BLUE STAR RED WEDGE: Glasgow International

19th April - 1st May 2006


curated by WORKPLACE

Preview: Friday 21 April, 6 - 8pm
Event: Sat 22nd April 4pm
Paul Moss and Miles Thurlow in conversation with Matt Hearn

Open: Wed 19 April - Mon 1 May
Opening Times: Mon - Fri 10am - 5.30pm; Sat - Sun 10am - 4pm
WASPS Artist's Studios
77 Hanson St, Glasgow G31 2HF
T: 44 (0) 141 554 8299

Darren Banks
Catherine Bertola
Cath Campbell
Joe Clark
Jo Coupe
Jennifer Douglas
Peter J. Evans
Richard Forster
Joe Hillier
Ashley Hipkin
Laura Lancaster
Ant Macari
Paul Merrick
Paul Moss
Richard Rigg
Ginny Reed
Cecilia Stenbom
Matt Stokes
Miles Thurlow
Sarah Walton

Blue Star Red Wedge brings together works by established and emerging artists currently working in North East England. The exhibition curated by Workplace marks an important time in a place where artists are beginning to access an international context.
Workplace is an organisation run by artists Paul Moss and Miles Thurlow. Previous projects include exhibitions, art fairs, publications, and live events.
In 2005 Workplace opened Workplace Gallery in Gateshead town centre.

Accompanying Essay by Matt Hearn

Owt and Nowt
by Matt Hearn

A recently posted e-mail circulated by Workplace announced the fact that artist, Matt Stokes had been "snubbed by media for not being from London". Although Matt Stokes had broken the mould in being short-listed for the prestigious art prize, Becks Futures, a prize and resulting exhibition almost exclusively dominated by London based artists, neither this historical precedent nor the merits of the work itself were sufficient to breach the London centric focus of the media. Historically, this prize/exhibition and others alike have selected artists of a particular mould; (post)graduates of one of the four major London universities, and London-based artists who have exhibited at a number of stepping stone London galleries. In not prescribing to this generalisation, the aborted interview with Matt Stokes actually had a far more revealing story to tell. Though the sentiment derived from the e-mail may have been one of in-justice at the situation, more importantly in this context, the motivation underpinning its circulation conveys a sense of confidence in both the artist and his work and a belief of more fool them!

Workplace is founded on this idea of self-belief, an assurance which is rooted in a body of artists all of whom live and work in the north-east of England. It has set out its stall in a way that clearly resonates with the do-it-yourself means of self-promotion that proved an effective means to an end in Glasgow across the nineties. The proof in the pudding for this evolution can be measured in the fact that almost without exception over recent years Glasgow has been represented in the artists selected for Becks Futures. Matt Stokes maybe the first artist from the North East of England to feature in the short-list, but the raison d'étre behind Workplace affirms the fact that there are a host of other artists who may follow suit in coming years. Workplace are of-course aware of the possibilities for artists that artist-run spaces, particularly those in Glasgow, can and have enabled. However, rather than aspiring to the so-called 'Glasgow model' - too often seen as a sure-fire path to accelerated success - Workplace have recognised that Glasgow's art-scene evolved through a simultaneous existence of both DIY artist-run initiatives and more commercial ventures. What Workplace has become is a hybrid of these influences; a marriage of self-promotion and self-initiative, fed by a commercial brain and inspired by the ability to be simultaneously local but sustain an internationalist outlook.

Workplace's agenda of being all things to all people has been a policy which is unquestionably savvy. There has for some time been a gravity of artists locating their practise in the region, in-particular within the central hub of Newcastle, a grouping which may at one time have been considered a fragile short to be lived student-group, but which has dug in its heels and demonstrated an ability to keep on going, particularly under the Workplace umbrella. Notably, a significant majority of these artists are graduates of Newcastle University's fine art department, and whilst this institution may not at present be recognised on the international scale of Glasgow School of Art or Goldsmiths, 14 artists within this exhibition are alumni of the department, which is evidence of something! Furthermore, having either moved away to study, or for reasons other, artists have decided to move (back) to the region. Ultimately this has bolstered a vibrant scene of artists in the North-east of England from within which Workplace have established what is becoming an increasingly formalised portfolio.

