11 to 22 January 2023
“A work of art is a whole, and this whole contains many parts – the material out of which it’s made being just one of them. We could include the interpretive horizons of the art’s consumers, for example, and the contexts in which the art materials were assembled… In this way it’s obvious that there are so many more parts than there is whole.” (Timothy Morton)
The chair in the art gallery has never been quite the same again since Joseph Kosuth presented, ‘One and Three Chairs’ (1965), in a Duchampian spirit of challenging the viewer to question representation in art. Subsequently we have learned, or been reminded, that everything is loaded with possible interpretations – especially when context is accounted for. A context that includes the viewer, of course.
In 262 CHAIRS, currently installed in the Coachwerks exhibition space in Brighton, I find myself looking for a chair to sit on, as I need to rest awhile. Alas, this is not an option, which I find ironically amusing. But there are chairs galore in this warmly welcoming environment, thanks to the blazing log burner, which are represented in many drawings and two sculptures. Adam Spain, Exhibition Manager at Volt, Eastbourne, has neatly curated the exhibition, which may account for a certain ‘just rightness’ about a selective display that does not go overboard visually and presents enough physical content to engage the viewer.
The two exhibitors, Becky Hancock and Molly Stredwick (both graduates of Camberwell College of Arts) are presenting works that simply work well together. Not just because the apparent subject matter might be the same, but also because there’s an almost unassuming simplicity and innocence about the imagery as well as the means of execution. Though I suspect the content could be loaded.
Take Becky Hancock’s five drawings, for example, where each composition includes a pair of chairs placed at, what might be, a dining table. Domestic space suggests relationships, often about couples, and by extension, families. Here the furniture is, in a sense, naked. There are no figures directly represented, although the placement of, and spaces between, the various pairs of chairs are perhaps melancholy and at odds. The viewer might clothe these scenarios with their own imaginative interpretations or real experiences and any one of these drawings would be ideal to start writing a short story from in a creative writing class. The more visually dominant element in these drawings is the table, which distorts itself into angular hieroglyphs. The table might be a body that undergoes both voluntary and, as a domestic situation might dictate, forced distortions and poses – though not so much as a referee or arbitrator, but functioning as a victim of sorts. As sketchbook drawings, presented on the wall unframed, they might well function as studies for paintings or installations but they are intriguingly finalised statements that are impressive and compelling enough to be fully resolved outcomes per se.
Also on display are two 3D pieces by Hancock. At first sight the viewer might read them as adjusted ‘real’ chairs. But they are human-scale simulacra. A chair can be an idea, a model, a prototype, an image, a word or even a functional item. Whatever a ‘chair’ has the potential to manifest itself as it can also be a sculpture, of sorts. These two pieces take on an anthropomorphic presence with one leaning forward, as if in prayer, adoration of the deity or submission, the other sat back in picnic mode – engaged in déjeuner sur l’herbe, perhaps. Either way, both are fallen, making a melancholic and downcast presence at the viewer’s feet. Or telling us that they are not really chairs, whatever our automatic reading probably is.
Co-exhibitor, Molly Stredwick, has commandeered the largest, most expansive wall, upon which 176 small drawings of chairs are displayed (selected from a series of 251). These are, for all intents and purposes, imaginary chairs. The perspective is sometimes distorted, conventional three-point perspective reversed, or appearing to be floating or rendered flat without surrounding space or objects included. Any resemblance to Hancock’s 3-D chairs is superficial, though creating a coherent feel and appearance for the exhibition. This wall of 11X16 approximately postcard sized drawings might be a catalogue of chairs, but each is surely the same one, or maybe not, for very subtle personality traits might distinguish each speculative rendering. Drawn on G. F. Smith paper samples with the same red Muji Gel pen there is a suggestion of the series or the genus with variety being sight. The manufacturer’s printed text functions as an internal framing device too, with the different numbers, paper types and weight information changing along with the colours and the visual and tactile presence of the material. So what appears to be repetition and sameness calmly explodes into huge variety. In effect, this wall of assembled drawings functions as an installation that can be viewed as a whole grid-type shape or as individual drawings that must attract viewers to any one sample or part, which is nevertheless complete in itself.
In his book, ‘Being Ecological’, Timothy Morton has explained that an ecosystem of parts and wholes is an environment of “just lifeforms and their extended genomic expressions: think of spider’s webs and beaver’s dams.” That’s what artists do; they make their respective webs and dams alongside and sometimes in collaboration with others (or curators make the connections). The viewer is part of the situation too; not so much caught up in the web, as one of its constructors.
Note: Both quotations from: Morton, T. ‘Being Ecological’, Pelican, 2018 (p.113)
Becky Hancock – https://www.becky-hancock.com/bio
Molly Stredwick – https://mollystredwick.com
VOLT Eastbourne – https://www.volteastbourne.org.uk
G. F. Smith – https://gfsmith.com
Muji Gel pens – https://www.muji.eu/uk/stationery/stationery-gel-pens
MOMA – Joseph Kosuth – ‘One and Tree Chairs’ – https://www.moma.org/collection/works/81435