The drone of dulled chatter and footsteps upon marbled floors as the rain lashes on to the roof of the Western Arcade creates such a fascinating, yet tragically empty environment for an exhibition. But this is no ordinary exhibition. Ian Andrews’ Rummage Out, curated by David Miller, seizes on the impromptu stylistic aesthetics of the surrounding shops and art deco interior, to beautifully create a reserved and submissively secular island within the building. The individuality and tension possessed by the sculptures in the window space and the gallery, along with the fact that visitors, despite their curiosity, can’t enter the space, creates a phenomenally twisted ambience.
The continual erosion of items on display perpetuates an eerie visualisation of Andrews’ mother’s development of dementia, as well as commenting on his own mental health problems. These problems leave Andrews unable to work for periods of time followed by periods of rushed creativity. The results of these periods affect his working method and he continually reuses and modifies his pieces to carve out and create new works. The fractured elements that scar the face of the work reside underneath it and resemble a Frankenstein-esq sense of genius. This would be seen as a completely narcissistic venture of Andrew’s psyche, had it not been for the ulterior parallels of his mother’s battle with dementia. Quickly, a deep and unfathomable wave of compassion and guilt plagues the viewer’s thoughts. This was not just one man’s struggle to be a tortured artist but a creative response to mental strife.
The objects placed within the frames of the cabinets, by the remaining shop front windows, shimmer with the caught reflections of the public as they aimlessly go on with their lives, completely alienated and unaware of what stands before them. But is this not how one progresses through life? The realisation of this adds a context to the evoked guilt, reminding us of the extent to which we remain blissfully unaware of those around us suffering pain. In one cabinet there is a pile of sand, with the shell of a cabinet being used to suspend a hammer. This sand could be interpreted as alluding to the slipping and merging of memories as the mind battles dementia. As the sand surrounds the cabinets it recalls a sense of disorder and confusion.
Lurking towards the back of the gallery space the overpowering darkness and encroaching shadows reveal fragments of debris. Broken and smashed objects litter the floor. A flicker of light caught by the metallic surface of a mouse trap quickly alludes to more. The mouse traps reveal ripped pieces of scrap material from the sculptures at the front of the space. Do they resemble the slighter, less fruitful moments of Andrews’ own creativity as they were quickly swallowed up the darkness? Or are they fragments of memories? Whatever it is, the results seem futile but the actual act and courageous attempts to stop the course of nature are heroic if nothing else.
The audience participation or lack of thereof in terms of public arousal subtly highlights the passive failings of our society and our tendency to ignore what someone might be experiencing in favour of our own vanity. To those that do take the time to explore and embrace Andrews’ work, viewers will find a sense of reliability and self-awareness to their own mental standings and perhaps even an examination of their own morality.
Rummage Out, Ian Andrews, Terrace Gallery, Unit 19 (window space only), Great Western Arcade, Birmingham, B2 5HU.
1. Images courtesy of Ian Andrews and Terrace Gallery.