Saturday, 11 February 2017

Tom Verity, The Weight of Things, Exhibition Review

Exploring the positioning and culturally assigned value of objects throughout his six-month residency, artist Tom Verity invites audiences to spend time with a selection of everyday, mundane items and materials in his first major solo show. A plastic cutlery set, six gherkin jars, well-rounded pebbles, bags of lemons and glassware, all pander their way throughout the gallery space. Curiously, these familiar household objects are animated by a series of rope mechanisms and hastily tied knots, often made taut by faux-ceramic clay weights. Closely mirroring the exhibition's apt title, The Weight of Things, many of the works assess the heavy expectations and associations that humans have historically placed on objects and materials. In removing items from their everyday environ and engaging them in a menagerie of playful balancing acts, Verity demonstrates a secondary use for both ornamental and functional objects. Alongside the reassembly of an object hierarchy, the tactile differences of machine-made, hand-crafted and natural items are also addressed.

Tilt, 2017

Balance & Trappings

Beckoning the viewer into the gallery space is a vibrant cassis-coloured clay boulder. It stands proudly in the street-level window and pulls tightly on a black rope that rears a sturdy wooden chair onto its hind-legs. Meanwhile, a roughly-cut concrete slab rests on the chair and an egg-timer shaped vase mimics the boulder's actions at a closer proximity. Reminiscent of a suspended section of Fischli & Weiss's The Way Things Go, this assemblage entitled Tilt fervently presents an alternative activity for everyday and ornamental objects. As though to play with themes of motion and halted time, Verity presents a moment in which each object counter-balances the other – something that is indicative of equality and signals the potential to create an equilibrium within chaos. Similarly Trapped Glass, found at the opposite end of the gallery, provides audiences with the precarious scenario of fragile glassware horizontally held between a wall and a taut piece of rope: it is a contemplative scene that has the potential to be chaotic and yet is far from it. Notably, its title highlights the fact that many objects, like the glassware, appear to be trapped under the 'weight' of their new configurations. The theme of balance is ever-present in Pickle Juice and Hanging Garden where items are temporarily placed, not secured, together. The latter's 'balance scale' composition of bagged-up lemons opposite a pastel-blue clay mass also mimics the weighing out of items and the comparative valuing (buying and selling) of raw materials.

Trapped Glass, 2017
Hanging Garden, 2017.

Imitative Ceramics

The Weight of Things provides a bountiful offering of both playfulness and poise. There is a wonderfully humorous quality to the artist's handmade clay objects, none of which are traditionally fired. Instead, they are air-dried and coated with gleaming enamel paint – an imitation of freshly glazed ceramic-ware that is familiar in the region of Stoke-on-Trent. In deciding not to carry out common finishing processes, Verity distances his items from the city's weighty heritage and offers an alternative life for a readily-available material. From a distance, the coral painted clay handle found in Line Hanger, as well as Tilt's plum mound, reminds the viewer of high-quality, ornate items. It is only on closer inspection, together with the clay's positioning as structural instead of aesthetic, that the viewer reevaluates its worth. In turn, however, whilst distancing itself from ornamental valuation in its new configuration, it is part of an artwork: something that is more commonly aesthetic than functional. The clay's newly adopted structural guise could be contradicted by the fact that it forms a part of an exhibited artwork: a thing to observe and contemplate.

Line Hanger, 2017.

Readymade & Minimalist

A brief reflection upon the long history of the readymade can be made when experiencing these works: the everyday repurposed as art; speckles of Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel shining through in the incorporation of minimalist furniture as plinths for items. Verity's work sits within an ever-expanding readymade dialogue. However, what sets the artist apart is an interest in presenting items as democratic things: to have them humbly reconsidered on equal grounds within sequential, almost collaborative set-ups. A perfect example of this is Line Hanger. Its short flight of stool steps and stern-looking black rope lead the viewer's eye on a linear journey up from the ground, along to the white wall, towards a clay wall fixing, and back down to a weighty household jug piled high with smoothly, rounded pebbles. Each sculptural element plays a vital role in the assemblage, working together with no item more important than any other. Again, clay adopts a structural role in the work and a household jug becomes an aesthetic vitrine in which to display discarded stones. We are reminded of the artist's playful interest in object and material languages, particularly the specific connotations attached to materials due to their origin and subsequent uses. Notable in both Line Hanger and Trapped Glass is the relationship between machine objects (e.g. glassware) and raw materials (sedimentary rock). Verity hints at the earthly origins and interwoven histories of things such as rocks, clay and glass

