Ruse: the artfulness of deceit is the self-explanatory title of the Holden Gallery’s latest exhibition. It comprises five artists; Zoe Beloff, Laurent Grasso, Bridget Smith, Clare Strand and Suzanne Treister, who explore the art of illusion in which things are never quite what they seem. It discusses the grey areas between truth and illusion and the shifting boundaries of reality, absolute truth and perception of truth. It is this staged or created truth that the artists examine within their work, either literally as in Strand’s pieces that explore magicians’ illusions that trick the mind, to a more abstract take seen in Grasso’s film Polair (2007), that makes the hidden electromagnetic waves within Berlin visible, so the ruse in fact is revealed.
The fascination with illusions and making sense of this art of deception has a long standing history. Zoe Beloff explores this in her multimedia projects, in which she draws upon historical records and references psychoanalysis to debate the concept of the real and the imagined. Her use of the old cinematic style blurs the boundaries of historic fact and creative interpretation, making the viewer question the reality of what they see before them. Her work provides a framework for the rest of the exhibition, in which fact and illusion are blurred and the validity of truth is brought into question. Clare Strand builds upon this idea of reading imagery in Conjurations (2007-9); consisting of four films showing four women performing familiar magic tricks on a loop allowing the trick to be constantly replayed so the viewer is left in a constant state of deception no nearer to the truth. The films are mounted within a wooden structure that makes the viewer navigate them in a similar loop system as the films utilise, bringing an extra spatial dynamic to an exhibition which is largely wall-based and peripheral within the gallery’s impressive physical space.
Bridget Smith studies a similar theme of spatial cogency in her photographs which alter the perception of our recognised environment, providing the potential for this to have been realised as a curatorial conceit within the exhibition itself. Unfortunately when viewing Smith’s work it feels as an opportunity missed as the exhibition overwhelmingly conforms to traditional white cube display practices. Smith’s pieces Odeon (Blue) (1995) and Blueprint for a Sea (rising) (2015) both depict familiar blue cinema seating, however Smith transforms these recognisable everyday objects into wave like presences, adding an ethereal quality that elevates this ordinary object from the banal to the extraordinary, leaving the viewer questioning what appears before them.
Similarly Suzanne Treister’s Alchemy (2007-8) series transforms ordinary newspaper articles into alchemic drawings, reconfiguring the original meaning of the text into new belief systems through manipulation of imagery. This directly links the exhibition to the current public conscious of authenticity, especially surrounding the press during recent fake news scandals, making the exhibition wholly pertinent. The series engages the viewer into not only a generalised dialogue regarding the perception of truth, but internalises the question of what do I perceive to be true? It is this proposed question which runs throughout Ruse: the artfulness of deceit, creating an interesting debate into the realities of truth in contemporary life.
Ruse: the artfulness of deceit, Holden Gallery, Manchester, 20 March – 19 May 2017.
Claire Walker is a writer based in Wigan.