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Oriel Davies Gallery
The Park, Newtown
Powys SY16 2NZ
Telephone: +44 (0) 1686 625041
Fax: +44 (0) 1686 623633
Email: desk@orieldavies.org
Monday - Saturday 10am-5pm
Free Admission

Reviews

Beyond Pattern - Part 1

Exhibition: Beyond Pattern
Date: November 2009
Writer: Christopher Collier
Publication: interface
Publisher: AN

When I stepped into Beyond Pattern at Newtown's Oriel Davies the modest and carefully arranged space made an oddly strong first impression upon me. Primarily my sense was that, ironically, it would be difficult to establish any overarching patterns across the selection of work on display here which seemed at first glance fragmentary, complex and diverse. Slowly acquiring my bearings I became aware of a sensitive balance of delicate subtly and robust exuberance that defied my immediate attempts to get a handle upon what I was being presented with. There was collage, photography, DVD, installation, drawing and textiles along with mixed-media works and beyond the gallery space itself, the off-site project of Steve Messam's site-specific installation Clad. Indeed initially, the exhibition appeared to be constituted as much upon this complexity as it did by any sense of pattern in itself.

As alluded to in the exhibition's introductory interpretive materials, the notion of pattern is an immensely rich and complex one once it begins to be considered more widely. Pattern has extensive and varied connotations in numerous discourses; it can be a conceptual way in to considering issues in a social, political, philosophical, linguistic or aesthetic context. It is the matrix by which we analyse these amorphous cultural phenomena and also that which permits us to conceptualise the myriad disjointed events of physics, biology, or any science for that matter, encoding them in a fashion that enables human understanding to develop. However, to explore the vast and multifarious cultural implications of a notion of pattern is the material of essays, if not books, and so I attempted to address my inquiry to the work first and foremost and attempted to keep my musings upon pattern itself as a means by which to inform my approaches to this work.

One immediate concept of pattern that I encountered in the exhibition was the notion that pattern can encapsulate both work and play. It becomes in a way a visual/physical manifestation of time and work in a similar sense to the way in which Marx saw capital as congealed labour. In this respect an intricately and laboriously worked patterns such as Andrea Stokes' labour-intensive pencil drawings almost becomes a performative encoding of the time and precision required in their creation. In an age before mechanical reproduction such a display of craftsmanship clearly held a different implication than the self-conscious rejection of technology inherent in such a complex drawing. This concentration of time and the performative aspect is drawn out by Stokes' DVD work Hampshire, which records the labour-intensive, precision removal by hand of a floral pattern, machine embroidered across the face of a lace curtain. Conversely pattern also suggests notions of play, the removal of the floral forms is playful and unlike work, play suggests the ephemeral. The looping of the video and the birdsong soundtrack takes that ephemerality, of time and sound and play, and re-present it in the form of a pattern for our understanding. As is the case here, pattern is often a representation, a classification, an epistemology.

An ambivalence between notions of work and play is also manifest in Doug Jones' Non Sum Qualis Eram. The installation is at once humorous and sinister, the ranks of faceless figures, queue like workers at a production line or soldiers marching in column, uniformed in their individuality. Patterned in cloth from camouflage to animal print, sack-cloth to satin, flags, tartan, or religious symbols these figures appear to be wearing their identity on their sleeve so to speak, they are an army of multicultural equivalence, their identity stripped of meaning by the faceless, totalising identity that construes them diverse fragments of a unified whole. Their difference is essentially illusory, their sense of identity is lost as they are subsumed into a formless mass of interchangeable individualities, signs and imagery - hence perhaps the title: 'I am not what I used to be'.

