The Berloni Gallery presents The Presence Of Absence, the galleries new group exhibition curated by writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent. The principle of negative space has been recognised as a key element of artistic composition. The concept of the exhibition is to feature content as opposed to form: Carey-Kent posits the idea that what is not present is at least as important as what is present in the work, ‘Presence of Absence’ presents fourteen artists working across a wide range of media, that all reflect this aspect in their practice.
Possibly the contemporary queen of negative space: Rachel Whiteread presents ‘Herringbone Floor’ (2001) – a laser-cut relief in 0.8mm Finnish birch plywood, edition of 450, this work is based on a drawing of a parquet floor. The tiles were cut out of the chosen area leaving the pattern of negative space, a detailed and delicate work of fascinating detail, at once a Duchampian absence, and an abstract. This work is a more subtle piece from the artist, probably best known for her work ‘House’, it could be an imaginary detail from that work, a segment, or a sketch. Whiteread is as always an engaging presence.
Artist Stefana McClure presents ‘Suna no Onna’ (Woman of the Dunes): English subtitles to a film by Hiroshi Teshigahara (2004) – created by swift renditions of each scene, the work highlights the transition between media, the changing narrative structures and cultural perspectives – and how they shift perspective – with the absence of the original context.
Jason Oddy presents photographs from the series ‘The Pentagon, Washington D.C., USA’ (2003), an examination of the relationship between people and their constructed environment, these are highly effecting images. The absence of generals and other officials seems to project their precence into the authoritative leather chairs, suffusing them with an identity. The absence of individuals lends the space its own character, the rooms are left with an aura. Bachelard’s ‘Poetics of Space’ takes on a sinister aspect.
Martine Pope’s ‘Rubin’s Vase’ (2015) is a work of oil on polyester restoration fabric, the work simultaneously hides and half reveals what is represented as the viewer moves around the soft opalescent fracture of the artist’s paintings. The work operates as a signifier of the subjectivity of the viewers perception of any given object in our ‘reality’.
Ian Bruce’s ‘The Holding Room’ (2014) is a direct reflection of memory, the defining yet illusory aspect of identity, shifting and subjective; the artist’s portrait of performer and writer Rachel May Snider directly reflects a conversation between the two, when the performer showed Bruce a photograph of her father, who died when she was six. Bruce overlaid that landscape image onto the portrait by creating an intricate lattice of individually cut strips of masking tape. The masking tape remnants are below the work on the gallery floor. The conversation is present but not in the image of the work.
Within the category of film on show we have John Smith’s ‘The Black Tower’ (1987), the artist animates a found object and persuades the viewer it is a figment of the imagination. The work permanently shifts suggesting changes to location, subverting the narrative of the work, suggesting a falsehood that is not actually present.
Liane Lang’s film on loop ‘The Last Days’ focuses on the empty rooms of a building of 15 Fontanepromenade in Berlin Kreuzberg, a space with a dark and unpleasent history having been a home for neglected children, and an administration centre used by the Nazi regime to facilitate Jewish ruin. The film is a ‘stop–motion’of stills highlighting the emptiness of the space – and how the viewer will project what they are or are not told about a space.
Maria Marshal’s ‘Playground’ (2001) One of the strongest works in the exhibition; the viewer watches and hears a boy apparently kicking a ball against the wall of a church and yet the ball remains invisible, symbolic of an ineffectual attack on religious authority. In the second part of the work the footballer is absent as the ball ricochets round inside a run-down Georgian church. Perhaps effective after all, and in a world post the Darwinian attack on religious belief, we are reminded of the depressing reality of the cult of football.
Bronwen Buckeridge’s ‘Mid Eye Long High’ (2013). is a sound Installation with steel stool, and headphones, one person at a time may experience the work, which is a thoroughly immersive journey into a sound-scape highly suggestive of a specific location that is only ever alluded to and entirely absent; highlighting how the viewer responds to environment and movement, and highly engaging as a work.
Nika Neelova’s ‘The Practice of Conscious Dying’ (2011 – 2015) – is packaging from discarded sculpture cast in silicone rubber, the creation of the work entirely relies on the removal of the primary work of art. The artist has to create a work to make a cast from, to then decide to discard the original object and consciously choose to use the cast as the actual work of art. The past is trapped in the present as a kind of reflection – of something no longer present, a form of sculpture as memory perhaps.
Blue Curry’s ‘Untitled’ (2014) – mixed media, the artist presents tasselled T-shirts, cheap watches, feathers and hair extensions.
All on plinths and identical except for the use of entirely different colours for each. This decision categorises the works with different values – even though they are identical, and therefore projects those values onto the absent bodies that left the items behind them.
Giorgio Sadotti’s ‘Magazine pages in vitrine Vatican’ (2015) – in the actof creating the work, the artist removes the staples out of magazines and extracts certain pages to allow two previously disparate pages to interact creating a third element out of the pre-existing two, which conceptually no longer exist. This leads to a new narrative function created from the absence of the originals. Simple, effective, and rather witty.
Alan Magee’s ‘Return to Glory’ (2014) – are plaster discs created from the negative space of two hula hoops. A ‘repair’ rendering them useless – or more precisely with the function of the objects removed, the artist changes the context of the hoops, and they become ‘art’. The absence of function balanced with the addition of meaning. The viewer is reminded of the purity of language, and its importance as a foundation of all works, which is definitely a presence.
Anni Lepälä’s three photographic works, ‘Evening Embers’ (2012), ‘Door’ (interior) (2012), and ‘Mirror Painting’ (2013) explore aspects of stillness in the image. The artist’s subjects are simultaneously present and absent; creating a barrier between themselves and the viewer, or the artist’s camera – by shielding identity, either with their hands, their hair, or by having their back to the camera. The act separates them from the act of documentiation, they ‘become’ a ‘temporal’ absence, even the light of the setting sun of ‘Evening Embers’ serves to highlight the stillness of the work, and the subjects denial of presence.
The exhibition curated by Paul Carey-Kent is a thorough investigation of the nature of negative space and absence in the language of art, and exemplifies how spacial types in art implicitly effect the viewers experience, not merely as an abstract rationale of ’emptiness’ but as an effecting presence across all artistic media.
The Presence of Absence – Curated by Paul Carey-Kent – Berloni Gallery – until 14 March 2015
Words: Paul Black Photo: P A Black © Artlyst 2015 all rights reserved