Joanne Tatham & Tom O’Sullivan – DOES THE IT FIT, CIRCA Projects

Text by Michael Mulvihill

Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan’s DOES THE IT FIT is the final exhibition within CIRCA Projects Space Release Programme. The programme has spanned 15 months collaborating with artists such as Ruben Grilo, Emma Hart and Heather Philipson to present a series of exhibitions and events that examine, and question, the relationships between site, artwork and exhibition production. Tatham and O’Sullivan‘s commission pushes the Space Release agenda further by using an array of strategies to interrogate the nuanced social, economic and political relationships between cultural production and urban regeneration.

The setting for DOES THE IT FIT is the Stephenson Works, owned by Silverlink holdings. It is a heritage site famed for housing the workshop where 19th Century engineer George Stephenson constructed the Rocket and Locomotion, the worlds first modern steam locomotives. The building is the current home of CIRCA Projects, and rented to a number of design companies that occupy office pods within a vast regenerated industrial space that also serves as a venue for regular food and cultural events. Dominating this space is a cartoon face on a giant rainbow house like structure constructed by Tatham and O’Sullivan. The structure appears like it has materialised from a Nintendo “la la” world and through it’s size casts an uncanny affect over the other events and cultural initiatives taking place within the space. This is one of a series of critical interruptions deployed by Tatham and O’Sullivan that seeks to deconstruct veneered assumptions regarding sites of “contemporary art” production against the imperatives of cultural and economic regeneration.

In a small room adjoining the main space are hung a series of black and white photographs showing various sites in Newcastle upon Tyne. The photographs are set in heavy wooden frames (they are also window mounted in plywood) and are accompanied by a printed narrative, delineating the relationships between stakeholders link to the Stephenson Works, and their locality in the municipal history of Newcastle upon Tyne. The text is beautifully written with an underlining wit that holds in contingency the unnamed author’s position either cheering the regeneration project, or as an ironic commentator about the interest groups and their homogenising cultural outcomes.

Tatham and O’Sullivan have subverted the Space Release programme by disrupting the press release, site and exhibition to speculate upon the complex fronds that entangle contemporary art enquiry with the goals of municipal economic regeneration. Upon a mezzanine floor is another construction that appears like a video game simulation of the Stephenson’s Works architecture, and presides over an exhibition of collaborators that gradually gathers and forms over the duration of the exhibition, so the totality of DOES THE IT FIT is revealed at the conclusion. Tatham and O’Sullivan lead the viewer in a semiotic phantasmagoria that transforms norms of everyday encounter into contingent propositions, which holds the meaning of an exhibition in account against the cross section of art’s relationship to society, economics and politics.

Joanne Tatham & Tom O’Sullivan – DOES THE IT FIT is on display at CIRCA Projects, Newcastle upon Tyne, until 14 December 2013.

Michael Mulvihill is an artist and writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Image courtesy of CIRCA Projects and Joanne Tatham & Tom O’Sullivan.

Published 05.12.2013 by Lauren Velvick in Reviews

541 words