Text by Paul Hardman
The immediate appeal of Bold Tendencies, particularly on a sunny day, irrespective of what the art is like, especially if you haven’t been before is simply to visit the venue. Located on the top two floors and roof of a seven story car park in Peckham, the view is fairly epic, and since the temporary gallery space is complemented by having Frank’s Cafe and Campari Bar strapped onto the building it is a pleasure to be in the space itself. Specially appointed by the Curatorial Council, the 15 large-scale new works by international artists commissed for the space, take central stage.
In fact the drama of the site offers a particular challenge to the artists, this is far from the ideal ‘white cube’ situation of the contemporary gallery. The artworks must stand under a low ceiling or the open sky, surrounded by the raw surface of the concrete and framed against a panorama of all the prominent London skyline, competing with the Gherkin, the Shard, the London Eye, all only a couple of kilometres away.
In this case then, the first idea in both the artists and the curators minds must be, ‘let’s go big!, ‘let’s go rugged!’, and so-on. In previous years this has been the case, with sculptures on giant plinths, and a diving board like structure (Theo Turpin) installed on the roof that could be climbed upon so that visitors could get an even higher perspective. This year there is an element of this approach, in some cases more successful than others. With some of the objects on display there is a slight feeling that they aren’t benefiting from the situation, they just seem a little insubstantial in this setting. A good example of this effect is the two huge (3m perhaps) inflatable rats that stand on the roof facing each other. One slowly deflates while the other inflates, to a soundtrack of an overblown love song pounding out of some speakers. In a usual wall bounded gallery space, these giant horrors would be overpowering, here they maintain some effectiveness, but the power is undoubtedly dimmed.
However, one shouldn’t dwell overly on this difficulty; elsewhere in the exhibition the setting fits the work extremely well. Ripper Teeth by James Capper takes a group of great sharp hooks, teeth and claws from digging machinery and displays them on light-box plinths, huge, heavy and dangerous looking. These are located under the low hanging roof of the car park, and spread out, using the scale of the space to good effect. This piece is linked to several others in the show by certain motifs, such as machinery and danger, and certain materials, such as steel. The show is not billed as having any theme, but on viewing all the artworks it becomes apparent that the selection is not completely unrelated.
Up on the roof, The Price of Danger, by Camille Henrot, an aeroplanes wing has been dissected so that the internal structure is displayed. In a piece by David Brooks several fork lift trucks lift and break sections of a winding wooden track – so we have machines being dissected and also doing the damage themselves. Another instance is Bettina Pousttchi‘s contribution, AHEAD ONLY, a collection of apparently real steel bollards, polished to the most insanely shiny point possible. This surface effect draws attention to their less than perfect shapes, since they have been bent and twisted in a way that is quite common for bollards out on the street, but here in this stylised scenario, the forces necessary to do the damage take on a different aspect, as the violence of the distortion is juxtaposed with the extreme attention that has been paid to polishing the objects clean.
It seems as though the curators have been deliberately gathering together work that has a definite shared fascination with the industrial, the mechanical, the dangerous and the hard sharp qualities of metal. This occurs even in some of the more restrained pieces. Eva Berendes’ work Untitled (Osaka) takes some of the primary forms that are familiar from sure influence Sol Le Witt, triangles, semi-circles, and the three step triangular ziggurat shape, and renders them in sheet steel. The same material is used by Lilah Fowler in tube:fencing (their lowercase) this time cut and laid flat on the floor or against the wall.
The game of looking for connections and oppositions is part of the appeal of a group show such as this, but it is far from the whole story, other work that don’t fit so comfortably alongside the other pieces still make valuable contributions to the visit. In particular (Untitled) Harvest Architecture by Michael Dean. This is perhaps the easiest work in the show to miss, as he has hidden it in the cracks of the architecture and piled in dark and dusty corners of the carpark. The work is a small paper back book, with no text, and lots of blank pages. The pages that do carry and image show folded prints of photographs of the space itself. First wrapping and restructuring the building into images, then into sculptures, back into images and finally placed via the books back into the gallery. Through his convoluted but reflective process, Dean has found a quiet but ultimately masterful way to get the upper-hand in this challenging location.
Aside from the main exhibition, an exploration of the Bold Tendencies website will reveal a great season of events and film showing continuing up until the end of the show.
Bold Tendencies continues until 30 September.
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Courtesy Hannah Barry Gallery and the artist