Wednesday, October 16, 2013

'Yesterday's labour is the Future's Folly' - Clare Kenny at VITRINE Gallery

Clare Kenny's new exhibition at VITRINE is the art equivalent of a chameleon - blending seamlessly into to its surroundings.  VITRINE is perfectly normal as far as galleries go - a big white room with a wooden floor - but even within this intentionally blank space, Kenny's work is minimalist and modest, almost shrinking backwards into the walls and corners.  Now, art is under no obligation to call attention to itself with bold gestures, something cowering in a the corner of a room can be just as packed full of symbolism as whatever they chuck on top of the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square.

Still, you quickly realise that you're going to have to do quite a bit of legwork to get something out of this.  The press release helps: explaining some of the ambitions: "using photographic imagery as a means of navigation or a strategy to inform a three-dimensional piece" and that it "allows for the broader exploration of the decoy and draws from our routine efforts to screen a feebler truth with a fabricated reality".  In practice this means chopped and screwed objects , things removed from their usual context and placed in new surroundings.  

So blown-up segments of photographs become an obsidian boulder in Meteorite or a pillar apparently supporting the ceiling in Standing room only.  False architectural details detail the gallery walls in Old English, creating an idea of the building's brickwork intruding upon the flat white paint.  Dotted around the gallery are the disembodied legs of jeans.  They're sliced off above the knee leaving two plaster of Paris calves standing next to each other. Amusingly, due to the gallery being pretty busy, they had to be moved over the course of the night to prevent a moderately tipsy public tipping them over.  This gave the weird illusion that they'd wandered over the course of the evening, ending up cowering in the corner of the room, as out of danger as it's possible for them to be.

Perhaps because the gallery was doling out delicious posh gin and tonics the place was packed to capacity.  It was one in one out at one point, people having to wait around outside to get back in for fear that they'd bump into the art.  Taking this in the most unsympathetic possible way: if at your private viewing the art is in danger of being crushed by the public speaks volumes as to how much attention they're paying to it.  As the night went on I noticed Standing room only slowly unravelling as the sticky fixers holding it together gradually separated.  Nobody seemed to notice or care, something sadly symptomatic of the way I found myself dealing with the work.

The gallery empty of people.  (picture from the VITRINE website)
Ideally, when I'm enjoying a good art show the work is setting off all kinds of new thoughts within me.  Disparate elements become connected, politics or philosophy mingles with abstract forms or the familiar becomes truly alien.  Even if I really hate something it usually gives me some new thoughts if only by working out exactly why I don't like it.  Kenny's work left me feeling neither, rather something in the middle, a sort of blankness.  I felt this most keenly when I tried to engage with two pieces: Form follows fiction and Fiction follows form.  Both are garden trellises hung up on the wall.  The first has a printed, crumpled Jackson Pollocky sort of design tucked into the slats, the second has a pink neon light curled around a hook on it.

'Form follows fiction'
The press release explains that this "further questions the nature of the physical space in playfully switching between the outdoor and indoor". Firstly, describing putting a garden trellis indoors as 'playful' really stretches the definition of the word and secondly, these pieces don't make me care in the slightest about the distinction between interior and exterior.  It reminded me of a a recent satirical piece by Dr Duncan Reekie about art cliches: one of which was, verbatim, "taking something that should be outside and putting it in the gallery".

The same vague numbness suffuses the framed pieces here like Beyond the Pale, made up of blocks of vaguely shifting purple. Plain framed colour always bores me a bit; artful minimalism can only take you so far. It's only when works like this are scaled up to dominate a space that they begin to hit me somewhere other than the brain, and here the room is too busy to be able to appreciate them from a distance and the works too small to make me feel anything other than "huh"  when I'm right up close to them.

'Old English'
Maybe I'm missing acrucial part of the puzzle here. Maybe the gallery was too busy to let me get enough distance to appreciate the work in its totality.  Maybe I just wasn't in the right frame of mind to for this kind of thing.  Either way, being told "[These works...] exist in a realm apart from concrete reality and allow the viewer insight into a history defined not by fact, but by form.  The distance from traditional ideas of genuine and fake allow the viewer to both enter a fictional realm and re-evaluate ideas of truth and authenticity" feels so over-reaching for what it's describing that it approaches the surreal.

It's going to take a damn sight more than some scrunched up photographs and indoor garden furniture to get me into a fictional realm.  Being as charitable as I can, this work is a mildly diverting look at things in places they very faintly shouldn't be.  The familiar is distorted, but in a very mild, unassuming way.  Perhaps this is just personal taste but I do like my art to have just an miniscule bit of wallop to it.

I feel like a bit of a Negative Nancy saying all this, and I don't really like putting the boot in, especially considering how pleasant everyone in VITRINE is and how welcoming they were on opening night.  But all I can do is be honest: I enjoy art because it makes me feel.  This didn't make me feel anything.

Yesterday's labour is the Future's folly is at VITRINE until Friday 22 November, Wednesday-Saturday 12-7pm

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