Text by Travis Riley
Facing out from the entrance of The Space Between, (the title given to the recent rehang of the Tate’s contemporary collection) kneels a disfigured male, with disarmingly large, erect phallus protruding heavenward from between his legs. The work, NUC CYCLADIC (2010) is one of three pieces on display by Sarah Lucas, each a small sculpture stood atop two breeze blocks, which themselves stand upon an makeshift MDF plinth. The sculpture is made simply from “tights, fluff, and wire”. The beige tights create an evocatively flesh-like surface as they stretch across the contours of their filling. Whilst, only hinting at recognisable bodily shapes, the forms the models imply are explicitly figurative. At the rear of the models the sewn joints in the tights are left on show, just like the human body, we are uncomfortable seeing the parts that would usually be hidden from view. One of the works looks less like a single figure, but instead two nude bodies embroiled in a struggle, undoubtedly erotic.
Looking past the models to the far wall of the gallery space Tacita Dean’s Majesty (2006) comes into focus. A four by three metre image of an oak tree, equal parts imposing and sturdy, entwined and spindly. The tree is printed in strong, almost reflective ink, its form stands out dramatically from the background of the image. On close inspection it becomes apparent that the tree has been outlined, the rest of the image smothered by marks of white gouache, leaving only the tree’s stately structure as foreground. Beneath the tree, and echoing its black tangle of limbs sprawls Garth Evans’ Untitled No. 3 (1975). The piece is a rectangle of black rubber spread rug-like on the floor. Made up of short, affixed rubber strips the work hints first at a grid structure, which is never fulfilled. The inbuilt disarray in the connected strips causes the rubber to climb-up from the floor in twists and tangles, only occasionally lying flat.
The opposite of a rug, Alice Channer’s (Sleeve) (2009) is composed of four fabric strips, each hung from a steel hook on the ceiling. One side of the fabric bears a vertical monochromatic stripe detail, reminiscent of a bad pair of curtains. Stretching from floor to ceiling and back again each strip forms a loop; the shape appears industrial, giving the impression of a heavy-duty loom or conveyor belt. It’s almost as if the piece should be rotating, following the directionality provided by the stripes. The material quality however, is not industrial, each loop of fabric is made up of more than one strip, and the joints attaching one piece to the next, whilst neat, are not hidden. Furthermore, when each loop reaches the ground, one periphery of the fabric breaks off, trailing flaccid across the floor to its end, breaking any illusion of possible motion.
Lucy Skaer’s Zero Table (2008) consists foremost of a reasonably elegant, dark wood, dining table. The top surface of the table has been carved to form a positive impression of the figure of a zero. The figure in question is stained a dark, inky black, and on the floor are two A0 sheets. Each has been printed with the same zero. The prints have a remarkably authoritative, matt-black colouring. The literal transference from table surface to printed image immediately confounds the table’s practical implication, but also betrays a process that goes unspoken in this informal layout. To produce these prints a heavy mechanical process needs to have taken place. Aside from its printing-plate the table bears no scar, the images act as evidence.
Anna Barriball’s Untitled (III) and (IV) (2006) make use of slide projectors to show corroded images of, what appears to be, a family holiday. Each of the two projectors is stuck on one image, I keep expecting another slide that reveals something more than these damaged pictures, but it never comes. Next to the projectors sits Rebecca Warren’s In The Bois (2005). Three mock-museum vitrines are fixed to the wall. From their cheap MDF surfaces, to their mal-fitting Perspex fronts with rusty nails jutting out, to the shoddy wooden post that props up the third box, they seem to be entirely incorrectly made. Inside, the image is continued, their contents range from twisted neon lamps, to lumpen, half-painted clay masses, to pom poms, painted polystyrene balls, off-cuts of wood and clay dust, complete with an affixed detritus of human hair and fluff. Unable to contain the mass of undesirable museum pieces, the objects spill out, also standing on the top of the vitrines. These boxes couldn’t be further from the museum displays that they initially evoke.
Stepping through Becky Beasley’s work, an installation complete with dual-tone lino floor, that riffs off of the scale and tones of a set of swing doors designed but never made by designer, Carlo Mollino, you enter a dark projection space. A rumbling film projector on a tall black plinth takes centre stage. The film being shown is Graham Gussin’s 1999 work, Spill. In grainy black and white we are introduced to empty industrial spaces, large rooms with evident functionality, but no present use. The rooms gradually begin to fill with a fog, at first trickling in wisps, eventually pouring, a fluid torrent engulfing the vast spaces, and after twelve minutes, finding its way outside onto the roof of the building. The use of mist can be aligned with both theatrical and cinematic traditions, but in this case the impact is far more profound. By making the mist the subject, Gussin transforms it from a now disparaged atmospheric effect to a substantive motif of its own. As it spreads through the spaces, the eddies and currents of fog are sublime.
The title of the show, The Space Between, highlights an evident theme. Each piece holds its own immediate dialogue with physical space. To take further examples from the show, Karla Black’s full-room installation (At Fault, 2011), collapses under its own weight into a pastel-coloured and powdery, paper heap, yet equally fills the space with a bath-bomb perfume, and Ian Kiaer in his Ulchiro Project (2007), generates structures to fill a specific, hypothetical, spatial function. A tall, yet delicately thin, steel structure, leans into the room. From the side the miniscule angle is almost imperceptible, yet when faced with the sculpture, there is the overwhelming sense that it will fall forwards. The exhibition title deserves further consideration. Each piece shows signs of its making or subsequent processing. Sarah Lucas takes material that is used to cover human flesh in order to make an image of skin, Lucy Skaer’s images provide evidence of a material process that has taken place, but is not shown, and Tacita Dean’s Majesty, reveals a resplendent image, but only by concealing those facets of material deemed irrelevant. The works in the show exhibit a deliberate tension between image and material and doing so define a recognisable, though not physical, space between them.
The Space Between, 19/04/2012 – 01/2013, Tate Britain, Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG. The Space Between is part of the BP British Art Displays. www.tate.org.uk
The Space Between