The artists of Grounded all base themselves in, or are influenced by the strata and fault lines of Teesside towns and their contested narratives. Emma Bennett’s ‘Map Series’ has developed from her long-term engagement with the balance between colour and line. Here Bennett draws and paints on old maps, placing us in a world of imagined travels and arrivals, both local and distant. Remembering personal journeys, Bennett reveals and obscures them through the use of brightly coloured and pastel shapes that link turning points. These origamilike shapes hold memories of the foldable, portable nature of maps used as guides in the open air. Exhibited in Middlesbrough, home of the UK’s third largest port, and where road signs once declared it to be ‘Captain Cook Country’, her use of cartography and navigation triangulation methods in the creation of the series connects deeply with local narratives.
Seen across the gallery space, Roberto Picciau’s twin drawings also resemble maps – perhaps those old County maps hanging in rundown pubs. ‘Wet at the Moment of Contact’ especially seems to show a mutated North East coastline and Teesside itself. Moving closer, the drawings shapeshift, becoming small animal skins (possibly the shagreen beloved of Victorian boxmakers) laid out to dry. Hard to pin down, their looping, circular marks connect and overlay one another like tiny speech bubbles. Drawing, for Picciau, is a sensuous and yet repetitious process, used to mimic the textures of sculpture and to disturb the hierarchies of drawing: memories of childhood searches for the perfect ballpoint pen and beauty in the closeathand.
Scott Marks’s sculptural works playfully hide allusions to postminimalist sculpture and to bodies in postindustrial space. ‘Untitled Foam I’ is a bound object: its long, flat shape forced into a roll and tied down with rope. ‘Untitled Foam II’ could be a soft foam mattress thrown out of the back of a van onto wasteland in Gresham, or a hard homage to Gary Kuehn’s fibreglass and steel sculptures from 1960s’ New Jersey. They have white, plastery surfaces that somehow seem to suggest lost colour, leached out in the Teesside weather; ghost objects. Their folds are poised ready to unfold and escape, flopping across the gallery floor onto the station platform.
Antimonumental installations of found readymade objects speak of Daniel Slater’s concern with placemaking, not in the official regeneration sense, but by moving through spaces and documenting their coherences and ruptures. The rural detritus of manmade objects in ‘Shitfaced (Smashed)’ takes on an exotic, philosophical air. Its fractured car wingmirror shows us multiple views of where we are and where we have been. Coloured lines on the surface of Slater’s ‘Excerpt’ form a corner, a meeting place in the entrance to Grounded at Platform A. This simple piece of vinyl flooring was found close to the exhibition site, where the windows of the now empty Captain Cook pub overlook both the on-going regeneration of the area and the few remaining derelict houses that cover the probable site of the town’s medieval priory. It demonstrates just how complicated place affiliation is, layered with belonging, mobility and prior experiences.
Platform A Gallery, Middlesbrough
6 March – 2 April 2015
Annie O’Donnell is an artist based on Teesside.
Images courtesy of the artists and Platform A Gallery.