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A Lecture upon the Shadow

A Lecture upon the Shadow

Liverpool's Open Eye Gallery, Mann Island

Reviewed by Denis Joe December 2012

 

A Lecture upon the Shadow is an exhibition that looks at the work of six artists: three from the North West region and three from Singapore. The works have already been exhibited at the ShanghART H-Space in Shanghai, with the exception of David Jacques’ piece, which the authorities took exception to (more of that later).

 

The works on show at the Open Eye are: Man Yiʼs Memory of Water (2006 - 2010); David Pennyʼs Dutch Paintings (2012) and Instructions for a Slide Projector (2012); Liang Yue’s Numerous Continuation: Summer Autumn Chaos (2012); Tabitha Jussa’s Eldon Grove (2012); Fan Shi Sanʼs series Two of Us (2009 -) and David Jacques new series Corpus Mercatorium (2012 -)

Stand still, and I will read to thee
A lecture, Love, in Love's philosophy.

 

There are 10 prints from the Memory of Water series on display here. Tracing details of the landscape surrounding the Yangtze River as it follows its natural course through the Yangtze region and into the East China Sea. Man Yi presents us with landscapes partially hidden by shadow, though we are never made fully aware of what causes the shading. The images are given a further dimension by the fact that they are reproduced as inkjet prints, the quality giving a greater distortion.

 

One exhibit shows horses running through what appears to be a housing estate. The image of the horse and the wild sea is a powerful one and it reminded me of The Horse of the Sea, a 1907 tapestry by the Norwegian Artist Gerhard Munthe. Yi’s image, however, captures a feeling of violence: the powerful beauty of the horses seem to be waging war on the ugly architecture that they are rampaging through. The dreamlike image has a surrealist feel to it but one gets the impression that this is not the horses of the Apocalypse, but an imagining of beauty (and progress?) triumphing over the drabness of a uniformed existence.

 

Another of Yi’s images that struck me was, what appears to be as nothing is clear in these images, of a group of people sitting round for drinks in a domestic setting. To the right we see a uniformed man, partly in the shadow; maybe he is a party official. To the left there is a woman in civilian dress, talking to somebody, but we cannot see who, because the darkness blots them out. In the centre there are two women talking to each other, but they do not appear to belong, even though their dresses are of the same time. The two women seem to be cardboard cut-outs. That would normally suggest that they are unimportant, yet they are the main focus of the image.

 

Man Yi has certainly created some fascinating images with these exhibits that use digital technology to great effect, producing work that is visually arresting and thought provoking.

We do those shadows tread,
And to brave clearness all things are reduced.

 

Dutch PaintingDavid Pennyʼs Dutch Painting is a series of images of small detailed sculptures, behind coloured glass is an interesting work. Penny takes a reproduction of a painting from an art book he found in a charity shop. The picture is cut then bent into a shape, held erect by wire. As Penny states: “There is a movement from the original painting, to the book as an object, to the torn out single page, which in turn becomes a sculpture, and then is photographed, framed and exhibited as object “.

 

And this certainly works well. As a contemplation on the creative process and the transformation of an object into another, through physical and mental labour, it is a fascinating work and one that begs the question as to how many more transformations can be brought about.

 

The image itself may not strike one as exceptional until one realises the almost Henry Moore like quality of the shape of the piece. But what I feel really gives an added dimension is that the shadow from the lighting is not a result of the photographic process, but becomes an integral part of the overall work.

 

Instructions for a Slide Projector is one of Penny’s Projection Pieces. A Kodak carousel projector is mounted on a box projecting a small image onto the wall. The projector becomes part of the work. I was not convinced by this piece, as I am not impressed with much ‘found’ art. I think that Marcel Duchamp had raised the question “Is it art?” in 1917 and I see little point in it being repeated, as I always think that the question is rhetorical and was never really intended to elicit an answer, but simply a reaction.

The morning shadows wear away,
But these grow longer all the day ;

 

Numerous Continuation: Summer Autumn ChaosLiang Yue’s Numerous Continuation: Summer Autumn Chaos is a collection of 10 colour inkjet photographs of rural and urban settings. There is nothing really exceptional about the scenes, but it is the manner in which Liang Yue has manipulated the natural and artificial light that makes these images so startling. We see in them what appear to be sunspots but the effect of each image gives no indication of what time of day the images were taken. In many portrayals of landscapes we are given an indication of the time or season, but Liang Yue’s images give us no clue, so we are (literally) left in the dark. Except that the circles of light draw our attention to some area of the image, but we cannot really make sense of what we are supposed to be seeing.

 

The effect that this has is that we do not differentiate between the settings of the portraits and instead, we are forced to look beyond the scenes themselves and contemplate the process of their capture. Numerous Continuation seem to question the very nature of landscape, by drawing our attention away from the whole picture and forcing us to concentrate on one particular area. I guess that this could really be seen as anti-landscape. What Liang Yue does show is a very intelligent and challenging approach to her subject.

 

A Lecture upon the Shadow is really two exhibitions. The other three artists’ works were considered political works, or commentaries. These were housed in another room in the gallery.

We shall new shadows make the other way.
As the first were made to blind

 

Tabitha Jussa’s Eldon Grove is a stunning work. Beautifully exhibited with a high definition feel to it. It portrays an area in Vauxhall, North Liverpool, which was part of a social housing project, similar to those provided by factory owners at the turn of the twentieth century (Bourneville in Birmingham and Port Sunlight on the Wirral are two of the better known housing projects from that time).

