Posted by Cher Adeyinka

14040005_G.jpgAn exhibition of site specific work at the Coach House, 28 Barnsbury Square, London N1, October 12th-26th 2002

Five artists have produced work in response to a rambling Victorian house, coach house and garden. The site has undergone a number of changes in use since being built, fluctuating from a domestic space to light industrial use and back again. The artists have made use of its rich history within the context of their site specific work for this exhibition.

The entrance to the exhibition itself provides a provocative shift in focus. A recovered original factory sign swings gently on its bracket above you, and the door is a small aperture cut into the larger wooden double doors of the coach house. The atmosphere and tone of the approach has already altered our awareness of the everyday and familiar. You need to bend down to step over the threshold.

Nikki Alford - BREATHLESS is a response to the former use of the basement of the building as a corset factory. Using the recycled harnesses of female underwear she explores ideas of restriction and binding.

Elastic bands are bound around floral print fabric to make a mass of sumptuous pumpkin-like objects. These luxurious, padded and bound growths overflow from the corners and pipes, erupting onto the floor space and rolling into the room. They look soft and indulgent, yet images of pincushions also come to mind. Suspender belt straps and elastic bands are also stretched between wall and floor, holding some of these cushions taut and suspended in mid air.

Also included are a number of colour photographs that elaborate on the question of restriction and desire. Images of feet are shown bound by the same bands and suspenders. Some of the photographs depict static positions, while others show awkward and touching movement being attempted under difficult circumstances. The work questions what is beautiful and what is desirous; elegantly revealing that blurred space between compulsion and longing.

Caroline Fisher - STORAGE UNIT is a piece comprising of two electric fires found on the premises. The rolls of differently toned pink satin ribbon and spools of thread that make up this little sculptural piece also respond to the domestic labour of the corset factory.

The 3-bar electric fires stand-alone on the studio floor facing each other at a slight angle, and the notion of communication or articulation between these two objects is unmistakable. The top bar on the left-hand fire is the only one glowing red. The other fire, instead of functioning as a heater, is now stacked with rolls of satin ribbon wound along the top bar, and becomes the storage unit. The ends of each roll of ribbon hang delicately below the bar ready to dispense more length. Spools of thread are carefully placed above the ribbon.

Hanging dangerously just above the burning bar of the first fire are a number of loose threads. They sway in the updraft of the heat rising from the lit rod, their ends curling in the searing current of air, threatening to ignite. This suspended web of filaments rises to the ceiling, falling directly back to attach to the spools of thread. They appear to be the connecting elements of the communication between the fires, tiny charges of transmission. As your eye follows the thread back to the ’storage unit’ you notice small lengths of singed ribbon lying on the floor - poignant relics of an earlier contact? This piece considers the conditions of labour for the women employed in the factory, yet you can also draw parallels between STORAGE UNIT and BREATHLESS.

Sophie Horton - PRUNUS is a pencil and acrylic wool working drawing made for the intervention in the garden. The drawing is a tender outline of a tree with infills of pink acrylic wool worked into the trunk rather than the foliage.

The wool used in the drawing continues the theme of clothing already established in the two earlier pieces. Although there is a puzzling break with the flow of ideas, a circuitous route will bring us back to this drawing.

Melanie Davies - IMP OF THE MIND is created directly onto the wall opposite PRUNUS, and spreads out along the rough and uneven surface in a dense and interlacing pattern of electric cables, cable clips and terminal boxes.

The artist pursues the theme of compulsive behaviour, interpreting notions of obsession through the use of handicraft. IMP looks like a wonderfully blown up version of those pin-drawing craft games popular in the 70’s. Boxes then were supplied with wool, sparkling threads and dressmaking pins to create your pattern, while this lavish embroidery has been made with potentially dangerous electric cables. The pattern is positively feminine, flowers flow and sprout from the use of this masculine and industrial element. This gender switch hints at our often-irrepressible urge to manipulate industrial material into the intimate aesthetics of the domestic. Numerous warehouse conversions are testament to this instinct for transformation, and yet a factory was carved from the home at an earlier time.

IMP’S most appealing inspiration is that the work appears to emerge from directly inside the wall. A small hole, a fracture in the surface, is used as the starting point. The cable appears to emerge from somewhere behind, somewhere hidden, before it erupts into its complex and intricate design.

Caroline Fisher - SEWING is a video installation in the green house outside. As you approach the garden by the back door, the eerie flicker of artificial light dancing at the back of a small green house leads you along the path.

A close-up of female hands is busy with the task of creating a boned satin corset. The background hum and whirr of the sewing machine is hypnotic while the burnished, pink satin is manipulated, stretched and teased into shape. At the end of the intricate seam a small pair of scissors is used to finally cut the thread and then laid deliberately and gently down by the edge of the machine. The loop then starts again.

The tedious nature of the work is implicit in the loop itself, while the monotonous echo of the working machine audibly replays the humdrum task. The intimate relationship between the body of the maker and that of the wearer is also latent in the video as the garment is caressed into the right shape, yet despite the mundane repetition something beautiful is the end result. Parallels of the constraint and pleasurable awkwardness in previous pieces reverberate within this work too.

The only point to consider would be that the whole exhibition may have benefited from the sound of the sewing machine being played softly within the exhibition space, rather than just the green house. This criticism may be over labouring the point, but the hypnotic quality of the soundtrack possesses an irresistible allure.

Tony Charles - DOMESTIC STEEL PLANT contrasts a broader perspective on industrialisation with the more specific adaptation of the house. The artist lives and works in Teesside, and his interests lie in the collision between the industrial and domestic worlds.

Exotic tassels, the kind that decorate soft furnishings, couture clothes and sometimes intimate underwear, are suspended from a small Japanese maple tree. They look like floral extravagances or eccentric fruits bursting into bloom on this miniature thigh-high tree. On closer inspection though you can see that they have in fact been carefully hand-made from steel wool. Despite the material, they look incredibly delicate and velvety in appearance. Its surprisingly touching to think that they will also be affected by changes in temperature and the weather just as if they really were an integral part of the host plant. They will eventually corrode, become brittle and finally fall from the tree. The piece refers to the last vestiges of an industrial past as well as to the cyclical processes of nature.

Sophie Horton - PRUNUS is an ornamental cherry tree glimpsed at the far end of the garden. It has been up-lit and its filigreed outline is contrasted against the evening sky. Any intervention to the tree is not apparent till you are closer.

As you approach the tree you can at last make out the shades of pink normally associated with its springtime mantle of blossom. However, instead of crowning the tree with a profusion of small flowers, the artist has knitted a skinny-rib jumper in bands of pink acrylic wool that fit snugly around its trunk and each convoluted branch. Regarding the tree in its winter wear brings home to you how cold the weather has become. The jumper has become a protective layer rather than the usual declaration of the joys of spring. The artists interests lie in the movement of trees in the wind, and this piece translates what is considered fashionable to the natural environment. The earlier drawing is now completed with this last piece in the exhibition.

Caroline Fisher curated the exhibition sustaining the wonderfully fused and cohesive theme by the thoughtful placement of each work. The individual works are closely linked, with the latent communication between each piece giving the entire space a taut and tangible atmosphere. The exhibition reverberates with an underlying shudder of desire tempered with constraint.

December 24th, 2002 | Residents, Other Exhibitions, Reading Room, Cher Adeyinka

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