Jonathan McCree, Bruce Ingram, Jonathan Goddard and Joe Walking
APT Gallery, Deptford
2 – 12 September 2021
It was Thursday 9th September and Up For Grabs had been open for a week. A performance had already taken place some days before and the Private View was tomorrow. This was a two-week exhibition of painting, dance, sculpture and film. I had missed the dance and the film too, but a projector was being installed to show a video of the performance, but I couldn’t stay too long as I had a timed entrance ticket for something of apparent importance at the Royal Academy. So this would have to do, and thank goodness, it was probably the best part of the day. *
The front space was conventionally organised for an exhibition of sculpture and painting and Bruce Ingram and Jonathan McCree had three works each on display. By conventional I mean some works were placed on the wall at a comfortable viewing height and three more pieces were arranged on the floor with ample room to walk around. There was a balance. They were, it appeared, ‘finished pieces’ and ‘final’ as we expect artworks in exhibitions to be. As a first impression there was surely something going on about construction and deconstruction, about placement of the works and relationships within the works themselves. What was ‘up for grabs’ at this stage I wasn’t sure – maybe an opportunity to take something away from the show, or to suggest potential.
This initial selection and indeed this space could be complete in itself, but it proved to be something of a threshold to pass through, for in the next space that precedes the largest room at the rear, a clue to some playfulness was sensed from encountering an apparently disfigured column, a strongly vertical element, that was placed on the floor but had unexpectedly been folded at 90 degrees to fix itself to the wall to form an archway to tempt someone to stoop under and squeeze through. This piece was quickly followed by another of McCree’s stretched box forms wrapped around the protruding corner into the next space. Clearly an intervention had taken place at some point and as the artist was on duty to greet visitors today he explained to me a little later that one of the performers had previously indulged in interacting with the sculptures to adjust them to the gallery environment.
Also in this middle room were more of Ingram’s works and by now there was more of an obvious or staged interaction between the two artists’ works. Typically, Ingram’s works explore found materials in assemblage and collage-type painted forms employing plaster and various paints (household and artists’ acrylics) to fuse the various elements together. Placed on the floor rather than on the wall one of Ingram’s constructions formed a framework to look through to see another work beyond. A sense of destruction as much as building the artefacts of the environment was taking shape. As a visual tease, Ingram’s works have remnants of colour applied, similar to McCree’s suggestively ‘out of the tin’ coatings, to link the works. Contrasts of smoothness and rough surfaces distinguish the two to some extent but the pairing is not incongruous.
My daughter and I walk around a while, tuning in still to a display that has transformed from calm quietude at the main entrance to visual and spatial cacophony in the largest room. I pick up a press release (which I shall read on the train back to Brighton later, as I want the work to speak to me first and foremost) and start to scribble some notes on the reverse:
Enter the labyrinth, parts, bits & pieces…
Plenty to see, though not too much…
Image / Object – which will predominate…
What is an exhibition for?
What is an exhibition for? Now that’s interesting. In this instance, Up For Grabs is certainly entertaining, exciting and memorable. The individual paintings and sculptures work on their own terms, but as an arranged event (sadly for just over a week) the exhibition comes alive as a happening of sorts as much as a static display. I imagine the missed performance and projected film work that preceded today’s visit, which isn’t enough, but will have to do. The finished and unfinished, or work in progress nature of the works, suggests a similar modus operandi for the viewer. There is method in looking, in relating to the artworks physically, spatially and psychologically. Visual art is not exclusively about seeing; it offers possibilities for recognising the power of one’s own imagination (and sometimes a lack of). There are formal relationships to find or be presented with. There are colours and textures to indulge in. Likewise there are parts that seem to work perfectly and others that the viewer might desperately want to change – even to improve. The visual aesthetics provide a way into potential readings that could suggest social interaction, notions of community, interdependence, the built environment (including furniture) and the politics of choice, indulgence and creativity.
My daughter described the assembly as “rocks and trees”. Jonathan McCree talked perceptively about “… delaying uncertainty in or from painting to the sculptures, which are moveable parts”. This gave his three-dimensional work edginess, like it was finished but not really. Or resolved, but hopefully not so as it invited some form of change.
This exhibition, no – this environment, concocted a landscape of sorts, an active space demanding an audience to interact by looking, moving, pacing, stopping; head up then head down, confronting occlusions to find surfaces, then seeing variously coloured or textured planes morphing into three-dimensions giving way to silently laughing, then becoming equally engrossed or bemused. Performing a journey, in effect, as an exhibition is not necessarily a final resting place for particular works – anything might be up for grabs; even our expectations.
* This statement is a little disingenuous as I was also impressed with Mind’s Eye at Flowers in Cork Street where Carol Robertson’s geometric works had been displayed with Terry Frost’s. My review of this show has been published by Saturation Point. See the link below.