Caroline Achaintre, Sara Barker, Alice Channer at Eastside Projects, Birmingham

In the expansive industrial wastelands just beyond Birmingham city centre is Digbeth, the social hub and heart of the Birmingham art scene. Located here is a small but significant gallery, Eastside Projects which along with Ikon attracts both British and international contemporary artists to exhibit in the city.

The gallery is broken up in to two separate exhibitions. Untitled by Caroline Achaintre, Sara Barker and Alice Channer located in the first room. These three artists have unique and expressive individual practices that contrast and complement each other’s work yet simultaneously add a peculiar friction to the space between the works. In the second and smaller room is the performance group’s An Investigation. This is a much more compact and visual part of the exhibition reliant on the viewer’s willingness to participate and harbour information.

When entering the gallery the light, both natural and artificial, floods the dirtied white walls and tarnished industrial floor. Alice Channer’s Warm Metal Body (2012), two huge prints on lengths of silk, tower and loom over ones immediate entrance. They plummet through the air and ripple out as they hit the floor. The tautness of the prints is held in perfect suspense by two evenly placed chrome cylinders set half on and half off the prints. A series of images of blown up sections of classical sculptures found in the British Museum are presented on the silk. However this is not recognisable and the images attain a rather haunting and dark, mysterious aesthetic.

The surrounding open space in the exhibition is an incredible stimulant to the viewer’s interpretation. The artwork doesn’t clash in terms of aesthetics nor do they differ too greatly in themes or even their underlying concept, but they do seem to invade and, to a certain extent, pierce each other’s personal space. For example located in the left corner situated on a stack of black, white and mint green coloured blocks allowing for total circumnavigation by the viewer are Caroline Achaintre’s Gream (2012), Panto (2012) and Waffler (2012). These are a series leather bags caged by ceramic masks that despite not being representational of human masks retain fragments of African rituality and deformity. Situated on a black box Panto is a black bag with harness wrapping around it with what appears to mimic a ball gag made out of salmon pink ceramic protruding out. The bleakness and seductively minimal aesthetics combined with its heightened sexual connotations allows this to be a very strong and characteristic piece that will sit vividly in one’s mind. Gream situated lower to the floor on a white block is the most humanly representational. It utilizes a green leather bag and a brown leather harness to attach a grey mask that looks as if it is spilling out of itself, supremely deformed and fantastically confrontational to that now cold and identity repelling visuals of Panto. On the far side are mint green blocks which have Waffler attached to the side so it glares back at one like an ugly gaze in a house of mirrors. The pink tortoise shell pattern draw parallels to raw and exposed skin cells making this piece disturbingly eerie and human. Although the interaction between these pieces in itself is nothing short of morbidly fascinating, the real conflict comes from just behind it. Sara Barker’s Real Cutting (2012) a rather spindly metal sculpture protrudes awkwardly from the wall. It is made up of geometric shapes and effectively distorts and challenges ones interpretation of the space in which it is situated, and in a way almost does reflect at a certain level the cages and barriers that the masks would offer a person. However there are constant reminders that these are different works by different artists.

Along the far wall is what appears to be a continuation of some sorts of Caroline Achaintre’s ceramics, entitled Whalf (2011). It resembles a brightly coloured helmet with leather hanging from it. This piece is completely black and ghoulish looking reminiscent in shape to Gream. Whalf and Efes seem to be locked in watching the space, almost guarding it from intruders as the two prints stand “dead” still between them with a final sculpture gazes in.

Arguably the most successful of the metal sculptures, La Lecon de Piano (2010) lies on a glass table, mimicking the rectangular shapes and simplicity of Mondrian’s paintings. Its presence is one of social awkwardness; it could even be seen as asking the viewer, does it belong there? However as it does, it intrudes subtly between the perpetual stare of the masks whose purpose and identity is anonymous but draws the attention of the viewer to the two towering pillars so to speak. This is good reflection of the exhibition, a series of representational objects distorted to anonymity, each creating an atmosphere of tension and suspense within the actual space.

Caroline Achaintre, Sara Barker, Alice Channer, 26/05/2012 until 28/07/2012, Eastside Projects, 86 Heath Mill Lane, Birmingham, B9 4AR.

Text: William Davie

Related Posts:
FormContent It’s Moving from I to It (26/05/2012 – 07/07/2012) at Eastside Projects reviewed by William Davie.
Alice Channer The Body in Space (02/08/2012 – 13/05/2012) at South London Gallery reviewed by Travis Riley.

1 : Installation shot from Caroline Achaintre, Sara Barker, Alice Channer
2: Sara Barker La Leçon de Piano (2010)
3: Alice Channer Warm Metal Body and Cold Metal Body (both 2012)
4. Sara Barker Flowering of the Rod (2011)
5. Caroline Achaintre Whalf (2012)Photography: Stuart Whipps

Courtesy Eastside Projects