Text by Louise Winter
The adoption of systematic or ritualistic approaches to making is the chief coagulant for Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art‘s latest exhibition, featuring eight North East based artists who use drawing, painting and sculpture to explore the oppositions of order, intuition and the implication of the chance encounter.
But what is the significance of such approaches and how do they become visually manifest? Surely all artists adopt methodologies to enable and ensure the production of work and even making a cup of tea can be described as ritualistic. What perhaps separates these artists is a particular sensibility that comes from their treatment of materials, demonstrating a collective purpose to create beauty through limitation.
The drawings of Alex Charrington and Anne Vibeke Mou evidence a rigorous approach to mark making, with the latter’s Illumination series resembling fragments of nimbus cloud. Close up, subtle tonal gradations created by repeated vertical lines, hover on the fringes of perception, denotable only by the darker, more densely worked edges of the image. By the time we reach the centre, the hatching has become so faint that it almost resembles the white of the surrounding mount and, in so doing, holds the promise of its title.
From the monochromatic, we are thrust into the colour infused world inhabited by Rachel Clewlow. Her paintings, ‘133.52 Miles Walked’, ‘Map and 133.52 Miles Walked’ and ‘Key’, derive from a series of statistical diaries that document the way in which she inhabits the city- their colour-coded systems of reference recalling the visual language of maps, while simultaneously functioning as abstract images in their own right. The duality of these works (operating both as referents that point to the activity of the artist as well as images in themselves), contrasts with the hermetic system employed by Bray whose drawings Balance and Movement, lack the impact necessary to hold the gaze of the viewer.
If Clewlow’s works present an image of time, Kennedy’s kinetic drawing installation, Timecaster, renders it obsolete. Nine bell jars, each containing a blank clock with hands transformed into delicate armatures with a strip of white gold or silver hanging at their end, skim the surface of the clock e-v-e-r s-o s-l-o-w-l-y creating a myriad of patterns that subvert the notion of time as a unit of measurement: by having no beginning and no end, time is presented as a continuous present.
Richard Rigg’s ‘Song’, three leaves, black wire and a diaphragm pump, with its lack of formal similarities and evidence of the artist’s hand, perhaps least obviously fits in with the shows overall aesthetic. A gallery attendant explains that, in spite of the suction of the pump, intended to hold the leaves in place, they have fallen off twice. This wonderfully demonstrates the precarious nature of the work as it teeters on the edge of failure, who knows, maybe the leaves are meant to fall off and be an absurd parody of leaves falling outside? Nevertheless, the fact that Song contains the potential for it’s own unravelling perhaps makes it the most ambitious work in the show.
Peter J. Evans participatory project ‘The Cartographies of travelling without moving’- a collection of plane travel bags that travellers were encouraged to draw on (in an automatic rather than conscious sense) in order to create a visual record of the take off and landing, echo the absurdity present in both Rigg’s and Kennedy’s work. Earlier we saw the latter subvert the notion of time as a system of measurement, here the subject is transformed into a passive instrument or recorder- or are they? If the participants really are instruments devoid of all subjective experience, then surely all the drawings, having been conceived under the same instructions, would appear more or less the same? The range of visual responses confirms Evans assertion that ‘on the surface one journey resembles another, but each movement is individual, each cellular twitch unique and even in stillness we travel’.
From a work steeped in context it seems ironic then, that we are next met with an artist who appears to shun it altogether save for the title of his paintings, ‘Binary Rhythm (IV)’ and ‘(V)’. Both of James Hugonin’s images conform to similar principles of form and colour, dispelling any notion of them as random; clearly there is a system at work here, though what it is remains unclear. This mystification forces us to consider the works entirely in the present where our relationship with them is one of continual change as minutiae rectangles of colour, fluctuate like particles in a wave.
It seems fitting that we end with this contingency given the irony that the works in this show are the result of carefully orchestrated processes of making, whereas to display a work of art in a gallery is to open it up to a range of interpretive possibilities, where it takes on a life of its own, beyond the intentions of the artist. Chance Finds Us forces us to consider where meaning resides; is it in the process of making, the object that documents that activity or in the context of the gallery itself? Far from O’Doherty’s infamous 1976 assertion that the viewers’ presence is an intrusion in the gallery space, here it stands for a relinquishing of the control of the artist or, at the very least, a necessary transgression; after all, a game is always more fun with two players.
Louise Winter is an artist and writer based in Newcastle.
Image: Richard Rigg, Song 2014. Courtesy of mima