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Wednesday 10 August 2011

The Ethereal & Concrete: Structure & Material, Spike Island, Bristol.

Text by Regina Papachlimitzou

Structure & Material brings together three artists who, although engaging in distinctly different sculptural practices, share a similar preoccupation with the potency inhering in the ambiguous, almost taciturn nature of the materials employed in their works. Showcasing works by Claire Barclay, Becky Beasley, and Turner Prize nominee Karla Black, Structure and Material invites the viewer to consider the ethereal and the concrete no longer as two ends of a spectrum but rather as co-existing and interfusing traits.

Claire Barclay’s Quick Slow (2010) displays a jarring combination of a soft piece of tapestry resting on a harsh, black metal frame. The socio-historical resonance of tapestry as a traditionally ‘female’ pastime set against the cold, unyielding, emphatically male quality of the somewhat gallows-like structure makes for a poignant re-imagining of the ever-present spectre of the limitations that culturally dictated norms place on acceptable male/female endeavour. At the same time, the work silently questions the all-too-easily drawn distinctions of soft/feminine, hard/masculine that even now infiltrate the appreciation and interpretation of artistic output. This concern is further expressed in Barclay’s appropriation of craft techniques (traditionally considered a somehow less valid form of creativity), and the reaffirmation of these techniques as an acceptable part of fine art practice through the incorporation of obviously hand-crafted parts in larger sculptural works, as for instance in Flat Peach (2010).

The small gallery showcases a series of photographic works by Becky Beasley, including Hide (2004-2006), Infirme (2004-2006), and Stool, Towel (2006). The pictures in the series have an enigmatic quality about them, the objects they portray covered to various degrees and their ‘true’ function therefore obliterated and replaced by the compelling power of possibility. The arcane, unidentifiable nature of the works’ subjects points towards Beasley’s preoccupation with blurring the boundaries between sculpture and photography: as evidenced further in works such as the Curtains series and the dual Gloss II and Night Music (2007) works, there is a pervading desire to remove the quantifiable, measurable qualities through which a work can be definitively situated in either practice.

Black’s works are undoubtedly the most intriguing of the art displayed, not least because of their – paradoxically – almost palpable aloofness, their sustained refusal to allow for a final and concrete allocation of meaning. Using delicate and friable materials such as paper, flimsy plastic and bathbombs in a light, ‘girly’ palette, Black creates sculptural works of immense potency: dominating the space they are displayed in, the sculptures are simultaneously wide open and hermetically closed, inviting and forbidding. Speaking of her works, Black affirms that: "nothing points outside of itself" – and it is certainly the case that the sculptures included in Structure & Material compel the viewer to peer into them, through them, at them, to return again and again to the work itself rather than to go off in search of an extrinsic interpretation. Not surprisingly, her work What to Ask of Others (2010) is strongly evocative of a cocoon, a cradle, a swaddled infant, a shroud: instruments of concealment and protection that invite scrutiny by their very resistance to it. And while refusing to yield, the materials evoked – and the works showcased – insistently hint at the terrifying possibility of openness, of display.

Structure & Material continues until 4 September.


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Karla Black, Unused To (2007), Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London (c) the artist and Becky Beasley, Brocken (I – VIII) (2009), Courtesy Laura Bartlett Gallery, London and artist.
Photo: Stuart Whipps
A Hayward Touring exhibition from Southbank Centre, London on behalf of Arts Council England

1 comment:

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