I went to a private view last night for a small exhibition just off Old Street. The four artists involved have been working on a collaborative sculpture and textile project for the past eighteen months, and this show marks the second of three temporary, planned pauses in their activity. This is the stock-take pause.
The exhibition comprises paper documentation and some examples of the work they’ve been making so far, in very straightforward museum-style cases and using plinths and mannequins. Not many people came and so there was space to spend time alone with the work, particularly in the ‘tights cubicle’, which was poorly signposted and difficult to find. The project is much the same: private, and understated, and with some pieces too opaque to really understand.
The artists are looking at the clothes we wear and the ‘clothes’ we don’t: textile constructions that we wouldn’t call clothes because for one reason or another they don’t fit around the normal parts of our bodies. Garments for hands that you couldn’t call gloves because they only cover your palms; knee-warmers; jewellery for foreheads; a kind of skirt for your neck, that straps tightly around your chin to keep you warm on cold days. Then there are the so-called ‘accoutrements’: functional objects made from wire and plastic to help you put on, take off or store the garments. The accoutrements were all in a display case, but there was a demonstration in the early part of the evening.
The show presents as modest and practical, and I’d like to take it at face value. But the space it’s in is an art gallery, and I wonder whether a community centre would have been better, or a stand in a trade fair, or on a smaller scale, a tabletop at a church hall bring-and-buy sale. The effect of the art gallery context is something I’ve discussed before, and here it’s at its most vocal, in my view almost wholly obstructing the work. The gallery context here relegates the physical artifacts to the status of products or museum relics, while foregrounding the activity of the producers and their relationship with the works we’re seeing. “We’re doing something special here”, it says, “and we want you to consider it in a special way”. If I’d found the objects on my own in some unexpected situation it would have been a very special thing indeed. But here, inside the gallery-frame, it feels like all the work has been done for me, and what’s left is just a little bit patronizing.
The artists are reticent about their intentions, but they all have varied, experimental practices outside of this collaborative project, ranging from performance to drawing to writing to video, and once again, I wish I didn’t know that. It throws the delight of the demi-socks and mono-sleeves into sturdy irony, and makes their gestures clumsy, obvious and uncomfortably worldly.
This exhibition is imaginary.
Filed under: art, clothes, collaboration, context, demonstration, East End, fabric, frame, Funny Noises, galleries, gloves, installation, mannequin, Old Street, Private View, review, socks, Tights, Trousers