 

The area of Vauxhall hardly exists now. Urban clearance in the 1960s, in order to make way for the building of the Wallasey Tunnel and a general slum clearance, marked the area down for demolition. However the area around Eldon Road was designated a site of special interest. But since then there has been no plans for redevelopment and the site has an uncertain future. Jussa captures the confused architectural designs that is a feature of these worker’s villages. There is something quite amusing about the predominance of mock Tudor in the Eldonian Village, a design more in tune with middle class pretentions than with working class housing.

 

As with many images of dilapidation Eldon Grove has an aura of sadness to it. The dark, empty, frameless windows tell us nothing, and we are forced to imagine what life would be like to live there. Yet we cannot escape the communalism. The portrait is of three tenements viewed from what is now a piece of wasteland, but looking closely we can make out the markings of the wasteland that tell us that this was once a playing area. We can see in the facades of the building, the stairwell entrances and the landing that joined one neighbour to another. If the image does speak to us today, it suggests that these blocks were built on the assumption that residents would find their own ways of creating a neighbourhood. That suggests an assumption that people could be trusted to get on with their lives and live together without the need for barriers (both physical and material).

 

What is also striking about the image is that there is an unreality to it. Although Eldon Grove was intended as a communal area, the architecture has no uniformity to it. And this may well be down to the fact that this image is a collage. In creating this work Jussa used a “Corfield WA67 camera which is designed for architectural photography. Each picture only captures a fraction of the whole panorama, so the collage photograph on show is actually made up of 50 different shots” [Sun Shuangjie. Global Times. 16/8/2012]. Where we think of art as capturing an image or idea and freezing it in time, Tabitha Jussa’s Eldon Grove seems to go one step further and freezes time itself.

These three hours that we have spent,
Walking here, two shadows went

 

Fan Shi Sanʼs Two of Us is one of the most disturbing works I have encountered in a long while. Initially when viewing the images of what appear to be identical twins, we might imagine that we are looking through a family album. But we soon come to realise that the two people in each portrait are the same person. What tells us this, without any background information, is the detachment between the two figures and it is this alienation that is so unsettling. Photographing young people who grew up as an only child in China, then taking two images and of the same person and placing them in the same space, Fan Shi San, creates images of individuals who appear to be alienated, not just from the external world but from themselves as well.

 

In the West one finds much criticism of China, mainly from environmentalists, and those who fear the country’s rapid economic growth. But there is one policy that some sections of the environmentalist movement and Malthusians such as the Optimum Population Trust, are delighted with and that is China’s one child policy for urban families.

 

It is this that Fan Shi Sanʼs work is criticising. But this is a very measured outrage. The quality of the images captures the an existential crisis. The individuals within the image do not cry out to us; in fact they appear to be empty of emotion and Two of Us does not demand our sympathy but, perhaps, our outrage.

 

I find much of the social issue art, such as Banksey, Marianna Christofides, Mary Coble and others, to be tedious and restricting the audience to statements rather than allowing the audience their own understanding. Fan Shi Sanʼs work avoids this and makes demands on the viewer to see beyond the image and even beyond the anti-humanist policy itself. Like the best art it invites you into its world in order to explore, where much activist art simply creates barriers by dogma and, rather like the Communist Party guides, show you only what they want you to see.

Along with us, which we ourselves produced.
But, now the sun is just above our head,
    We do those shadows tread,
    And to brave clearness all things are reduced.

 

Corpus MercatoriumDavid Jacques is one of the finest and most unique artists in Britain today. His works are usually mixed media: both visual media and written word. His works have always dealt with political issues, both big and small. But his works are never declamatory, they seek not agreement but understanding.  deals with the issue of multinationals.

 

Inspired by the writings of 16th Century Demonologist Johann Weyer the work brings together photographic portraits from corporate Public Relations web pages of CEOs of multinational industries dressing them in uniforms cut from photographs from WW1 archives, collaged together to create a surreal narrative. A short story, written by Jacques, accompanies the work.

 

The visual work is quite stunning and comical. Having some of the corporate figures dressed in military uniforms and portrayed as demons and mythological creature, creates a series of arresting images. For me, Corpus Mercatorium appeared to be a statement on contemporary ideas of evil, and multinationals and their executives are certainly viewed in such a manner today.

 

This may not be David Jacques’ intention. Like many he is concerned at the power these individual wield as well as the impact they have on people’s lives throughout the world. But Jacques is not concerned with bombarding his audience. His idea of combining the thoughts of Weyer with the popular view of multinationals is more than simply condemnation. Weyer was the first person to use the term ‘mentally ill’ (or melancholic) to suggest that those accused women were not witches and there were other considerations. We do tend to view powerful figures such as heads of large corporations as ‘power mad’, just as a lot of human behaviour today is viewed through the medical prism.

 

What I find so delightful and demanding in Jacques’ work is that there is so many things going on. There are so many levels that you can view the works. Corpus Mercatorium makes use of reclaimed paper. This has become something of a trademark. It gives a contradictory feel to the works: appearing at once antiquated yet very contemporary. And this particular work strikes me as his most ambitious yet.

 

Housed in the magnificent Mann Island Building, the gallery is small and there seems to be less concern about how the works are exhibited. The photographic images of Man Yi, Liang Yue, Tabitha Jussa and Fan Shi San were pinned to the wall rather than framed. In one sense this allows the viewer a greater depth to the work, but I wonder if it does not also give an impression of tackiness. But there is a lovely intimate feel to the gallery. It is not too spacious that make many modern art galleries feel like a hike through and invisible landscape. And yet there is space to contemplate the works. Open Eye is a publically funded gallery and admission is free.

On until 17 Feb 2013

 
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