Friday, 24 February 2017

Jack Waddington, Give Me Love, Exhibition Review

A distinct sense of overabundance and frantic playfulness fills the space in Jack Waddington's solo exhibition, Give Me Love. Grouped into 'playset' assemblages, each work portrays its own close-knit dialogue between flurries of colourful objects, androgynous polystyrene figures and familiar forms from a typical 90s childhood. Plastic Duplo, Lego, tufty-haired trolls, umbrella sticks, pompoms, toy cars, and an Early Learning Centre penguin figurine, invite the viewer to reminisce about their own materialistic upbringing. Adorned with primitive, onomatopoeic names such as Duk, Stuk and Stik, the 13 pieces on show are diligently stationed to provide a sense of clarity within chaos. Collectively, the works encourage the viewer to meander their way throughout the gallery, whilst examining each piece and its components' detailed conversations individually.

Give Me Love signals the artist's departure from two-dimensional paintings towards more sculptural works. In extending his practice into the three-dimensional arena, Waddington branches out from tightly-composed illustrations to experiment with a world of found objects and figurative creations. This transition provides a viable link between the work and our everyday realities, enabling the viewer to connect more fully with the theme of child's play and the psychological implications of living in an artificial, over-saturated society. In keeping with his earlier paintings, Waddington uses multiple components to create one whole: each work is an assemblage made up of brightly-coloured interlinking parts.

Give Me Love, Installation View, 2017
Child's Play

These multi-part, mixed media works mimic the act of a child at play. Waddington revels in his ability as an artist to separate items from their original settings and to dissect them, ultimately reassembling things in the way in which a child might do. In experimenting with scale and proportion, colour and materials, the artist is able to build new, seemingly naive worlds from mass-produced and handmade items. It can be said that a youthful aesthetic flows throughout the show: Sik sees neon painted Duplo cascade down from a sky-blue canvas; Larj features a giant 'santa-sack' crammed full of toys; and Dror comprises two polystyrene characters drawing at a child's desk. Nonetheless, while these works appear youthfully composed, they use their colour and playfulness to seduce the viewer into a sinister narrative.

As indicated by their aptly chosen names, the works illustrate distress within an oversaturated, consumer society – a place where many of the artificial colours come from. Sik depicts the regurgitation of plastic blocks from the delights of an optimistic patch of blue, and Larj's bag of toys becomes an ominous beast, lurking in the gallery corner. Elsewhere, Serkl portrays a character's failures and vulnerability in the face of an all-consuming environment. Painted neon orange and appearing naked with underwear slumped around its ankles, a voluptuous and bearded protagonist gazes longingly at a mini-city, which is horizontally attached to the wall. At its feet, is an abacus, an unfortunate green creature sawed in half, and a second, tightly woven mini-city made of toys. Whilst assembled in a highly playful manner, the composition reflects on the being's distress and own disproportion against a fabricated setting. By standing naked and armless, and painted in one stark colour, they are unable to tear themselves away from self-criticism and superficial comparison.

Serkl, 2017

Violence and Vulnerability

This sense of child-like vulnerability, as well as an overbearing anxiety, can be found in Stik and Panik, where objects and clothing appear to suffocate its characters. In Panik, a distressed face presses up against the inside of a bright pink dress; its glove-substituted hands are pinned on the wall and its tight-bound stick legs protrude out into the space. Panik's uncomfortable stance, along with its mass-produced pair of slippers, suggest that the character and its personality are trapped beneath items of budget-bought clothing. Similarly, Stik presents the dark representation of a figure being suffocated by a striped-shirt that is securely pinned to its face by a fierce-looking knife. This eerie undertone of violence is repeated in Leev, which sees a miniature toy soldier shooting at an escapee troll doll - perhaps a comment on the realities of childhood aspirations. At first glance, Waddington cleverly shields his audience from this aggression through colour and toys – mimicking the pleasant facade adopted many commercial and consumer-driven companies. But this anxious unrest does not go undetected: it is ever-present in both the arrangement of objects and the distressed, confused appearance of androgynous figures.

Panik, 2017

Love and Acceptance

As its title suggests, Give Me Love looks at humankind's need for love and acceptance. Running throughout the exhibition is the idea that society today hopes to find these two sentiments within a superficial landscape. Far removed from nature, it exemplifies the consumer world and seamlessly integrates human forms into a slick, shiny world of false promise. Waddington's polystyrene beings adopt exuberant, glossy colours and inadvertently become playthings themselves. Highlighting their humanness and naked vulnerability is the protruding presence of phallic forms: Dror's blue character is adorned with a penis on its head and, sat opposite a pink bare-breasted partner, openly depicts modern society's gender ideals; Lik features a small, four-legged yellow creature licking a labia outline with a phallic-like tongue; and Stif, suspended from the ceiling is also ambiguous in both its title and priapic form. Each character is on the lookout for superficial satisfaction, with the prospect of 'love' portrayed as an unattainable manmade fantasy in Kut: a cutout heart torn in two, its kite-tale dropping to the floor and leading the viewer's eye to a second troll fugitive who gazes longingly into a void. Modern society's perspective on attraction is further examined in Spred, which features a pair of towering tight-bound, open legs teetering on some shiny silver heels – once again ridiculing the way in which humans seek out love and acceptance.

Dror, 2017

Visual Therapy

Waddington's practice and graduate residency show is its own therapy. In disassembling objects and constructing the works, the artist is not only critiquing Western-society's skewed values but also providing a visual therapy for both himself and the viewer. His practice enables him to express a viewpoint on modern life, and whilst the artist also strives for love and acceptance through it, Waddington's frank and candid assemblages face this critique straight on. His tactile way of carving polystyrene and building tangible compositions put forward a nostalgia for both childhood and physical things. The work's therapeutic value for the artist and audience lies in its physical vibrancy – something that both parties crave in the digital era. Still, regardless of its sensory nature, the show is comprised of solely synthetic materials – but perhaps we as audiences yearn for this familiar fabricated setting as technology advances? Give Me Love leaves us questioning our instinctual desire for love and acceptance, and whether our desperation for them is natural or synthetic. Moreover, it prompts us to ask where love and acceptance comes from: does our immediate and consumer-led environment support these things or are we misled to merely self-critique?

Jack Waddington, Give Me Love, February 17th - 25th, AirSpace Gallery.

View Jack's work:

Selina Oakes.

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