Present throughout his practice is the use of black rope, which can be seen as a tool for drawing, as well as an instrument for bridging the gap between two- and three-dimensionality. This, alongside the curated zig-zagging of artworks down the gallery space, reiterates a sense of tension between two counterparts. Line Hanger and Trapped Glass actively guide the viewer's gaze between the gallery's two- and three-dimensional spaces through the use of black rope that resembles the graphic lines of 20th century minimalist painters (Stella or LeWitt perhaps). However, whilst these artists relied on the edge of the canvas to halt a drawn line, Verity places a heavy object to punctuate its end.

Pickle Juice, 2017.
Souvenirs from a Picnic, 2017.

Personified Humour

Standing adjacent to Line Hanger is Pickle Juice and its six gherkin barrels which mediate the inverted meeting of two sets of table legs: the display set-up for a miniature, perfectly rolled, ball of clay. Alongside the humorous and almost personable quality of each object, the clay, and it's typically ornamental and 'high-interest' status, is undermined and its value appears reduced – this time due to its scale rather than where it is positioned. It is curious to observe that in other works, the ornamental value of clay is withdrawn through its repurposing as a structural item. Here, its value shifts due to its purposefully raw (no bright, enamel paint) and minute appearance. Again, a commentary on materials and their value is questioned through the meeting of the hand-made (clay), the mass-produced (table legs and jars) and the naturally formed (gherkins). In works such as Wall Mount, this comparison is exaggerated: a bright yellow, hand-molded clay wall mount displays a machine-made drinking glass containing a pebble. It reverses the expected display sequence, whilst also highlighting the idea of time: a pebble has taken decades to be formed, whereas a machine-cut glass took minutes.

Bringing the pieces into a collective show is an underlying awareness of the personification of each item. Drawing the objects away from their traditional purpose stimulates a peculiar notion that they have alternative characters that we, as users and manufacturers of these objects, should get to know. Souvenirs from a Picnic does exactly this: it invites audiences to pay attention to throw-away items such as plastic cutlery. Whilst its title hints at the sentimental worth and memories often attached to items by humans, it also reiterates the switching of object and material positioning: clay becomes the support structure for cheap, disposable things.

Stacks Daniel, 2017.

A more obvious nod to humankind's relationship to these sculptures is made in Stacks Daniel, where a disowned pair of trainers is crushed beneath the weight of packeted clay blocks which support the display of a single, green bottle – an item that is machine-made and freely disposable. It poses the question, where do we place ourselves within the hierarchy? Have we become trapped beneath our own expectations and ideals of what objects mean to us? Or perhaps, it is merely a set-up to disassociate footwear with their allocated purpose: they become structural rather than functional. Regardless, any attempt to withdraw the shoes would result in the collapse of the sculpture; another theme running throughout the show. The idea that these items are linked to our habitual ways of living is reiterated in the artist's hand-molded clay forms that are littered with fingerprints, which also exude nostalgia for forgotten tactility in an era of mass-production.

Weaving a complex series of themes and expectations of what object, materials and everyday things mean to us today, Verity's graduate residency show subtly breaks down and regroups historical display etiquettes. The exhibition alerts audiences to the restrictive valuations that humankind assigns to objects, and in turn presents an opportunity for the viewer to delve into the alternative life these materials could lead. It enables a reflection upon different valuation systems favouring time over material, and structural instead of ornamental. A cohesive showcase that gracefully leads the viewer through the gallery space, The Weight of Things excels in its ability to configure disparate things into poised sequences that illustrate a new aesthetic and functional purpose for disposable entities.

Tom Verity, The Weight of Things. February 3rd to 11th, AirSpace Gallery.

Review by Selina Oakes.

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