16 June 2014
LONDON — It seems that much of the art being made today, especially in the realm of installation, has become very predictable. It is as though artists are making what they think good art is, as opposed to having anything exciting to experience or reveal. In many cases, the art experience has boiled down to the acceptable and salable, whether it is image or persona, it is all up for sale. The viewing public must begin to ask ourselves: “Who is this work really for?”
Two recent examples: an underwhelming experience of Céline Condorelli at the Chisenhale Gallery may have left me malnourished, but the Central Saint Martins’ May Degree Program exhibit left me downright insulted. In short, except for a small handful of standouts, the work was overly-derivative, un-inspired, ungenerous, self-gratifying, lavish and redundant. It was as if these young artists were imagining art in a windowless box, only given images of past high-end art fairs, high-selling auction house and blue chip gallery catalogues. The lack of originality, vision and ability to communicate among each other (as students) was staggering if not exhausting.
In the mix, I am always fortunate enough to stumble upon something that is nourishing. I was directed to see the current exhibit at The Show Room Gallery from a London curator and critic. I was immediately excited by the location, in the middle of the diverse neighborhood, just north of Marylebone Road, directly adjacent to the active Church Street Market.
Berlin-based Gerry Bibby, born in Melbourne, AU, 1977, has had quite an interesting and vast career thus far, but he surprisingly remained off my radar. At the very first moment I walked into the small, squarish and tall, bright space I felt like an active participant. The space and work felt oddly comfortable, not because of the familiar, but because of the new. The best thing an artist can do is take a viewer off guard, place him or her in a space that they do not know and allow them the solace to experience something unique. Memory is fine, but that initial response that causes your head to cock and eyes to squint at the unfamiliar — if there was such a thing, this would be “GOOD ART”.
Full disclosure, I intended to write this review in early May upon first visiting Bibby’s, Combination Boiler, but I honestly could not come up with the words. I needed to digest the piece a bit and revisit. It is not the easiest piece to wrap yourself around and therefore I write this piece as just a week remains for viewers to catch the exhibit.
The installation is simple yet well defined in a way that can allow for more questions, not revealing too many answers (if at all). One walks into the space, invited by Disclosure Dramas (I-VI), large glass sheets resting on a make-shift support system. The 6 panels of glass rest on cast-rubber objects with memorabilia, such as train tickets and bottle caps, suspended in the viscous, white matrix. The glass seems heavy, the weight supported by a structure of 9 wood beams, floor to ceiling, with cross-bars just below the top of the glass. The walled hallway created allows for differing, full-view vantage points of the surrounding physical space. It is ideal — walking a path that has been chosen, but oddly still allowing the viewer the choice of sight-line. There is an odd balance at play here, one that gives the power of observational choice to the viewer.
One of the most spectacular objects in the room is Wishing Well, a filled vase on a tall pedestal. One may not know the source of the murky water, but the abstractions of sediment and distillation of evaporation bring a soft organic energy to the room. Upon further investigation and among other dispersed material throughout the wood infrastructure, there is a tag that reads, “Shabby Chic”, the label for the vase purchased at House of Fraiser for 50£. One later discovers from the exhibition text that the vessel is filled with the “blood” (water) of an emptied out radiator from within the space.
Across the room, through the glass landscape of Disclosure Dramas, lies Him, a radiator on its side, (most likely the drained source) nestled with cushions, filled with reading materials, all placed on two colorful, newish (but tattered) oriental-print rugs on a foam mat. Participation seems welcome, though I usually do not partake in such activity, I could see the curious delving into the material for more information and/or an extra clue to the surroundings.
The room’s perimeter is spotted with 5 collaged panels (Document 1: Opening Night; Document 2: Sliced like an eyeball; Document 3: Under Pressure; Document 4: Derange & Document 5: Shipwrecked) with blue paper and a variety of materials, namely text on varied surfaces (predominately paper). There is also a brick contact paper facade wrapping around the existing stairwell and storage area space. It almost looks like it has lived there for decades. It is perfect. The text panels seem like thoughts. Works-in-progress, or participation? Perhaps part of a book, a literary collage, or simply stream-of-conscious thoughts. One discovers from the exhibition text that the panels actually contain, “long-running textual strands … which will simultaneously feed into a major publishing project … developed through a series of commissions and residencies over the past year.” Bibby continues to edit these writings throughout the exhibition’s stay at The Show Room. (Though to be honest, the panels seemed unchanged during my two visits from early May to early June.)
Mr. Stockholm Syndrome also lines the left wall of the gallery at the entrance. A chair and paper shredder sit alone, as if to the side, a referee of sorts. The elements all come together to fit a personal story, though we are not necessarily privy to the main character, that is, until we begin to unfold each layer deeper into our awareness of the space and our own presence within it. We are the main character. Judge, referee, audience member and story teller. In actively participating in this diorama we become a part of its larger element — the building itself and even perhaps the neighborhood surrounding. The elements echo, they reverberate, like ripples in a lake from a stone thrown from shore or a dock. Bibby has cast the stone and we are not only caught in the ripples, we become the ripples. “How do we work together?” Bibby asks in part of the exhibition text, beyond each and every element he lists and describes, we work together as one, all connected — in sync (perhaps even more so when we are not in sync).
I learned after my first visit that the piece was actually a combination of a commission and residency in which Bibby was able to work from the inside outward to create this new and exciting installation. This site specific piece goes beyond the ordinary and responds to the space intimately. The 8 functioning radiators resonate on the permanent walls as an echo to the title and to the radiator positioned on the floor. Clearly a major aspect throughout the work as mentioned in the exhibition text. “[Bibby’s] project focus[es] on the … heating system, the ebb and flow of which provides warmth and a generative tissue throughout the building and the community within it.” Bibby takes the interplay of the existing elements throughout the space and intersects them with precise yet odd interactions. His interjections cut through at just the right moments and spaces. They become references, sections, fragments of a bigger picture, yet stand completely confident on their own. The excitement strengthens at each of the intersections, or meeting points, the places of contact. They develop beyond the seemingly simple and exponentially open up with possibility. All of this opens on a micro scale, for Combination Boiler is not concerned with a sensational memory or an instant “like”, it is contemplative and unassuming. Things could go so wrong with the kitsch of memorabilia or a participatory library, but this piece retains its integrity because of its honesty with the physical space it occupies. It sits comfortably, not because it is easy or predictable, rather because it is true. Truth is the focus here — and succeeds in its search.
Post image provided by John Ros, 2014.