Text by Karla Evans
There are certain exhibitions whose titles are so ambiguous and nonsensical that even before attending the show you are met with a quiet sense of dread on whether you will get it. Don’t let that opening sentence put you off this one though. The Jerwood Space’s remotely vague title of Formed Thoughts does give off a whiff off indeterminate expectation but what it lacks in an enticing name it makes up for in an intriguing collection of works on a subject matter rarely discussed.
The exhibition is curated by British artist, Clare Twomey known for her unashamedly pretty ceramics and site specific installations that have appeared everywhere from London’s Tate Modern to The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan. For Twomey the show appears a labour of love focused on her preferred subject matter of site-specific work involving diverse materials and highlighting the oft forgotten processes that have helped the works into their finalized forms. Phoebe Cummings shows a special inkling towards clay and its disintegration; two-person design team Glithero use fire as a means to an artful end; and Tracey Rowledge works directly onto the gallery’s very walls. Oil paints and movable easels, you won’t find here.
For a site-specific space London boasts no better establishment than the Jerwood; its glass ceiling atrium is perfect for Rowledge’s epic granite work that is plastered on to a long, lone wall demanding your attention on entering the gallery. Look close enough at the appropriately named Surface and it seems the material has been scratched away at with the side of a coin giving off reflective glimpses in its indentations. It’s a work that speaks of the burgeoning New York artist Jacob Kassay whose silvery paintings distort the surroundings in a very similar way. The harder you look at Rowledge’s reflective surface the less you see, we are no longer solid human forms but swashes and swirls of colour. One can’t help get carried away whilst trying to find themselves within the shimmering mass.
Formed Thoughts’ most mesmerizing work comes from the video and canvas project from Glithero. The two borderline pyromaniacs have continued on their 2011 project Burn, Burn, Burn in which they outlined patterns in flammable screen-printed paint, set them alight and allowed the fire to burn out across the works leaving a charcoal streak of the initial, often very beautiful, motif. This time they brought a little more drama to the table with a video installation showing the process itself; fire slowly burning out along the assigned maze. The result was mesmerizing. Even amongst the hustle and bustle of a complimentary wine-fuelled opening you couldn’t help but stop and stare at the work, captivated. It appears our ancient awe of fire has never left us. The idea that something so destructive and wild as fire has created something so aesthetically pleasing and orderly is not ignored. And Buddhist-like it nodded to reincarnation; by destroying one thing, we create something else in return.
It was Phoebe Cummings’ that gave off an all-together very different atmosphere. Last year’s ceramicist-in-residence at the Victoria and Albert museum was spot on when she said; “however intricate and detailed the works may be, they can always be reduced in essence to mud.” The vaguely nautical theme felt sinister with rotting chains hanging from the ceiling alongside an unsettling, flaking pile of clay pancakes. Two fish tanks appeared at opposite sides of the room; one containing dried out, disintegrating coral and the other half full of wet cement. All of which were oddly disquieting for such seemingly simple works. Cummings is challenging the notions of ceramics– usually such a personal craft, something you can take home and set upon your wall. But here ceramics were temporal pieces melded into the gallery walls and being encouraged to dismantle themselves in the space itself. The charm is that these works are not suspended in a moment of time but constantly changing.
Lover or hater of these rarely used mediums this is an exhibition that may not pull you in at the off but spend a little time to quandary the works and you may find your own presumptions of art being disputed.
Jerwood Encounters: Formed Thoughts, 18/01/2012 – 26/02/2012, Jerwood Space, 171 Union Street, Bankside, London, SE1 0LN. www.jerwoodvisualarts.org
Aesthetica in Print
If you only read Aesthetica online, you’re missing out. The December/January issue of Aesthetica offers a diverse range of features from The Way We Live Now, which is on at the Design Museum, London, to Anselm Kiefer opening at Tel Aviv Museum of Art, to a look at Danser Sa Vie at Pompidou Centre, which examines the place dance holds in art history. Plus it comes with its very own DVD of short films from the Aesthetica Short Film Festival.
If you would like to buy this issue, you can search for your nearest stockist here. Better yet call +44 (0) 1904 629 137 or visit the website to subscribe to Aesthetica for a year and save 20% on the printed magazine
Photography: Tomas Rydin