Text by James Schofield
Once the cultural staple of a city, in recent years independent galleries have become marginalised due to rising rental prices and continual funding cuts from national governing bodies.
In Leeds this has been an all too common story, but Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun is attempting to buck this trend by opening the doors to a new studio hub and project space in the centre of the city to provide much needed opportunities for artists. Housed over two storeys of 25 Wharf Street (including part of the former Mexico Project Space gallery), studios sprawl over both floors alongside two white cube gallery spaces.
It is the first floor gallery space that plays host to the organisation’s inaugural exhibition, 45683968 by Mathew Parkin.
Following recent exhibitions at East Side Projects and The Telfer Gallery, Parkin continues his enquiry into the construction of identity whilst also exploring the boundaries of exhibition making as a creative discipline.
Stepping into the dazzlingly white gallery it takes a moment for your eyes to adjust before hints of colour begin to emerge, accentuated by the sheer brightness of the rest of the space. Beige rugs break up visitor movement patterns within the gallery and highlight the small bursts of pastel colour around the room from other works such as the pink outline of a cartoon coffee cup painted onto the wall over a functioning coffee maker, or the hand painted sunset vista hidden on the reverse of a handmade MDF bar.
The interjection of these colours alongside the continual ‘My House’ Diana Ross soundtrack made from user generated YouTube videos played on a flat screen TV helps create a relaxed atmosphere and encourages visitors to spend time with the works on display, to tease out the connections between them and their relationship to the construction of identity.
The name of the exhibition itself 45683968 (the buttons used to spell ‘I love you’ on a Nokia 3210) calls out to the nostalgic teenage formative years of the not too distant past, but also acts as an all-encompassing title for the works in the show. Through this conscious step away from pure artistic production of individual works towards the alchemy of cohesive exhibition making the artist has been allowed to achieve much more freedom to develop the pieces on display, which even included the refreshments served at the private view.
The shift away from a purely didactic display where information is readily given to visitors (here the handouts act as footnotes to material that influenced the development of the work) allows the exhibition to become a more enigmatic experience, where viewers can autonomously form their opinions on the work without feeling there is a right or wrong way to do so.
It will be interesting to see if 45683968 will be shown again, and what, if any, revisions are made to the context or content of the work displayed by the artist as time progresses.
For now though the show exists as a microcosm of interwoven ideas on the intricacies of personal identity within the contemporary era thus far, and feels as if it would hold up to being shown at any large independent gallery space in the country.
Testament to both the artist’s skill and the curatorial sensibilities of Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, 45683968 allows the artist and venue to both feel as if they have been part of the makeup of the Leeds art scene for years and it is just business as usual, which in the current climate is an achievement to be lauded.
James Schofield is an artist and curator based in Leeds and Liverpool.