Survey, Bluecoat, until 23rd June, free
Before I went to see Survey, I was really hoping it was going to give me the art I needed. I’ve seen a lot of art-historical shows recently and while they can be fine (or not), you go because you pretty much know what you’re getting. Even the Van Gogh in Britain show at Tate Britain – which I haven’t written about yet but really enjoyed – was, for all that it surprised me far more than I expected, a story I was at least a little familiar with.
Shows like Survey are different, refreshing not just because they’re unfamiliar but because there’s always a chance that you might find an entirely new voice. I personally find one that speaks to me, for example, in the very first piece I encounter: Anna Raczynski’s film The Movie Makers. It’s a lovely, simple story of a group of people in Pendle brought together by their love of film-making – but more than that, of wanting to get to know their subjects and community. There’s an obvious contradiction about the aging group’s struggle for survival in an age of near-total ubiquity of film as a communicative medium. In their devotion to a craft I ended up feeling a great deal of affection for this club.
The piece which has been featured in all of the press around this show is Rae-Yen Song’s sculpture Happy Happy Leaf. It’s certainly eye-catching, garish and graphic (not really offensively, but I’m sure somebody’s mum will be upset by seeing in the window). Spending time with it, I end up feeling that it’s also a successful piece of meaningful art. It’s pretty damning about the worst stereotypes made about foreign cultural traditions and practices. Some offensive reductionist is gonna take the piss out of alternative deities? Claim it: run wild with their expectations.
Some of my favourite things are upstairs in Gallery 4. Emma Cousin’s painting downstairs hadn’t really done much for me, but her Arpeggios (featured image) upstairs is joyous. She’s filled the wall with bodies of every shape and size, posed into any shape you can imagine. One thing in common: they’re all supporting each other. Take just one of these away and the whole thing falls apart. Many of the figures are looking at each other with an intensity of shared purpose. The sense of community is also in the individual framed paper works, but it’s the wall that really sings. I’d also be interested in seeing more by both Joe Fletcher Orr and Hazel Brill. Orr has made a neon: yes we’ve seen it before, but his choice of vocabulary is spot on in term of expression. Brill’s pond is a cute idea too, and her ideas about environmental manipulation is interesting – I’d like to see what else she has to say.
Not everything is great. Thomas Goddard’s film The Word of Mouse (grok your cornea gumbo) starts promisingly with nice graphics and a great soundtrack. But then he brings in a version of the apes-meet-monolith scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey (which, not related to this, but I’d actually watched the night before) but replacing the monolith with an iPhone. It just reminds me too much of those t-shirts they used to sell at Camden Market with an altered version of a famous corporate logo. Like the Nike logo turned into a joint with the slogan “just smoke it”, or whatever. Even at 15 I thought they were trite and pointless and my opinion hasn’t changed when the same technique is used in art. At the moment it’s just too obvious, though there’s something here which may mature. And in Gallery 2 there’s two pieces which feel incomplete – I’ll give Nicole Morris’ work a pass as the projection is off, but I’m mildly irritated by the failure of Ashley Holmes’ piece to signify anything separate to the performance, which I didn’t see and can’t glean what it would have been saying.
But then also in Gallery 2 is Lindsey Mendick’s I’ll Always Love You But I Don’t Always Like You. It’s a table with ceramics on, an update of the ornament collection your nan, or maybe parents, or 8-year-old-me had. Everything from the colours of the table to the shape of the pots is slightly off-kilter, whimsical chintz that’s light and funny rather than painfully ironic. I like it a lot.
I didn’t read the handout for Survey. If you’re in a group exhibition like this, for which you’ve been selected entirely on the premise that you’re a promising young artist, the work you submit really needs to speak for itself. On the whole I thought the selections are solid – good art that shows promise for the next generation. I came into Survey needing something new and refreshing, and there were definitely pieces here that hit those buttons.