Empty geometric rubber mats occupy corners of the gallery space, as a trace of the event from the opening night where gymnasts from the Welsh National Squad performed a series of repetitions in search of the perfect form. Jo Longhurst’s exhibition Other Spaces at Ffotogallery looks at the concept of perfection and the social, physical and psychological undertones of a culturally bound and highly codified performance. Longhurst incorporates classic portraiture and appropriated imagery with sculptural elements inspired by Plato’s perfect solids and the Constructivists experiments with new aesthetic forms for a new society. The work references the history of gymnastic and its links to a countries larger social and political structure.
Situated within the gallery space, the photographs eschew normal photographic conventions and become sculptural installations. Great attention to detail is made in the presentation of the work, and how it fits within the gallery space. Much like a well-honed routine, the work is balanced and creates a harmony within the architectural space, whilst revealing the limits of the gallery space as the installations encroach upon the edges of the walls and ceilings, and venture away from the wall. The gallery space becomes reminiscent of the competition mat, which provides the limit for the gymnast.
The floor to ceiling installation Pinnacle, presents a series of legs, thrusting upwards, closely cropped and disassociated with their surroundings. Upon inspection, subtle details emerge, flesh coloured bandages and spray on skin become apparent, a physical marker of the gymnast’s exertions in the quest for perfection. In contrast, Peak shows a single photograph of a gymnast performing her daily warm up. Displayed together, they encompass the psychological preparation and physical exertions the gymnasts perform in search of perfection.
Throughout the exhibition, the work shows the gymnasts in a variety of contortions and velocities; often focus is on the face as they look collected and calm as speed is nullified in the photographic instant. In Suspension, the gymnast floats in mid air, her face a picture of serenity resisting the forces that pull at her as she twists through the air. Suspended in mid air, the image is imbued with possibility, for perfection or failure, bringing into question humans perfectibility.
Space force constructions extend the photographs into the gallery space; their aluminum structures consist of geometrical shapes resembling Alexander Rodchenko’s works of the 1920’s. Referencing Rodchenko’s pure colour palette of red, yellow and blue, and his and Popova’s experiments for revolutionary aesthetic forms for the construction of a Utopian society, the constructivist structures present photographs of competing gymnasts from Super powers China, India and the USA. Set against a dark background, the contorted figure is isolated emphasizing the individual in a larger social structure.
Like the countries aspirations, the installation of photographs mimics the gymnastic rises, peaks and falls. The world of competitive gymnastics is tied to the specificity of its context; a well-executed routine is emblematic of state identity and supremacy, the performance acting as a powerful metaphor of that countries power.
A-Z straddles, twists and pikes through a series of appropriated photographs of the human body in action. The fractured installation mimics the basic components of a gymnastic routine, revealing a rich archive made over decades by sports photographers. The taxonomy of images groups together various movements and poses which measure, in a historical sense the representation of perfection. Black and white images sit next to colour images; originators of a gymnastic move sit next to contemporary gymnasts executing that move as part of their routine. Generations of gymnasts are paired performing the same moves, to an almost identical level of perfection. Fashion, technology and place mark the difference in time, however the method of recording perfection remains the same.
Competitive gymnastics is a highly codified system; the difference between perfection and failure, first and second could be a misplaced foot. Longhusts photographic works distill these moments down to an instant, where possibility is open, which leads the viewer into a greater contemplation of the rigors and impact of perfection, and the lengths gymnasts will go for that perfect score.
Other Spaces, until 26 January, Ffotogallery, Plymouth Road, Penarth CF64 3DH.
All images courtesy of Ffotogallery.
1. Suspension (1), 2012 (c) Jo Longhurst.
2. Peak, 2012 (c) Jo Longhurst.
3. Space-Force Construction No.1 (United States of America), installation view), 2012 (c) Jo Longhurst.