and thermal properties, adding to Bain’s act of narration of painting in an expanded field. The colour creeps off the edges of the plywood baseboards to disturb the sense of the work’s boundaries. Bain invites us to explore positional views; by hovering over them, to glimpse a birds-eye view of expansive imaginary mountain, plain and valley landscapes, or by crouching to peer through folds that resemble actual architectural apexes and bases – the footprint, walls, and ceiling of the gallery space.
Nearby, Bain’s observational drawings, ‘Minute Objects’ take the most ordinary of found items from The Auxiliary and turn them into works of real reflexivity – perhaps into poetic dream-selves of artist, fellow studio holders and viewer. They are still-life renderings of objects such as screws, pieces of wire and fuses at their original size, partnered by their own fragile shadows. On the one hand, they are not as incredibly small as the title ‘minute’ suggests and certainly took longer to make than 60 seconds, but on the other hand they do speak clearly of scale and of time. The small drawings are placed centrally on very large sheets of paper (5ft x 4ft), adding a dignity to their everyday familiarity through this ratio of size. The expanse of clean background holds memories of the blinding whiteness of paper encountered before drawing or writing, with its combination of tranquillity and anxiety. The distance between the edge of the works and the depicted objects also brings with it a sense of durational time, a sense of waiting in expectation.
The treatment of the objects is intense and intimate, as if the artist is the last poignant robot in the production line of these mass-produced products. A glimpse into Bain’s working process was found in her studio, where the objects themselves were lined up under a strong light on a wooden board, like sushi on a platter. Bain’s objects have a vitality in their stillness, and the multiplicity of these items in the world is ordered here through her spatial decisions and choices: they are really family portraits of presence and absence. The ‘Minute Objects’ are also depicted in a framed format on one gallery wall. Here the objects appear to have wandered off across their smaller backgrounds, as if to exit the edges of the frame to discover the wide horizons occupied by works on the other three walls – individuals reaching out to the collective once more.
Spatial Narratives is the first physical exhibition since The Auxiliary reopened briefly to the public in September 2020, and Bain’s point of view as artist/narrator in collaboration with Slevin as curator, has a freshness in its treatment of space, that focusses on the formal oppositions of ‘inadequate’ objects and materials to reveal the unseen poetry of the close-at-hand in elegant repetition. The grids of the supports for both floorworks and wall-based drawings add a new minimalist formality to The Auxiliary’s warehouse space for its reopening. The exhibition preview included an Open Studios event for the diverse Auxiliary community that had originally acted as a catalyst for Spatial Narratives. The Auxiliary remained open for this community of artists during a difficult year, staging virtual exhibitions and even hosting a socially distanced ABODE art residency in specially constructed pods. The team are now working towards The Auxiliary’s Sonic Arts Week, a celebration of sound, music and art, across Middlesbrough venues in July.
Spatial Narratives runs from 22 May to 26 June 2021 at The Auxiliary Project Space in Middlesbrough (Open Thursday – Saturday 12pm-4pm). The public opening of the gallery is subject to government guidance on Covid-19 restrictions. Please check social media channels before travelling for more information.
Annie O’Donnell is an artist based on Teesside.
This review is supported by The Auxiliary Project.