Project Space Leeds stands close to the banks of the River Aire, not far from the city centre. Swollen by the recent, apparently unrelenting, deluge, the river courses with an unsettling energy sufficient to inspire an ancient sense of animism. Following its bank towards the exhibition space becomes an almost spiritual pilgrimage. Not far, and almost parallel to this portion of the Aire, is the Leeds-Liverpool canal. Compared with the Aire, the canal with its factitiousness and artifice seems to represent the mercenary zeal and efficiency of the industrial revolution. These opposing, aqueous twin sisters of the city centre serve only to heighten the conflict of forces behind Pieces of Eight. The PhD-led works of the exhibition come at a time when higher eduction is becoming more market driven and customer-focused. Debates about the validity of PhD research by artists become more and more heated. The intention in collecting such work together is to display excellent contemporary art that is, not an example of academic practice-led research, but just happens to be such. The pilgrimage is well rewarded with a challenging array of spectacles.
As though to compound the aforementioned spiritual-mercenary conflict, the first group of works by Bradford-based artist, writer and musician, Andy Abbot, involve a natural reclamation of industrial artifice. Heavy Metal Bell Pits is three triptychs, each a score, a photograph and video-documented performance. The pieces involve different bell pits on Baildon Moor and exploit the acoustic properties of the now grass-covered pits. Heavy Metal songs from the end of the industrial era are performed in styles commensurate with the era in which the Bell Pits were in use. The translation of the Heavy Metal Songs coupled with the acoustic properties of the pits is quite haunting. We are told that the artist is interested in the awkward cracks, gaps and excesses produced. From this angle there is certainly a sense of nostalgia that arises from the feeling of a heightening of sensitivity to such phenomena in the recording, which is reminiscent of the sharpened senses of childhood. This nostalgia seems to be captured and elevated in the use of 1970s Heavy Metal texts as they are songs from fairly recent memory. Visually, the reclamation by nature of the artificial contours of the Bell Pits imparts a sense of the organic. There is a tincture of the organic in the resulting products of layered acrylic in Ian Balch’s five-part contribution to Pieces of Eight. Here the acrylic paint is layered on to ordinary objects and materials such that they become new objects. These new objects are used as part of the installations that seem to converse with and counterpoint the exhibition space. There is something very wrought yet modest about the objects that, while the shiny acrylic contrasts the other elements of the installations, also compliments the worn imperfections in the exhibition space into which they seem to be absorbed.
Sam Belinfante’s film, Many Chambers, Many Mouths endeavors to bridge the gap between the visual and the musical. It is filmed in Spoleto in Italy, home to one of the world’s leading opera courses. The film is presented in split-screen. In this way, parallels are drawn between the caves of the town and the vocal chambers of the opera singers’ mouths. At one point a tenor in one half the split screen sings one of Nemorino’s arias from Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore. In the other half we view washing lines with white sheets hanging and other parts of the town where other ‘chambers’ are apparent. This is most affecting and evocative of a sense of place. Equally evocative, but quite different, is Eirini Boukla’s three-part offering. In these two-dimensional groups of pictures, movement and speech is suggested with the use of elements from popular comic strips. These are arranged with sense of organised chaos. On closer inspection there is great balance and grace in the arrangements – the eye darts from one area to another in search of meaning. They are fascinating in this way, using elements of very familiar conventions in an unfamiliar assembly.
The exhibition is a convergence of book form, sculpture, drawing, installation, and performance. Photography is the medium for Annica Karlsson-Rixon’s View. This installation, presented with pleasing geometric regularity, comprises many photograph’s of the details of the domestic interior of a family farm. The details are the minutiae of the farm interior aggregated into a homogeneous unity. The result is very elegant and evocative of the worn traces of human interaction with the house. This work occupies a small portion of the space. However, the work that seems to dominate the exhibition space is Maija Narhinen’s Field. Ostensibly a broad scattering of stones, probably taken from the earth of the ‘field’ of the title, it is revealed to the viewer that the ‘stones’ are actually made from paper. The paper has been transfromed through processes of drawing, painting, folding, creasing and crumpling. The execution is extremely convincing. We are forced therefore to engage with the artist’s interests in the credibility of perception, and illusion.
Pieces of Eight, 25-04-2012 until 30-06-2012, Project Space Leeds, Whitehall Waterfront, 2 Riverside Way, Leeds, LS1 4EH. www.projectspaceleeds.org.uk
Copyright Annica Karlsson Rixon
Text: Daniel Potts