Trial and error is part of any creative process, ideas form, they’re considered, and they’re either developed further or thrown away. TRIAL / ERROR / ART at the Holden Gallery shows work from David Batchelor, Olaf Breuning, Rosalind Nashashibi, Roman Signer, John Stezaker and Guido van der Werve; a group of artists who embrace experimentation, the idea of failure, of starting something without being certain of how it will finish.
Signer dominates this show, with a total of twelve film pieces on display throughout the gallery. He shows a childlike enthusiasm for, and attitude towards, experimentation. A certain theme becomes readily apparent, where in one film he attaches a rocket to a boot, in another two rockets are strapped to a kayak, in another still he shoots a rocket over his own head, and these are just the works specifically involving rockets… It’s cartoon-logic, where Signer blows things up or sets them on fire just to see what will happen, and to get the pyromaniacal thrill of doing so. The works are all from 1994-1996, and yet they appear more relevant than ever, every film is so brief in length and so easily entertaining that you could imagine finding them on YouTube, especially in pieces like Spray Can, Wiessbadstrasse (Spraydose ,Weissbad) where Signer builds a makeshift flamethrower, and at any moment it looks like something could go very wrong.
There’s an anthropomorphising-process at place in some of Signer’s pieces, the boot, the kayak and the ball act almost as protagonists, the cartoonish nature of the pieces embedding the objects with personality. Nashashibi is another to deal in the anthropomorphic; Eyeballing sees her present the viewer with a series of faces as found in the everyday urban environment. Human nature leads us to see faces in inanimate objects, and although it can provide easy amusement, Nashashibi seems to treat it with a degree of paranoia, as though the viewer is being watched. The paranoia becomes apparent by pairing this with footage of police officers entering and exiting their station building. The nature of the clandestinely-filmed footage gives the impression that the police officers are acting suspiciously, as they come and go from the darkness of the building inside, playing with our fears of authority figures (particularly when those figures have guns). As such, the viewer is placed in the position of being both watcher and watched.
Batchelor is another to take inspiration from the urban environment, with his Found Monochromes, a series of images of white squares and rectangles collected over an 18 year period. Batchelor moves away from his usual colour-based work, to a collection of its absence. The images are presented in a rapidly moving sequence, allowing only brief moments to focus; drawing attention to the white spaces, serving to make them look out of place within their surroundings. Left blank, and presented in this manner, they become modernist statements, a readymade abstract, waiting to be discovered by Batchelor.
Dealing in the exact opposite territory to Batchelor, Breuning’s Smoke Bombs are literal explosions of colour, but with Breuning himself ascribing his art as meaningless, it’s hard to see these as anything other than pretty images.
Similarly to Signer, van der Werve also addresses danger, with Nummer Acht, Everything is going to be alright, albeit in a less playful manner. We see van der Werve walking through a desolate arctic landscape, directly in front of an icebreaker ship as it cuts through the ice just behind the artist. This should be terrifying, the harsh environment, the huge ship appearing to loom directly over van der Werve; yet it appears serene, van der Werve looks to be without concern for his circumstances, and the title reassures us, that Everthing is going to be alright. Van der Werve creates an uneasy feeling whereby the viewer is torn between concern for the artist, and appreciation for the awesome spectacle.
Stezaker’s work involves the most literal trial and error process, whereby collages are created in batches, with a small number kept as finished artworks, and the rest destroyed. In a number of the works displayed here, Stezaker interrupts the focal point of the original images, in what appear to be film stills, the point where the characters are looking is removed, overlaid with another image. This creates a dramatic juxtaposition, instilling a degree of unsatisfaction within the viewer by altering the point where the eye is naturally drawn.
In many ways TRIAL / ERROR / ART is a show about tension, Stezaker using juxtaposition making uneasy images; Breuning, Signer and van der Werve dealing in literal, often explosive, destruction; Nashashibi creating paranoia with the usually harmless act of pareidolia; and Batchelor showing absence where we expect presence.
Photographs courtesy of Holden Gallery.
Tom Emery is a curator and writer based in Manchester.
TRIAL / ERROR / ART, Holden Gallery, Manchester.
16 March – 08 May 2015.