Review of Still House Group: Testing Ground, Zabludowicz Collection, London

Fresh from New York, The Still House Group brought its brand of ever-evolving DIY art to London for the first time in Testing Ground: Still House Group. The exhibition, which took place at the Zabludowicz Collection, saw the group – founded in New York in 2007 by Isaac Brest and Alex Perweiler as an online platform – exercising the multi-disciplinary, artist-led, curatorial platform that it has rapidly matured and developed in to.
The Zabludowicz Collection’s gutted 19th century, former Methodist church, a maze of winding corridors and unusual interior architecture played favourably into the ethos and roots of the Still House Group’s production of work and early exhibitions. As Issac Brest said, “I like to use the word ‘athletic’: it’s a very athletic environment, which is not a term you usually use to describe an arts studio. It’s very much predicted on your ability to be flexible, strong, adjust to your surroundings, have thick skin, and be able to help people when they need it, take critique sometimes when you don’t want it and deal with distractions.” This is illustrated in Jack Greer’s Edward (2014) which sat in the oval atrium. It consists of discarded fabrics from the works of other members of the Still House Group. The fabrics range from pale blues to soft beiges and are layered over one another in a vertical rectangle. The line forged by one piece of fabric ending and another beginning creates and area of melodic chaos echoing the lyrical mark making of Cy Twombly.

Most members of The Still House Group, which now consists of eight permanent members and one rotating artist in residence, have no formal art education and bonded over a mutual passion for experimenting with materials gathered from underground scenes, such as skateboarding, and their greater surroundings in New York City. Because of this, Isaac Brest, Nick Darmstaedter, Louis Eisner, Jack Greer, Brendan Lynch, Dylan Lynch, Alex Perweiler and Zachary Susskind’s work is heavily influenced by artists that established themselves in New York, and within Testing Ground this seems to be particularly drawn from colour field painters.

Issac Brest’s This is Your Ticket (2014), a series of three different brands of dry wall in wooden frames, the left pale blue, the middle grey-lavender and the right a soft dark green, hung with a serene power between three cusped windows on the balcony encompassing the atrium. The flat, monochromes surfaces hold a tension between art history and appropriation of daily materials that has become an evident and unifying trope for the Still House Group. This is exemplified by Alex Perweiler’s painting, Sideburns (2014), which channels Bartnett Newman’s powerful strip paintings. An aluminium plate finished in a soft grey is offset by a black vertical strip of UV paint. Midway down the vertical strip the UV paint explodes both out of the formal constraints of the line and out of the grips of art historical context, becoming a vehicle that The Still House Group will influence and be reference in future artworks.

It can be said that the works by The Still House Group reveal an irreverent almost flippant twisting of knowledge and materials and their everyday functions. The works do not hide their pedigree, in fact they use their close visual associations to art history as a way to abruptly challenge the current climate of recycling visual information. The lack of any direction other than the work and title allows the visitor to be as shallow or critical when viewing the works at their leisure. This is perhaps best realised in Joe Graham-Felsen’s Church, Mosque, Synagogue (2015). The site specific installation that was located at the rear of the gallery was transformed into a mesh of tall galvanized steel frames, creating a maze of fragmented vertical visions that changes constantly as the viewer walks in and out of them. The title and the building’s original function of a Methodist church, played on that fundamental artistic re-calibration; the work almost hummed with loaded metaphor and social commentary but its concept was never fully revealed.

Still House Group: Testing Ground, 1 March – 5 April 2015,  Zabludowicz Collection, 176 Prince of Wales Road, London, NW5 3PT.

Williams Davie

1. Dylan Lynch, I Wish It Would Rain, 2014. Image courtesy the artist / The Still House Group.