Workplace has unquestionably become more than its geographical location. It is nevertheless the North East connection that has enabled much of what Workplace has been able to achieve, in particular the opportunity to disseminate artists' practice through exhibitions, within a publication and at art fairs nationally and internationally. However, rather than this becoming the binding force defining Workplace, it is opportunities such as Blue Star Red Wedge which provide occasion to curatorially address the more aesthetic similarities between the works, and, in turn, the artists' practice. The title Workplace have chosen for the exhibition, which comes somewhat indirectly from the seminal painting by El Lissitzky Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge, 1919, one suspects, is more than just a personal homage to El Lissitzky but an intentional reference point to formalist similarities in the works included in the exhibition.

Blue Star, Red Wedge is an exhibition that is the same time about everything and about nothing: two equally expansive all encompassing themes on the grounds of which Workplace have tried to permeate the vacuous Wasps space. These are of-course highly ambitious themes, but the titles alone to a number of works in the exhibition highlight the fact that artists are taking the subject on with a running jump. Peter J Evans unabashedly rationales his practise as being about everything, and how can one argue with such a fact? We are after all only the total of the sum of our parts; and there is something mathematical and precise in the way these parts are calculated and assmebled within his work. Supernova Moment is an attempt to capture this instant of explosive potential within the body of an object. At a precise pinnacle moment in time, the philosophical nexus of everything when all parts come together perfectly and when all reason for being comes to the fore!   But, to reference Bladerunner, "The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long … and you have burned so very, very bright Roy". Supernova Moment is an attempt to capture that last dash, the final instant, of desperately chasing unfulfilled aspirations before they become lost like ""tears in the rain", like a Fallen Angel. Darren Banks work diametrically proposes to be about nothing. The video selected for the exhibition focuses on a model space rocket, a spinning object lost in the ether - a Fallen Angel - an object without purpose or explanation. As the object torturously fades in and out of focus on the television monitor the viewers expectations are plagued by their own imagination; what potential may come of this object. Ultimately nothing does, but there is a repeated faux climax within the video loop teasing the viewer into believing in such fantastical possibilities.

Through their titles alone other works promise fantastical ends.  Superlative headings such as The Ultimate Painting by Numbers Kit and Real Arcadia profess both to understand and achieve perfection. The Real Arcadia by Matt Stokes is an attempt to re-assemble the collective ephemera of a rave scene held accross the lake distract in the 1990's - a euphoric rural paradise. Presented within a number of museological glass cabinets are accumulated ephemera - a once priceless currency now wholly devalued. Hoards of hand made, obsessively decorated record sleeves and cassette tapes, ticket stubs and clothing collect like discarded props from a stage-set.  Self-contradictory, these objects both purport to be evidence of, and yet incriminate the ideal of an arcadia as that of an imagined fallacy. Ant Macari's The Ultimate Paint by Numbers Kit tackles another fantastical and ultimately erroneous belief, the infallibility of the art gallery. Taking a paint-by-numbers drawing of an art gallery in all its glory and splendour, Macari has collaged the words 'no plus ultra' across the otherwise untouched surface of the page. The linguistic translation is nothing is better, but the inherent sarcasm evokes the stylistic language of graffiti, it is tongue in cheek and emphatically undermining of both itself and the institution that it critiques.

