At The Tetley gallery – a former brewery – change is afoot. A major renovation and re-positioning of the landscape, culture and make-up of this part of Leeds is taking place. Around The Tetley will grow a new city centre park along with residential and retail properties. Past structures will be uncovered, new systems installed. Built upon a hidden system of underground tunnels, the surrounding land is to be viscerally excavated and its innards turned outer. Old buildings will bear witness, some will fall and reveal their underbellies, which may look not unlike Hendry’s Cenotaph itself. Cenotaph, part of the Liverpool biennial touring programme, tells the past and predicts the future, using factory-made materials to tell tales of industrial rise and fall. It echoes the undersides of a place in transition. The innards of the city itself, its plumbing, its road networks, its arterial heartbeat, are present in its white casts. They urge you to climb on them, skateboard over them, peer round them and – as people passing through the grounds did the day I visited – walk through their spaces, briefly becoming part of them.
Inside The Tetley, the first floor is given over to Russian-born Neelova’s exhibition Ever. Echoing the interior architecture of a re-purposed building that rings with stories of its own past and future. If Hendry’s work converses with the outside landscapes of the city, those past and those yet to be, Neelova’s is in dialogue with not only the art deco interior of the gallery but also with the memory-laden narratives it contains. Using reclaimed architectural materials – often left over or peripheral element – she retells history, delivering what she calls ‘reverse archaeology’.
The central display space is occupied by reclaimed parquet tiles, oak panels, metal shelving units and a large metal grille. Leading off from this space are nine rooms and a smaller gallery, containing further work. There are three infinity sculptures; a sideways figure eight. One stretches out languidly, another reclines like a leggy model at the end of a long day, a third sits impertinently in a doorway. These swooping sculptural forms are made from wooden banisters from houses about to be demolished; a smooth worn wood that asks to be reached out to and touched, like so many hands have done before. From another room – through two reconstructed speakers – comes a deep, rumbling sound, like the ground stirring from slumber.
In other rooms Neelova reconstructs the dimensions of previous studios she has occupied, using a portable, collapsible frame. The memory of past times is within that structure, which each time is remade anew. A waterfall of parquet tiles, again remade at each new site, is draped from a beam. A pile of ridge tiles; a wall of copper; a compressed oblong of sculptural debris and waste; aeroplane propellers- both standing and supine – quietly, seriously engaged in their own business. Yes, change is afoot; and both inside and outside the gallery the enormity and the minutiae of it is expressed by the wit and wisdom of the sculptures.
Nika Neelova, EVER, The Tetley, Leeds. 21 June – 8 September 2019.
Holly Hendry, Cenotaph, The Tetley, Leeds. 25 June – 2 October.
Karen Tobias-Green is course leader for BA (hons) Creative Writing at Leeds Arts University.