With their first show in seven months, since the closure of Anna Reading’s The Pothole in December 2019, Cross Lane Projects have emerged from lockdown with an exhibition of substance, enjoining two otherwise distinct sculptural modes under a banner of the ‘made’. In Made With… curator John Stephens stages something of a two-for-one – old work and new, the found and the formed – encouraging visitors into socially-distanced pirouettes between the jostling sculptural forms.
Through this approach, the ‘constructive’ borders the ‘entropic’ in a manner that encourages the viewer to consider those ideas of interrelatedness and consequence which underpin the oft-quoted ‘primacy of materials’ so familiar to modern sculptural praxis.
In the former camp, Maxine Bristow’s imposing ‘Component (Re)configuration i.210320-LA9 5LB’ (2014) calls to mind a modern workplace-crèche made strange, where the softness of children’s things abuts the tensile potential of fabric looms or fallen crutches. Whilst its sister-work ‘Component (Re)configuration ii.210320-LA9 5LB’ (2014), nestling between child-safe plug sockets, is suggestive of office blinds, designer toilet-roll holders and assistive ergonomics.
Bristow envisages her sculpture as a reconfigurable ’catalogue’ of components – synthetic props of upholstery wadding and aluminium pipework – to be staged and re-staged at will; a lingua-futura describing both the post-modern modular home/office paradigm, as well as – more obliquely – the mysterious process by which childhood memories are (re)constructed. Likewise, the titles of Bristow’s works borrow directly from the language of industrial design catalogues and stock-inventory systems, complete with location codes and dates of manufacture. Situating the work somewhat ironically at a site from which, otherwise, textile production has withdrawn; cloth no longer celebrated as the sustaining ‘bread’ of Kendal’s heraldic insignia.
Indeed, the blank labels of the adroitly hand-sewn cushion-like forms, redolent of pied-à-terre minimalism and high-end smartphone packaging, bring into sharp relief the need for modern industrial production to disguise the provenance of its products. The hidden-hand of manufacture, previously dismissed as distaff work, now increasingly the labour of marginalised and invisible minority groups. The work is both captivating and unsettling in turn; commercial workplace procurement systems encroaching on domestic spaces. As we enter a new era of work coming home, Bristow’s sculpture provides a coded examination of how, why and by whom spaces are created.
If Bristow’s sculptures, amongst other things, conceal their function through an industrial-aesthetic language, they sit in sympathetic relation with the singular presence of Mark Woods’ ‘The Collection’ (2016). Here the viewer is likewise transported to a place of uncanny curiosity, their senses demanding a clarity of purpose that remains frustratingly out of reach.
A pair of gilt-handled walnut tool chests, obliquely reposed, stand open revealing strange and troubling contents. Fine collections of buttons rest daintily atop drawers whose contents, upon closer investigation, grow increasingly bizarre. Thick, serpentine shoe-laces with unspeakable aglets; tumescent snakeskin mounds, labially be-lipped and inset with fur-lined plugs; padded specula with ridged and flesh-tinted malignancies. Other shelves remain tantalisingly, or perhaps fortunately, closed from view. If Mark Dion dredged the Thames to satisfy his curiosity, here his namesake trawls something far deeper and murkier before presenting the contents for our furtive consideration.
The power of Woods’ work causes one to feel caught in the act of looking. Reminiscent of the formative terror felt by the child discovered up to no good in the parental bedroom. Glance up from the cabinet, at a particular angle, and one finds themselves arrested by the gaze of a pair of looming leather ‘eyes’ – Woods’ other showing here, ‘Boy Racer’ (2020) – the dual embarrassments of the voyeur caught.
If Woods’ and Bristow’s work encapsulates the show’s ‘constructive’ strand of making, then it is within the freshly-minted offerings of Anna Fairchild and Sian-Kate Mooney that one encounters those ‘entropic’ forms, either repurposed in their function or the novel creation of un-seen agents, whose making is of a different order entirely.
With ‘The Follies’ (2020) Mooney takes the corrugated roof-panels most commonly found bolted to tumble-down outbuildings – their asbestos-enriched lifespans far-outlasting their desirability – and repurposes them into sculptural forms whose light-hearted and energetic presentation permits them to both exceed and escape their function. In covering their surface with decorations reminiscent of polyester shower curtains and crimplene midi-dresses, the optical pleasure of their sine-wave corrugation is purposefully confused; the work collapsing into a dazzle-camouflaged hall of mirrors.
Not least in its deft opposition to Bristow’s clean hyper-modern materiality, there is something undeniably nostalgic about Mooney’s work. A feeling that compounds as the sounds of an ice-cream van’s chimes drift lazily into the gallery and one finds oneself relocated, in a less-than-Proustian transport, to a 1970s Britain of civil unrest, political incompetence and the three-day week.
Upon a later encounter with the window of a wallpaper merchant closing-up for the day, and the curling reams of paper comprising its window display, I recall Mooney’s remarks about ‘impermanent facades…offering false promises of a better life’. In that moment, I find the work locating itself not amongst the ornamental totems of Sanderson Miller or William Kent, but instead within the domestic decorative tradition whereby an Englishperson’s home may become, if not quite a castle, their own personal folly.
Where Mooney erects hollow monuments to England’s gauzy future-past, Anna Fairchild’s installation ‘Jelly Ear’ (2020) folds itself between top-soil and gypsum to re-present forms of earliest agriculture and forage, though marked here with blooms of brash fluorescence.
Arrayed in series at roughly head-height, Fairchild’s plaster fungi baffle a corridor whose end-point disappears in a hypnagogia of ultra-violet. This unification of shape, pattern and light reminding one that modern-day, lamp-grown psilocybin trace a direct lineage back to the ritualistic psychedelic use of our Neolithic forebears; those more fantastical elements of the pre-modern British experience, from wood-elves to witchcraft, that experts increasingly attribute to ancient hallucinogenic adventuring. The staging of this work with its black-light-activated embellishments recalls both Mark Leckey’s magic(k)al relocation of an M53 flyover – as deep-rooted, folkloric non-place – and the fragmented, neon-tinged dancefloors of Simeon Barclay’s peripatetic 2018 show Bus2Move, yet conveys neither the weighty, freighted-ness of the former nor the active anthropology of the latter.
Much has been made of the current vogue for the Anthropocene in sculptural practice, with its implicit nudging toward sustainable models of activity in both art and life. Where Fairchild’s sculpture is at its most compelling however is when it eschews these chaste notions of environmentalism. Instead, the artist roots lengths of aluminium lattice-work into scruffily-cast segments of Cassini’s plaster, poisoning its fresh, ivory surface with a mouldy and blown-out pastel graffiti. There’s an undeniable pleasure in this wanton, yet purposeful, wastage, especially-so during a national plaster shortage where demands for decorative bird-baths and Rococo mouldings go unanswered.
Made With… then, offers the viewer two un-resolvable visions of materiality. Woods’ fetish-horror treasure chests and Bristow’s industrial-domestic codex occupying one space of comprehension, Mooney and Fairchild’s exploration of the ancient and near-history of material processes another entirely. That Stephens, in his curation, and Cross Lane have been able to present these distinct material semblances in any sympathetic order – and in a show that, at times, delights and menaces – deserves to be recognised. However, one suspects that these artworks, like all things in our current moment, would very much benefit from a bit more space and time apart.
Made With… was originally planned to be open at Cross Lane Projects 21 March – 9 May 2020, however following government guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic was rescheduled, and is now on 4 July – 1 August 2020.
Daniel Newsham is an artist and writer currently based inside.
This review is supported by Cross Lane Projects.