To return back to the reference of El Lissitzky, Russian Constructavism upheld a strong belief in design vocabulary and visual communication, even if ultimately the result was a fiction. Similarly, many of the works in Blue Star, Red Wedge use design basics to ground more intuitive imagined works. A series of drawings by Cath Campbell entitled All I need is the air that you breath builds upon a simple drawn grid to project these imagined spaces into the third dimension and the bounds of our imagination. But it is not just what is drawn that gives these works their plausibility, geomentric spaces are cut from the paper making them come alive, making them sculptural models.  Allthough visually convincing and invested with the particular sexyness of an architectural design vocabulary, one is ultimately frustratingly aware of their purpose, or non-purpose - they are only imagined constructions built for arts sake. Similarly intuitive in its construction is the architectural façade entitled Match Stick City Limits by Sarah Walton. Whilst the work carries a title that suggests conclusion, the materiality of the object itself purveys a desire a sprawl further, and after all, although formally a model, the work is in fact only a copy of itself. Within this design style there is a definite possibility to be something, something other. Cecilia Stenbom packages herself into a host of other possibilities, self portraits realised through product design, again the objects are not real but in the consumerist society in which we live our imaginations allow them, and in-turn her to come to life. In these works the artist becomes her own self-fulfilling brand and within the works she is both subject and object, she is everything.

But there is something lonely in this simultaneous state of being and nothingness (or functionless-ness); it is whimsical and imagined and yet entirely plausible. It is a duality which leaves the viewer feeling there is a multitude of meanings to be read and a mixing of metaphors. Richard Rigg's Now that we are apart, I don't know you anymore is a title loaded with meaning. The title is fundamentally pop - simplified for greater accessibility - whilst the work itself is conversely multifarious. A lone pocket radio stands freely in the space tuned to the region of 99.2  (for those in the know this is just below Classic FM on the dial), although officially an unregistered band-width the radio is broadcasting; the voice emitting from the radio is methodologically listing the component parts of that very same transistor radio. Across the gallery lies a seemingly abandoned portable cd-player adorned with electronic components, and the question bodes: are these two devices connected? High on the gallery wall are positioned two security mirrors positioned side-by-side. As if scaremongering its viewer, this work by Paul Moss is titled I'm coming but you can't see me. Whereas these mirrors are usually employed to enhance visibility in locations where site is impeded, in this case they reflect a twin vision of the space back upon the viewer. The viewer for a moment becomes omniscient, capable of being all-seeing within the space, and yet in spite of this privilege, the vaguely threatening wording of its title plagues enjoyment of the work.  Similarly in Cath Bertola's new work, The Anatomy of my Knickers, a pin pricked lace crochet design is corrupted by its part scientific, part sexually provocative title. Although ostensibly aesthetic the object is also intentionally futile; lace has of-course long been a machine driven industry and whilst the technique employed in the pricking of the pattern references a more traditional practice the design itself remains unavoidably machine orientated.

So process, technology and materiality pervade all of the works in this exhibition in some fashion, some in a way I have been able to contemplate and others that I have not been able to touch upon within the limited parameters of this text. There are two works in Blue Star, Red Wedge that appear more then others to take on all these themes simultaneously. Miles Thurlow's work comes out of an obsession, or an obsessive awareness of technology and its consumerist representation; how workmans' tools shift and become consumerist products, and how cheaply reproduced objects purport an heir of sophistication. Return is perhaps the heaviest work within the show; a cheap electric chandelier hangs like a plumbline from the ceiling, inches above the floor. Cloaked in a guise of materials, Thurlow has flocked the object in flecked bitchamin and black gloss paint. The chandelier, usually an object hoisted high up in the gods in this case gravitates downwards, pulled down by a sinister spiritual weight - carrying its. Cut Flowers by Jo Coupe also uses a multitude of processes to create a work deeply loaded with metaphor. For a start the object she takes on is a flower, an entity weighed down with (hidden) meaning, and the particular flower, the Orchid, the most delicate and yet heavily laden of all. This sought after perennial, notoriously difficult to cultivate has been recast as a series of painted bronzes - a specialist technique of its own - and in their likeness they are a visual simile to this parallel. Furthermore, through its meticulous re-construction, Cut Flowers appears to nullify the weight and burden of this flower as if the sculpturally heavy treatment of something so delicate has somehow both heightened and lightened the object. It as at once both set free and immortalised, a metaphor for everything … and maybe nothing.