Parade #1 – Terra Incognita
Angel Row, Feb 07
I feel intense disappointment. This is the first show in the Parade trilogy, an open-entry, panel selected series at Angel Row gallery. I was really looking forward to these, a chance to see something new, exciting, different, beautiful; and if not that then at least the opportunity for some newer artists to get their work hung.
The first disappointment was seeing the line-up of people chosen for the show. Not because I have any dislike of them, but simply because I'd heard of some of them before – not as new as I'd have hoped then. But still, at least those I had heard of where artists whose work I'd previously enjoyed.
The next problem was reading the exhibition blurb:
"Terra incognita – an unknown country. But the lands these artists explore are not entirely unknown to any of us. We all recognise these places."
OK, I'm being a little glib with my quotation here and there is more to the idea than this (and some interest in the theme) but, but, but: as a curator it's a very convenient box in which to place whichever disparate works catch your eye. In practice I found that most of the works only fitted this schema in the very loosest sense and there was little, if any, feeling of the "boundaries of our own interior landscape abut[ing] and overlap[ing] those of our neighbours". Granted it's always going to be a challenge putting on an open show that retains a sense of coherence, but it'd be better not to bother trying to theme it than this shoehorning of work into some nebulous conceptual container.
So, the work. Almost uniformly it felt flat and lifeless. Intense disappointment. This is an open show, here is the opportunity to see new work, exciting work, passionate work, energetic work; something beautiful, something profound. There must have been enough entries, there must have been enough depth, there must have been enough life evident for this to come off. But no, the work feels perfunctory, by the numbers, neither profound nor beautiful nor interesting.
There were exceptions. S. Mark Gubb's Scooby Dead was interesting, albeit hard to hear on the crappy TV it was being shown on (I've also no idea how long it actually is, probably too long). Anita Mudaliar's semi-animated figures, shown in projection, were quite striking, if a little one-trick pony. A couple of photographs from the selection by Keith Morris were also OK, but not fantastic. Mik Godley's blue paintings, suggestive of degraded/over-compressed jpegs (interestingly the second example of this idea I've come across in painting over the last year or so) were fine too, but still disappointing as I've previously really liked some of his work. Lois Wallace's paintings, colourful whimsy with a nod to Turner, were, too, fine, just fine, in a ho-hum sort of way.
Special ire is reserved for the photography of Stephen Connell. The series on show here, Insomnia, a collection of interior shots taken over the course of a sleepless night due to light pollution at a friend's house, was awful. Again I come back to my expectation of art being both insightful and beautiful, or at least one of the two. This set had nothing. It felt like there was some potential in the idea here, but the composition was poor, the whole series hasty and repetitive and again the flatness, the lifelessness apparent in the whole show was manifest. This was the worst example of shoe-horning, a series chosen because it looked modern, it felt cutting-edge. All well and good, but this isn't enough if the artistry is lacking.
Looking again at the three exclamation marks I'd scribbled on Stephen Connell's write-up in the exhibition blurb, just under the bit which says 'graduated in 2006 and had photographs published in the British Journal of Photography in the same year', I thought it fair to look him up and give him a chance. The BJP shows some more interesting examples of his work, a damn sight better than what I saw here, but there is still a slight problem. He refers to Dan Holdsworth as one of his inspirations. I agree, Dan Holdsworth is amazing. Unfortunately the photos shown on the BJP site look pretty much the spit of Holdsworth's work, just not as good. Sorry fella, no deal.
In writing this I am forced to investigate one ugly possibility: am I just a bit jealous? I did apply for Parade, I did not get in. Perhaps this is part of my malady. This is a danger, but I hope that I have not let it taint my views. Part of my disappointment actually stems from the expectation I had on the potential of an open show at Angel Row, the thought that if I'm not in then at least a bunch of people better than me are. That's not supposed to sound egotistical, merely to hope that the general standard of entries was high. Furthermore I'm usually pretty good at appreciating technical skill or ambition or interesting theoretical underpinnings even when the work itself doesn't grab me (my ongoing fascination with the idea always being far better than the execution), and I think this is still true here. Finally, as a happy get out clause, Al saw the exhibition last week and came out with much the same comments completely independently of any of my potential bitterness. That's corroboratory evidence right there.
In sum then, flat and lifeless; hugely disappointing. I only hope parts II & III of the show are better.
A final note on applying for exhibitions: enter your blandest work or most repetitive series; you must have umpteen works along the same lines, the more constrictive the better. This is what I have been taught, I will now go forth, with a flat cap and an attitude, to multiply.
Labels: angel row gallery, art, disappointment, photography, review