Monday, 26 June 2017

A natural selection - Residency by Rodrigo Arteaga - #2

Brownfield sites and Studio work

There are many Brownfield sites in the city of Stoke-on-Trent which are very interesting places because they have so much human and non-human interaction. The majority of them have been completely fenced so it´s difficult for people (but possible) to access them.  Therefore they have been bursting with all sorts of species of plants and small animals. We can see the slow but powerful force of plants to outgrow concrete. There is all sorts of debris of human culture which I have been working with. I have payed a few visits to a Brownfield site which is close to AirSpace Gallery and that was the former Hanley Stadium. 

From this former Hanley Stadium Brownfield site I collected fragments of broken glass from the site and have been using the fragments apparently as an accidental shattered glass on the vitrine floor but from a closer look you can tell that it actually conforms a very carefully constructed image of the same site. It has to do with a certain notion of order and chance, when it´s repeated it becomes order. The fragments of broken glass also suggest a map, then the fragments could potentially become sites. 


From another site that had houses that were demolished in order to be built new ones and offer new local employment positions, this never happened and all that remains is the land with the site walls. I brought some material from this site to the gallery. I brought a dead large plant that was almost intact and placed it in the gallery as if it were sprouting from the crack between the floor and the wall and placed a selection of paper cut-out insects from a book of species found all over Europe, I selected the few that were closer towards camouflage so that you would possibly perceive them as real in a first look but then noticing that is actually just cut and folded paper.  

The other work consisted in a diorama of a dead tree with soil and plants brought from the site on a wheelbarrow and that was carried through the city. I am interested in the impulse of trying to bring something back from the place to the studio and of course this is a very literal way of doing this but that also enhances the mobility or perhaps the arbitrary aspect of the selected fragment of nature that is to be represented. It changes the device for containing a representation of nature into a domestic work tool such as the wheelbarrow. It is also a very stubborn attempt to bring an element of the environment to the gallery space as a way of representing it that shows actually how the impulse in doing so becomes inevitably part of the equation. 

I found that the video I made of paper insects placed on spiderwebs looked interesting placed on a corner almost as an actual spiderweb would be and have been trying out a projection of a video work called "Birdwatching". This work consists in the placement of taxidermied birds (canaries and budgies) on tree branches in different locations in London such as Regent´s Park, Hampstead Heath and Priory Park. The videos just shows the slow movement of the tree with the wind along with the ambient sound of the park. It comes from the questioning of the natural history tradition of taxidermy being made to look alive. It is an attempt to do the exact opposite, to mortalize rather than immortalize. The action is rather simple but reveals a complex system, being a frustrated return onto nature. If we look at one of many examples: John James Audobon was a painter and hunter. First he hunted down animals to be able to paint and in his words “immortalizing them through painting”. This is an interesting and contradictory relation towards nature, life and death, taken as a counterpoint to the present action. Canaries were normally used to test carbon monoxide under coalmines and are almost extinct in the wild. Another reference is the two attempts of architect Frank Stainbridge to show exotic plants in England were it was later to be discovered that the two greenhouses he built were in fact showing a nature/culture hybrid that only he knew about. 
It hopefully gets close to questioning some ideas about the apparent liveliness of taxidermy responding to the natural history tradition of the diorama. But you´re not exactly sure if the bird is going to move or not which is the ambiguity I was looking for. It also incorporates the sound of the outside space into the gallery space which I find very interesting. 



Friday, 23 June 2017

A natural selection - Residency by Rodrigo Arteaga - #1

On the 20th of june I started my residency in AirSpace Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, it will extend until the 8th of July and will lead to an exhibition next year in the Natural History Museum within the Potteries Museum and also in AirSpace Gallery. The residency consists on one hand in the study and reflection upon Brownfield sites that are related to what was the main Pottery industry production in the UK and that now have been reclaimed by nature. On the other hand it consists in going into the Natural History Museum´s collection and archives with a further exhibition for next year in the Natural History Museum. The invitation is then to respond and work with these specific sites and the institution of the Natural History Museum. My intention is to develop new ways of thinking about my work in relation to these sites, and hopefully make a constellation of actions and interventions both inside and outside the museum. They are both places of active interaction between nature and culture and the residency will be a productive way of delving into the complexity of their relation.    

Studio work

I started working using AirSpace Gallery as a studio which offers a great space to experiment and try out new ideas. I started some work in the AirSpace Yarden for the birds in which I started interacting with spiders through their spider webs. I did this by cutting out a couple of very small illustrations from a book on entomology and placing them in a spider web. I made a series of photographs and a couple of videos in which you see the spider web being shaken by the wind. I left the camera running and after when I was going through the video I noticed that the spider had actually interacted with the illustration. It is for me a complex relationship between the representation of nature, an idealization of nature producing a tension between fiction and reality. And therefore the moment of interaction of the spider with the illustration had a special significance, illustrations originally were very related to capture and can itself be thought as a way of capture. 

On a first visit to the Brownfield Site where the Hanley Stadium used to be I collected some material to bring to the studio and work on it. I did a first test installing dried up leaves collected from the site and placed in the floor of the gallery. There is a violent cut on the edges so what appears to be just a chaotic gathering of leaves is actually very determined and constructed. I am interested in the idea of the Natural History diorama as a snapshot representation of the environment, as a staged and selected fragment of a whole. So the emphasis was placed on the limit which is drawn in doing so by exaggerating this very simple notion to the extreme. 

