Text by Chloe Reith.
Even before entering the building at S1 Artspace, their latest exhibition, Love in a Cold Climate greets you on the steps where a light covering of glitter shimmers on the tiles. Acting as a trail leading upstairs and towards the gallery, the silver which dusts each ascending step – an unintentional by-product of Liam Gillick’s work Discussion Island Preparation Zone – gradually builds a certain feeling of expectation.
Within the space this shimmering residue, in fact a heady cocktail of vodka and glitter, reaches critical mass, however, expectation is deferred. Swept across the vast floor space, this mixture, gravelly underfoot, has been kicked around and trampled by many feet, yet the space, save for some objects here and there, is deserted, leaving behind the strong sense of arriving much too late to the party. A mysterious, heavy tension fills the space, coupled with the echoes of recent occupation and intensified by a green glow emanating from the side window.
Gillick’s installation, together with the other works present in this group arrangement combine to create a delicately choreographed stage set in which the visitor may drift silently around, however, any opportunity to participate in this social space has already been lost. Instead, Love in a Cold Climate, through amassed pop cultural, historical and political reference points, invites reflection not interaction.
This framework supports guest curator Rob Tufnell’s continuing engagement with art, society and politics in 20th century Britain, in particular the 1970s and ‘80s which of course were crucial periods shaping much of Northern England. Playing upon Sheffield’s well rehearsed cultural iconography, selected artworks deal with radicalism, socialist politics, class issues, protest and civil unrest, drawing heavily on turbulent movements, outsider groups and popular causes such as Billy Bragg’s Red Wedge campaign, the cult of David Bowie, punk, rock music ephemera and the brief yet dynamic Vorticist group, linking back to the show’s overarching motif of energy.
Tufnell weaves together contemporary and historical works suggesting a continuum from then to now and his acute interest in British popular culture of this period is shared by many contemporary artists from Jeremy Deller to Scott King whose work Ziggy Stardust Tour, 1972 (2008), tracing the legendary concert across Britain, also appears here. Nearby, Jamie Reid’s original campaign posters from 1987, yet more cultural ephemera, serve as seminal socialist reference points, bearing witness to miners strikes and Labour party campaigns which used light both as a metaphor and a political bargaining tool.
Light, its effect, its energy and the way in which it can work suggestively on the psyche is explored here in multiple forms. Mandla Reuter’s subtle light configurations which randomly interrupt the gallery lighting system like slow motion disco lights left over from the party, variously bathe the visitor in light or cast darkness over the space. Similarly Anna Barham’s A Splintered Game (2008), lying flickering on the floor, wires and circuitry exposed as if torn from the ceiling, casts a cold glow on the grey floor, giving that sense of social abandonment even greater acuteness.
Hannah Rickards’ Some people say they think it sounds like aluminium foil but aluminium foil to me is not the sound (2007) provides the only direct human presence in the space. The first person narrative recounting an aural experience of the northern lights must be read underneath a strange green light which, standing bathed in its glow, begins to feel somehow transcendental. Paired with Edward Wadsworth’s etchings, these jagged broken landscapes seem to illustrate the mysterious hillside experience that Rickards’ narrator is unable to express clearly with language.
Through the selected work, Tufnell presents a series of subtle manoeuvres and multi-layered, relational pairings which deliver a highly atmospheric yet indeterminate social space. Stopping short at any kind of invitation to participate in the work, silence pervades and the exhibition becomes a conceptual space through which to meditate upon past reverberations; the so-called ‘latent energies’ encapsulated within Sheffield. As a whole, Love in a Cold Climate serves as an oblique cultural diorama of social interactions and politics, historicising both the artwork and the subjects tackled. Tracing others’ footsteps around the space, one can only reflect on this record of past action and contribute by leaving ones own indistinguishable mark in the space.