Feel Me, The Birley

Text by Sam Pickett.

‘Enter at your own risk’ reads the sign on entering Martin Hamblen’s exhibition Feel Me at The Birley in Preston. Surrounded by black and yellow hazard tape (wrapped around carcasses of metal tubing) the senses are jarred, all is disquiet. There’s a faint odour of burning aromatics, whilst from an unknown source, a clang of metal on metal hammers out the beat of some mysterious industry, evoking the sensation of back yard workshops. Sometimes a dog barks.

There’s a lot going on here both visually and audibly, and Hamblen has deliberately made it that way, ‘preferring to err on the side of overwhelm’, with only 6 or 7 individual works occupying most of the floor and wall space.

The warning tape covers a landfill array of found items such as chair frames, shopping trolleys, handle bars and Zimmer-frames, which are then balanced, suspended and perched. Concealing their original domesticity they become non-specific warehouse hardware with a beautiful but repellent appearance. Almost nothing is soft, all is engineered. The title of the show, Feel Me, invites you to ignore your instincts and ‘step over’, to reach out and touch. And as you do so, the humour of the show begins to seep out.

A pink foam back massager forms part of a tubular vibrating sensory structure, large hot-pink sheets of card roll and drape amongst framed images of ladies posturing in leotards. Text typed on yellow card suspended from yellow towel hooks speak of musings, misunderstandings and interactions. There’s a lot of hi-vis yellow illuminating its ubiquitous counter-productive presence on today’s roads, an irony that’s not lost on Hamblen and his work.

Expressing a desire to not contribute to the repercussions of consumerism, Hamblen scours the streets and charity shops for his inspiration. He collects the discarded, seeing the potential in the ordinary that’s generally overlooked, challenging you to look differently because that’s where the surprises are kept. Hula-hoops, bungee hooks, household scales, and plastic tubing all feature in a unified conversation with the deadpan. We’re forced to consider their value from a different perspective, appreciating the juxtaposition of irrelevance and necessity in the tradition of Duchamp and Beuys whom he cites as influential to his work.

Concerned with aspects of Neo-concretism, his installation celebrates the everyday in a similarly playful way to that of Brazilian artist Marcos Chaves. Looking at an object’s simple structure and redefining the banal, we are encouraged to imagine a distant future where anthropological debris has become nothing but a collection of curious human relics.

Hamblen refers to The Birley as home. His studio is based there and stepping into this small but perfectly formed exhibition space, the sensation that exciting art is taking place is acute. Sharing a recent anecdote he describes attempting to buy a shoehorn from a charity shop which was not marked up for sale. His request was met with consternation and ultimately his efforts failed. He left empty handed. The shoehorn, he reflected, probably could not have been bought for any price, but in Hamblen’s world rules are made to be broken, lines are drawn to be crossed and hazard tape shouldn’t always be believed. Martin Hamblen and those at The Birley are leading the way.

Sam Pickett is an artist based in Preston.

Feel Me, The Birley, Preston.

20 March – 5 April 2015

Published 24.03.2015 by James Schofield in Reviews

566 words