I also collected fragments of broken glass from the site and have been using the fragments apparently as an accidental shattered glass on the floor but from a closer look you can tell that it actually conforms a very carefully constructed image of the same site. It has to do with a certain notion of order and chance, when it´s repeated it becomes order. The fragments of broken glass also suggest a map, then the fragments could become sites.  

“Mapping always, at some level, involves violence” Tom McCarthy

Spode Factory and Spode Garden

I visited the Spode Factory in Stoke Town, it was a Pottery factory that started in 1762 and stopped operating in 2008. Since then it has been used as a Heritage Centre which includes artist´s studios and is also the site where the British Ceramics Biennial is held. I had a walk around the site and found some very interesting mold deposits, also abandoned places that have now become the home of all sorts of species such as pigeons and many kinds of plants. It is a very interesting state in between human and non-human interaction where you get the chance to see just what happens when we stop preventing other species to get in. 

I also had the chance to visit the Spode Garden that is a project developed by AirSpace Gallery where they have completely regenerated the Factory´s entrance into a flourishing garden for the community to use all year round. It is a quiet garden that offers edible fruits for the public to enjoy as well as readings, classes, among other cultural activities.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Lay of the Land (and other such myths) a review by Selina Oakes

The perimeters of our cultural and societal landscapes are breached in Victoria Lucas's major solo exhibition. Continuing its multi-faceted journey – previously touring to HOME in Manchester and the London Art Fair – Lay of the Land (and other such myths) evolves into its latest incarnation within the confines of AirSpace Gallery. Working with Mark Devereux Projects to curate an immersive installation, the Sheffield-based artist has created a glamorous and cinematic dystopian terrain with a city specific soundscape that examines both female representation and the urban wastelands that lay within our blindspots.

Adopting the notion of life beyond conformity from JG Ballard's 1974 novel, Concrete Island, Lucas's project is littered with Westernised histories and remnants of the female form. Comprised of photographic prints, video compositions, gleaming boulders and sound works – all of which appear sublimely psychedelic, bar a pile of plundered brownfield rubble – Lay of the Land reframes visual and textual signifiers into an engaging, critical discourse. From the moment you pass the gallery's window, you recognise that another world, or way of living, awaits.

The spectral colours of Psychedelic Western #3 (2015) provide a rich exhibition excerpt – its vibrant and effervescent depictions of the Alabama hills are repeated in the show's wall-sized prints and theatrical screens. A feminine sigh welcomes you into the space, while deceptively light boulders – made from layers of polystyrene, fibreglass and jesmonite – catch your eye as they glisten under the gallery's spotlights. Drawn to their weighty surface and scale, the viewer is encouraged to delve between the crevices of this 'fool's gold' that lay propped in a state of poised instability.

Calling to mind the work of Pipilotti Rist are videos on flat-screen monitors presenting
disembodied mouths floating across near-iridescent martian landscapes. Imaginary Voice #1 and #2 (2016) exude sensually-charged colours amongst digitally engineered anamorphic forms. Likewise, Body / Image #1 (2016) overlays feminine remnants over a grassy scene punctuated by a rock-face that resembles an atomic mushroom cloud. An apocalyptic break-down of digital matter makes way for a disseminated aesthetic that questions the infiltration of the virtual into our everyday realities. The digital-self abuses our perceptions and blends femininity's realities with falsities.

Providing a 'way-in' to an alternative reality is Concrete Island (2017). Comprised of an ultra-violet backdrop – part Stoke brownfield, part Lanzarote – it invites viewers to lay on one of two concrete benches; each measuring the average height of a woman in the UK. Laying across these cold, minimalist slabs, the audience is enlivened by a pre-recorded soundscape by vocalists through a set of headphones. The notion of the female fighting against 'dominant culture' is evident in the pitching of an all-female harmony against dormant blocks that mimic the sculptures of Donald Judd or Carl Andre.

The females challenge their entombed form in a penetrative soundtrack that disassociates their voices from the traditional notion of 'singing'. They pierce through the facade of external expectation and with it, our rigid view that women, and the abandoned wasteland, exist inaudibly on the outer-rim of our constructed society. As with Concrete Island, video piece A Staging excels in showcasing the sheer, non-linguistic power of the choir's vocal chords in an isolated terrain. Set within a brownfield, the five performers are free to control their own bodies and space, with Lucas providing only a minor reminder of 'order' through her orchestration. Beginning in a choir-esque semicircle, the group disperses as the sound builds and reaches a cultural 'breaking point'.

Lay of the Land is a visual and acoustic portrayal of Lucas's research into the 'Feminist Framework'. The artist's digitalisation of feminine remnants correlates with Amelia Jones's notion that the body “is understood as an image – but as an image understood itself, as embodied,” while Teresa de Lauretis's theory that females remain “inaudible” is addressed through the audibility of women in a non-conventional way. Lucas challenges the inhibitions that society places upon gender through a dissection, and merging, of 'place'. The artist moves freely from the glamorous Californian desert to the 'damaged' brownfield: a location where women can walk on unclaimed ground. In line with Rebecca Solnit's idea that society is “walking on ground concerned with controlling women's sexuality”, Lucas suggests that this 'undesirable' land is the closest thing to a verifiable, albeit abstracted, reality.