Exhibition: Letting Go: CSM4+ Group
Waterloo Gallery, 14 Bayliss Road, 24-29 September
Keeping the momentum going after art school is no easy feat, but the artists showing at the Waterloo Gallery this week are giving it a very good go. Following the success of to take a-way (one) at the Liverpool Street Nolias Gallery, many of the same Central Saint Martins graduates have recreated the excitement two months down the line, along with fellow graduates of Chelsea College. The exhibition comprised objects, painting, photography, video and sound with no overriding theme or agenda, and I want to focus on what struck me as the bravest thing about the show: how so much of the work squared up and took on the space itself.
The Waterloo Gallery is a harder space to work with than the trendy, rough-edged Nolias, and a lot of the artwork tangles with the in-built corporate personality of the place, which wouldn’t look out of place as the lobby to a central London office complex. The artwork that excited me most of all played with things like the disproportionate glare of the staircase that takes centre stage as you walk in the door, the motley combination of walls in glass, plaster and brick, and the dodgy plastic picture rails the brickwork demands. It’s this kind of cooperation and inventiveness that characterised much of the work on show, and epitomises the sparks of playful ingenuity that abound when the group are on top form.
Three such sparks were dotted about in the ample space below the stairs: a TV monitor, a stack of plastic chairs and a structure of concrete, wood and glass that may or may not have been part of the staircase. It was a genuine delight to see that same stack of chairs turn up indifferently on the adjacent monitor during Sandra Wroe’s video Deal: an understated addendum that threw everything else around me out of step, and did away with any firm idea of what is and what isn’t up for consideration.
Along the same lines, over on the other side of the room Nathan Birchenough’s very small paper replica of a door flicked opened and closed in time with the occasional movements of adjacent real door nearby (although for all my kneeling on the floor I couldn’t work out what it did and Nathan had to come over and explain it to me by pointing at the wires). How it relates to the table and framed pig I’m not sure, but I don’t think I’m meant to be sure. The humour of the piece was in line with the spunky bravura of the show, as was its playful feeling of furtive resistance to the way things are.
Resisting the physicality of the place gave way to happy compromises: the awkward practicality of those white hanging rails was nicely brought up to speed in Visual Axis, Hindsight and Trophy (above): three interconnected works by Jean Lyons which mirror their hanging rail by marking out their own grid of white lines, to support what looked like solid analogies to the home-life of spectacles. The works had a quotidian honesty that translated convincingly to being gridded onto brickwork, and it was a fruitful intervention that I think did a lot for the work.
If I have one regret it’s the lack of unclassified, anonymous bits and pieces that I remember from the Nolias show, and, looking back, from the cluttered working studio many of the artists shared back at art school. There was a nod in that direction with the decision to number the works rather than name them, but this time round it felt a little half-hearted and less spontaneous, as though the show hadn’t been as much fun to put together. I wanted to see more work, to crowd the gallery and fill up the gaps so that everything encroached on everything else with that uneasy, productive feeling you get when you can’t quite tell what you’re looking at.
In this respect perhaps the most effective piece in the show was Jeremy Evans‘ sound piece work # 31 and: a CD player sitting in one corner halfway down the stairs with a sellotaped label (‘press play’). Inside the headphones the beat kicked in straight away, a low, groovy pulse, pregnant with space for accompaniment. As I listened and waited, and nothing changed, the perfect regularity of the single beat began to do something very good. It nudged through the spaces in the room to bind the show together so that the hang became a series of snapshot punches with every glimpse staple-gunned to the wall around me. Seeing the exhibition pinned up against some kind of dead-pan, linear time frame lent it a scrambled unity that sealed the show and recklessly set it going.