The same dark thread of anxiety which runs through what can be seen in the world today…
Essay by Paul Brandford
There is far too much to look at. Too much online content, too much reality, too much mainstream media coverage. Chances are that we could easily spend most of the rest of our lives casually glancing, scrolling, liking or muting. We will have precious little time for looking or even seeing let alone reflecting upon whatever our reactions were to our experience. It comes as little surprise to me that artworks struggle for this diminished attention.
Artists either by choice or by chance have developed strategies to counter this dilemma. Paintings and drawings quite recently seem to have become less troublesome, less irritating, less demanding and more pleasingly likeable and over eager to entertain. You might ask yourself what an artwork is actually representing, what it might be about. You might ask yourself this before attempting to read the label or before getting lost in some convoluted essay about what the artist claims to be exploring through this work. Art when created or purchased as a fashion accessory or a branding exercise becomes swallowed by that context. Works knowingly following the money provide surface not depth, simplicity rather than contradiction, sterility rather than exuberance.
Seventy years ago artists working in the aftermath of the Second World War and the shadow of the Cold War were associated with an existential imperative which to the artists chosen for this exhibition appears to be a common interest– an acknowledgement that the artwork whilst being made hangs in the balance and might end in failure or even destruction. This attitude seeped into their working arrangements, risk taking, living upon one’s instincts and the cycles of making and remaking through which a work might emerge as if purely by chance. These quirky hand made things created to their own requirements are intrinsically human, intrinsically humane.
Today we find ourselves in the midst of great uncertainty. What can now be taken as given; the value of culture, the ability of our politicians, the health of our economy, the defeat of our enemies? On our screens we view the movement of people, the uprooted, the oppressed and the opportunistic. If it can happen to them might it not one day happen to us? We see
attack after attack on innocent civilians the world over. This very real sense of unease pervades our daily lives You Are Here i
s not an escape but a reflection.
The majority of artists within this exhibition do not directly describe or even refer to political events but within their work in general one might detect that same dark thread of anxiety which runs through what can be seen in the world today. This is primarily an exhibition about people. These people might never have been real – summoned, instead, from an imagined past or contorted into being from a range of internet sources, others may have begun life as printed material found by chance alone. In the
studio faces are filtered, corrupted, misquoted and modified. Subjects haven’t sat for hours awaiting an acceptable likeness. What they all might have in common is that they arrived through a marriage of technology and tradition, seriousness and absurdity, technique and cackhandedness.
The artists themselves come from roughly the same generation most attending art schools in the late eighties and early nineties, sharing not only a similar set of cultural references but a certain kind of art school background where an understanding of context and process were important but an artwork’s existence as a physical and visual entity was never secondary to its function as an intellectual trigger. Collectively the works call for some kind of instinctive reaction, surfaces are there to be scratched beneath, uncomfortable truths are inadequately glossed over, masks allowed to slip. The public persona and the private self are at war with one another. Clues pieced together will not necessarily reveal an answer but might deepen the question.
Something fleeting, something fugitive somehow arrested just prior to its escape or disintegration. Images unearthed, discovered, images on the cusp of being wiped out, wiped away. Time is always present on both sides of the picture. In the studio where the imagination transforms years of practice, years of wandering up blind alleys and barking up wrong trees. This time is as invisible to you as the studio itself. The passage of time is also frozen within the image. Like fruit a picture germinates, matures and then rots; layer upon layer – additions and subtractions, comings and goings, collisions and near misses, changes of direction. The artist trusting in some kind of obscure understanding knows when enough is enough and stands back leaving some kind of meaning hanging there within the image– suspended just, but only just, out of reach.
These artworks attempt to speak of our time and of our predicament. Why they were made in the way that they were but they might somehow hint at what we have become and what, if anything, might lie ahead.
YOU ARE HERE Exhibition
4th March-6th April 2018
Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery
Exhibitors:Jeanette Barnes, Paul Brandford,
Broughton and Birnie, Vanessa Mitter,
Charlotte Steel, Corina Spencer,Tom Walker