Leo Fitzmaurice's works seems to draw upon a more playful notion of pattern. He takes the contradiction of an archetype of the ephemeral: the throw-away flyer, itself a indistinct signification of the event it promotes (in this case the equally ephemeral artistic spheres of music and dance) and creates from it the most temporal and vulnerable of arrangements. This is pattern but it is loose and liable to break apart at any moment. It seems through the use of Madam Butterfly and Swan Lake flyers Fitzmaurice is wistfully evoking the freedom and temporality of music and dance (though problematised through the imposition of the formalising codes - patterns - of opera and ballet) along with the archetypal delicacy or vulnerable grace of the butterfly or swan.

At the risk of developing a pattern, the empherality of play is also a central component in a number of the exhibition's more relational works. Messam's off-site commission Clad employed a number of local craftspeople to aid in the re-presentation of a traditional timber-framed building, overcoded and overcoated with the fleeces of local livestock, referencing a the heritage and interrelation of architecture, agriculture and aesthetics in this locality. Avoid being deterred by the walk, the obviously comparisons to other aesthetically wrapped buildings or the fear of stereotypes (I will concede that I had reservations before hand, hoping this was not a case of a sheep/Wales connection, although this is a possible angle of humour and playfulness in the work that no doubt played well as an angle with various media outlets covering the installation). In fact this is actually a rather subtle and nuanced work, suggesting enclosure, shelter and the human relationship with the land, a relationship at once exploitative and yet also vulnerable. In keeping with a practice that is largely and self-consciously rural, Messam's Clad is both playful and endearing in the vein of his Beached or Signs of the Times whilst retaining an eloquence that draws upon previous works such as Fleur de Sel and Drop.

Catherine Bertola's work too acquires this sense of the temporal. It is relational and engaged in the sense that the embroidery was worked on by numerous local volunteers, drawing attention once more to this encoding of time, process and labour that pattern represents. Bertola's practice is characterised by its empherality, the notion of process and the moment, whether encapsulated through dust (as in her Everything and Nothing at the V&A or After the Fact) or of objects that imply a human story (as her recent piece for Artist Object Project with Brecknock museum). Here, her combination of intricate pen drawings referencing unspectacular individual characters, alongside intensively worked embroidery again echoes those concern.

Michael Brennand-Wood takes the ephemeral in the form of kitsch and blends it with its opposite, the universal - in the form of a concept also deeply rooted in pattern, that of the archetype. The idea of an archetype, such as Plato's ideal forms, represents a pattern from which are cut all worldly, ephemeral forms. This is this tension that enchants Brennand-Wood's numerous pop-like pieces, the dichotomy between kitsch and archetype. They skirt around a Benjaminian notion of 'Dream Kitsch', through the misplacing of the banal, the kitsch, objects acquire a novelty that undoes our accumulated boredom, they are anti-historical, anti-Romantic; the world of objects advances into human relations and we are defamiliarised. It is difficult to assess in Brennand-Wood's work whether this space of unfamiliarity has the potential to be inhabited by politics, as it did for Dada and the Surrealists or if it has been utterly recuperated into the hyperreal spectacle of commodity. A sphere in which all meaning is impossible, surface pattern signifies nothing, Kitsch is no longer a commodity fetishism but simply a fragmented re-presentation of all there is.

Such a position sit diametrically opposed to the Platonist, archetypal notion of pattern, a notion suggested in the multiple works that make effective use of shadow. Angharad Pearce-Jones' piece Beam presents us with a potential reference to the shadows on the wall of Plato's cave, but here the archetype appears no more real than its shadowy, ephemeral re-presentation. The apparently robust and sturdy steel and zinc beam that casts its shadow upon the gallery floor is comprised of the logos of prominent construction companies, adrift upon the instability of world markets. The over complexity and apparent futility (when considered in parallel to the current uncertainty in the construction industry) can be read as a possible metaphor for the intricate and overwrought spectacle of global capital that is its own archetype and its own representation, its apparently solid foundations belong to the realm of the decorative. It is an archetypal postmodern object, re-presenting itself: its art is that of illusion and its philosophy that of disillusion.

Christopher Collier is an artist and writer, currently studying for an MA in Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths