Friday, 7 March 2014

Speaking Space at the Collyer Bristow Gallery

Ruth Claxon 'Nest (Banana Bird)' (2009)
Finally, the moment for which we have all been waiting: Spring is here, everything is coming to life! The sun is casting its light on our seemingly endless murky London buildings. We can finally look up and rediscover and re-engage with what surrounds us - the dazzling commercial glass frontage, the delicate scroll work, the bright golden brickwork. But. Imagine what might happen if those architectural details had also re-emerged from the winter gloom, coming alive, taking sustenance from the sunshine. And spoke...

The latest exhibition downstairs takes this enchanting, if alarming idea, and the seven featured artists respond. The show's notes state that this 'is an exhibition that allows us to imagine buildings as sentient beings. It is human nature to constantly refer back to ourselves: children and adults can quickly begin to anthropomorphise buildings and their surroundings'. It was prompted by conversations with Matthew Houlding and a collection of spatial oddities were brought together.

Houlding's large scale piece 'The best bit is the black cement pool on the beach which is a perfect spot to' (2014) is clearly the centre of the exhibition. The mixed media - wood, plastic, material and Perspex - constructed over a jumble of levels and myriad of surface textures suggests a concurrent indoor and an outdoor experience. As if Picasso had painted a house as he might a reclining woman, trying to capture all angles of her at once. A piece of driftwood is attached to the side like a bizarre woodpecker, or is it a door knocker, who knows? His smaller pieces have this same colour and warmth, as well as a Hockney swimming pools feel to them.

If these 3D pieces are a manifestation of a building's interior trying to get out, as a complete contrast both in method and spatially, Tod Hanson's 'Untitled' (wall painting) (2014) is a shy exterior attempting to escape and hide in the skylight. By studying the exterior of Bedford Row, Hanson took the restrained Georgian exteriors and elaborated and experimented with the curves and scrolls to create something quite startlingly modern, yet inherently traditional. Using a variation on the interior wood colours, the two colours he used appear to be a natural and exterior raw and burnt sienna. The possibilities are endless and as the artist said, as he was doing some tidying, it would never be finished.

Who hasn't chuckled at some of the pictures featured on the twitter account @facesinthings? Carl Sagan hypothesized that as a survival technique, human beings are 'hard-wired' from birth to identify the human face - and body shape. We need only minimal details to recognise faces but mistakenly can also interpret random images or patterns of light and shade as being faces. Known as pareidolia, this perception is demonstrated in the works of Ben Cove in 'Revisitor' (2014) and his 'Head Construct' series and James Smith's Temporal Dislocation works. Smith's figurative pylons look ready for some synchronised dancing, and the simple lines in 'Head Construct(2)' definitely scream faces.

Spring also brings the birds home to roost. A colourful parrot and a yellow banana bird appear to have found some metal curls to set up nest in a couple of corners. Ruth Claxton plays with the shadows, and the shapes they cast are an integral part of the sculpture. They seem to grow into the wall space on which they are placed.

Which leads me on to Mark Selby's installation 'Play Station II' which was commissioned especially for the platform space. I get the joke after it was explained to me by a gamer - the shapes and colours are inspired by a Play Station console. The beautifully crafted wooden speakers obviously would fill a room with sound and so then the space would speak. But gaming and architecture? I'd have to ask my gaming/software designing friend to help me link the two further as there is definitely something to be explored there.

Either that, or the play station is simply a reference to a child's climbing frame and it is making a comment about the inability of children to play outside. Do childish spaces need children to make things? Perhaps the fanciful Meccano structures in Selby's Outfit wooden pieces have constructed themselves like they would in children's movies - Toy Story or the Lego Movie. And looking at his other work, you can see the inherent joy and playfulness of his work: the yellow brings a spring to your step.

There are so many architectural exhibitions currently and though I haven't been to all of them, I can say this one definitely has a sense of humour. This is an excellent show and well worth a visit.

Speaking Space runs through to the 11 June 2014 at the Collyer Bristow offices.
Matthew Houlding, Tod Hanson, Ruth Claxton, Mark Selby, Ben Cove and Kiera Bennett

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