Wednesday, July 3, 2013

'Making Art' co-curated by Silvia Ziranek and Sandra Higgins at Gallery Petit

I always feel like an interloper on the clean, leafy streets of Chelsea.  Zebra crossings lead to to confrontations with angry revving Range Rovers acting like the simple act of stopping to let me past is an affront to their dignity.  Inside the pub talk is of second homes in Provence and the cost of private schooling children with names like Freddie and Max.  Give me the East End any day of the week.  So as I walked the streets looking for Gallery Petit I was convinced that a heavy hand was about to fall on my shoulder and an authoritative voice echo from above asking me to get back on the tube, quickly and without making a fuss.  As it turns out I did eventually hear a voice from above, but fortunately one of a infinitely friendlier variety. It belonged to Silvia Ziranek, waving at me from an balcony overlooking the street.

Gallery Petit is located inside Sandra Higgins' flat.  You buzz the door, walk upstairs and enter what is at once obviously an exhibition space and also quite clearly someone's living room.  This has the potential to be pretty awkward, especially as I turned up on a quiet Sunday afternoon - one doesn't want to intrude.  I needn't have worried, both Sandra and Silvia made me feel welcome from the moment I walked in the door.

Jake Tilson - Eel Spears (2009)
Though this isn't the biggest gallery around, there's a lot packed into the space.  'Making Art' is, as Silvia puts it "work about working".  I can see her point; the pieces here use a myriad of different skills and forms; metalwork, laser-cut acrylics, miniatures, photography, needlework and plastics moulding.  Though the end products look elegant and refined, there's a palpable sense of the sweat and technical knowledge that goes into their creation.

I can't run down every piece in there, but there were some that stood out.  I particularly enjoyed a series of necklaces spelling out a quote by Emmeline Pankhurst: "We are here, not because we are lawbreakers; We are here in our efforts to become law makers."  This is the creation of jewellery company Tatty Devine.  The slightly retro font and garish colours work as a cpntrast to the fiery political sentiment.  For these necklaces to be used as jewellery and still convey the message you'd need 22 people to wear them, all standing in the right order.  If one person were to try and wear all this at once, the message would literally become garbled. The importance of a cohesive group dynamic and the power of the multitude echoes back to the original Suffragette tactics of group protest, yet the artificiality of the plastic modernises the message: Victorian proto-feminism crashing headlong into Claire's Accessories.  Cool.

Tatty Devine 'We are here,not because we are law breakers; We are here in our efforts to become law makers' (2013)
While I'm on a jewellery kick I've got to mention the architecturally themed silver jewellery by Pamina Brassey.  They say you should treat your body like a temple, a notion that Brassey has rather enthusiastically embraced.  Her work is a series of earrings, necklaces and rings as colonnades, doric columns and gothic window frames.  The craftmanship is precise, attaining a pleasing balance that I don't quite have the vocabulary to define.  Very gently it nudges you into viewing the human body as a construction of bone and muscle, an anatomical architecture rather than something vague and ethereal. 

Though there's a wide variety of work here, a few themes emerge regardless of media.  One is the repeated use of found objects.  My favourite was Carol McNicoll's Fantasies, in which we see a painted ceramic soldier propping up two bowls.  The soldier has been repainted; festooned with flowery designs with the face of Pope Francis emblazoned upon his chest.  The new design that McNicoll chose made me imagine the kind of person that would purchase this chintzy little china murderer.  I'd guess in its original form it was intended as some kitsch Daily Mail/Express style promo - "Support our Boys with this limited edition mantelpiece hero".  Sandwiching him between two bowls and giving him a darling paintjob exposes the sheer weirdness of the culture that produces and purchases crap like this. It's a sanitisation of a system of atrocities: a guide to making rape, murder and torture fit seamlessly into granny's china cabinet.

Carol McNicoll - Fantasies (2011)
More found objects pop up in work by Catherine Shakespeare-Lane. Particles shows a blown up and ruined 35m transparency that becomes a strangely organic stained-glass window when framed.  This metamorphosis from smashed-up trash to art continues through her Chopped Rabbit, a photograph of a dismembered 'Rampant Rabbit' vibrator.  The sex toy looks alien, a neon pink Cronenbergian body horror device.  There's a darkly mischievous sense of humour at play here, a perverse pleasure at presenting us with the cold artificial components used as a substitute for human contact.

Catherine Shakespeare-Lane - Chopped Rabbit (2011)
Another theme that runs through some of the work is eels.  Yes, the fish.  Vicky Hawkins' We Always Ate Fish On Fridays uses alphabetti spaghetti to spell out an ode to the joys of eel consumption.  A few feet away is Jake Tilson's Eel Spears - specialised cutlery again devoted to the eating of eels.  Surreal links like these are one of the perks of these mixed exhibitions, the pieces complimenting each other in brand new ways, each one a prism shining a new light on those around it.

Silvia Ziranek - RUGWORK 7a (2013)
Tying everything together was curator Silvia Ziranek's RUGWORK; which comprised carpet samples inset with framed photographs of furniture.  This fits perfectly into the exhibition, the elevation of the everyday into the divine.  You'd be hard pressed to find someone who gives a second thought to carpet samples, they're useless except for a simple glance n' rub.  Yet the simple act of cutting holes for frames, putting it on a wall and calling it art gives them an air of importance.  These pieces function as the exhibition in microcosm;  I've come into Sandra's home and seen it transformed into an art gallery; comfy domesticity with a sharp cultural tang.  Silvia's RUGWORK pieces work in precisely the same way,  their positioning creating a  Russian doll effect: art within the domestic within art within the domestic.  

All enjoyable and fun stuff, though frankly the simple novelty of being inside someone's fascinating Chelsea flat and getting a personal tour of the art was fun enough for me.  There's loads that I haven't talked about here - so go along and check it out! It was one of more the unique afternoons I've had for a while, and enormous thanks to both Sandra and Silvia for having me over and showing me around.

Making Art is on display at Gallery Petit from 26 June - 19 July 2013.  To arrange a viewing please contact Sandra Higgins via email at or by phone on 0207 244 7194

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2 Responses to “'Making Art' co-curated by Silvia Ziranek and Sandra Higgins at Gallery Petit”

Unknown said...
July 5, 2013 at 8:52 PM

looks bloody brilliant and a great review..I am allergic to Chelsea too these days but might venture there for this, I like the found objects the best! well done

londoncitynights said...
July 6, 2013 at 7:50 AM

Thanks Pam!

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