Inverting Preconceptions of Materials, Ideas and Craft: Jerwood Makers Open, JVA, London.

Review by Kara Magid, a candidate for the MA in Art History at Richmond, The American International University in London.

Jerwood Makers Open is a new open-submission initiative designed to support and showcase emerging artists working in the applied arts. This annual exhibition series offers significant bursaries to four makers to create new works, which are then exhibited as part of the Jerwood Visual Arts programme. This year, the exhibition features four very different artists; Farah Bandookwala, Emmanuel Boos, Heike Brachlow, and Keith Harrison.

It’s a refreshing exhibition as it flawlessly merges together technology and raw materials. By combining together materials that derive from the most advanced technological endeavours and pure substances from the earth, these works scream out that they have finally accepted the role that technology plays in our environments. These works do not refuse technology, rather they boast about its presence and use technology as a vehicle to make these objects appear artistically tasteful. As a whole, these artists produce works with intriguing and imaginary forms.

It is clear that all of these artists have big ideas, and this is most definitely true of Keith Harrison’s work. One narrow hallway of Jerwood Space holds his piece entitled Float (2011). Made up of clay, wood, metal and audio equipment, Harrison combines materials we would not assume to go together and the result is delightful. He claims that this work was inspired by a scene in Warner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo (1982) where the main character playing Caruso travels up the Pachitea River whilst simultaneously emitting recordings of indigenous tribes so that he can call out to the inhabitants of the Peruvian jungle. This is interesting when one considers how much time the character saved himself by simply bringing recordings of a language with him instead of taking lessons and learning an indigenous language in what one might call ‘the old fashion way.‘ This is a subtle acceptance of technology – if you can not beat it, join it, and use it to your advantage! And that is what Keith Harrison does. His sketches for Float show he never strayed far from his initial idea. The piece that stands before us today is almost identical to his blueprints that hang nearby. Harrison built this sound system using wood and metal. Audio equipment sits perched at the top of this wooden, metal structure, waiting for the master to control it. The ladder attached to the piece, at first provocative to a viewer, has been left only for Harrison to climb.

At the opening of this exhibition, crowds wait to hear him speak. He comes out calm, cool, collected – in a white Adidas track suit. He settles himself down toward the audio equipment and begins changing the initial static sound that came from this piece. From his touch, classical music fills the hallways, crowds sip their wine and adhere to the beautiful melodies. In time Harrison gets up, nods, and walks away. This was his ‘talk’ and it was brilliant. Words would have taken away from this piece. Harrison wants these objects to speak for themselves. The audio speakers of this structure are filled with clay and because the clay has dried, each looks like leftover pancake batter. However if the sounds being emitted from the speakers are too loud, the clay could crack and break – Not only do these objects have their own voice, they are also delicate, made up of specific parts adhering to a whole.

Farah Bandookwala, Emmanuel Boos, and Heike Brachlow also provide their materials with a sense of life. Bandookwala grew up in India and New Zealand and claims that both of these places have influenced her art. She is fascinated by how materials are received differently from different cultures. She invites viewers to touch – to grab her sculptures reminiscent of sea anemone that will vibrate in their hands. A sign warning viewers of this vibration demands each viewer treat these materials delicately, putting all else aside and really considering their forms. She desires this tactile intrigue from her viewers but there is also an irony here. While these sculptures resemble species in nature, they are carried out using rapid prototyped nylon, glass, electronics and paint. In this same room, Heike Brachlow has taken her idea from children’s toys, those that balance themselves on a pivoting point, begging children provocatively to push them off kilter so that they can find balance once again. Although she takes this concept, she applies it to glass, testing old notions but applying them to new materials. Her glass sculptures succeed in balancing themselves on a pivotal point and they change colours as light is emitted through them. This emphasizes the thick proportions of glass used in order to carry them out.

Lastly, Emmanuel Boos’ pieces exhibit his search for depth in ceramic glaze. Starting in 2009, he developed a palette of glazes and began testing them out on slip-casted porcelain cobblestones. As his palette expands, so too does the amount of cobblestones. Many of these stones are exhibited on what looks like a staircase that is made up of extended horizontal planes. This setup gives these objects movement as if they have the free-will to continue climbing up themselves. What is most interesting though are the paper porcelain slabs Boos has hung on the wall. One piece in particular must rest on a cubicle because it has been dismantled from its holding equipment. However the observer is left inclined to attach this piece to its place on the wall. A shiny gold knob looks out provocatively at the viewer as if to say‘please hang my piece back up.’ This is another example of how the materials currently at Jerwood Space all seem rather alluring. But it is the way that the porcelain slabs are treated by Boos that makes the difference. Some are inverted, reminiscent of curled manta-rays, others are cracked and dry, offering up no depth underneath their surface display. In this way these objects are able to speak for themselves.

There are intense and powerful expressions coming from the materials that are currently being displayed at Jerwood Space and therefore they are worth viewing. For each speaks through its own unique form.

Jerwood Makers Open runs until 28 August.

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Keith Harrison Float
Courtesy the artist
Photography by Tomas Rydin