During the days of unrest and anarchic outbursts of rioting, looting and arson across London, thoughts of safety took precedence over musings on art. I am not one of these people who will try to convince you that the harder life is on a day-to-day basis, the more art is what you need. I do believe that the best to appreciate art is with a well rested brain and a full stomach. But just as the shock of the violence wore off, people started putting the pieces of their lives back together and I started to wonder if the galleries had reopened and if the resonance of the art that was available before the riots would have been changed by the marks of the regrettable and undeniable bit of history that was written this past week.
Not wandering too far from home, which coincidentally was not too far from the North London point of origin of the riots, I opted for a visit to the Camden Arts Centre. Off the beaten path and, in spite of what the name might suggest, more in Hampstead than in Camden, this little gallery is a personal favorite for its ambitious contemporary art exhibitions and regular artist residences. At any given time, you can see the work of two or three different artists so if one leaves you cold, you still have a chance of discovering something that will catch your eye. If not, there is a little cafe where you can drown your sorrow in good coffee and get a sugar fix.
At the moment, the selection of three artists is representative of the eclectic approach of the C.A.C. Canadian artist David Askevold is the mainliner with The Disorientation Scientist taking up the most gallery space. Prolific since the 1970s, Askevold’s work explores “soft” and pseudo sciences by setting up experiments and documenting them through video, photography, drawing and text. Although the work is very conceptual with its exploration of ritualistic phenomenons and ghosts, unlike for instance the work of Susan Hiller which relies on anthropological methodologies, Askevold’s work is also quite free and intuitive. The formal aspect is undeniable in childish edge of his drawing and the painterly quality of his Burning Bush C-print photographs.
Somewhat less satisfying is the work of Mathilde Rosier in Gallery 3. For her first solo exhibition in the UK, she populated the gallery space with a hybrid of installations and more traditional painting. The result is soft, intimate but ultimately a bit flat. Her watercolours of women and animals appear to have been cut out of a book of fairytales, she takes quite directly from surrealism by having the guests at her opening night wear conch shaped masks. There is an undeniable interest in psychoanalysis but the totality of the exhibition Necklace of Fake Teeth does not dig very deep.
Not to worry because Spanish Lobe, the exhibition concluding Sculptor Katie Cuddon‘s fellowship, is minimal yet superb. Cuddon has explored with great intelligence both the materiality of clay and the spatial engagement dictated by sculpture. Each sculpture is made out of highly tactile and textured clay to look both familiar and strange, defying your expectation at every turn. For instance, M is at first sight a giant blackened cube that appears quite heavy and is reminiscent of Arte Povera works. A closer inspection reveals cracks in the cube that expose its hollowness and fragility.
Set on the floor next to a wooden structure that could be a plinth set on its side, a narrative emerges: the plinth was toppled over, leaving the cube to hit the ground and to crack as a result of the shock. Each work lends itself to that most satisfying layered engagement.
A lot of things londoners took for granted have been affected by the senseless violence of the past few days but the pleasure we can take in the limitless resources of art offered in London has not. It will not erase the memory of seeing the city ransacked and destroyed, it will not restore our faith that people are essentially decent and kind, it will not clean away the debris that still litters the streets but art is one beautiful thing we can still take pride in at the moment. It’s a start.
(these exhibitions run until Sept 25th except “Spanish Lobe” … until Aug 21st)