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In Line, Griffin Gallery, London.

18 January – 23 February 2018.

Review by Laurence Noga, February 2018

Outside gets inside
Through her skin
I've been out before
But this time it's much safer in

Last night in the sky
Such a bright light
My radar send me danger
But my instincts tell me to keep

Breathing ("Out, in, out, in, out, in")  Kate Bush’Breathing’ (1980)

There is one ideal vantage point within this excellent and cleverly curated exhibition at the Griffin Gallery. At this point in the space we can see how all the visual coordinates either line up, or challenge the modes of circulation, in terms of the physical reactions running through the show, perhaps in such a way as to enable the viewer to keep breathing.  

These individual constraints are often combined with a material syntax that creates a tension and an element of surprise for the spectator. For example, Hanz Hancock (who co-curated this exhibition with Patrick Morrissey) explained in his recent talk at the gallery how he was listening to the singer/performer Kate Bush while making his paintings. In the ‘Breathing’ lyrics Kate Bush imagines a moment when the foetus is aware of what is going on outside the womb (a nuclear explosion). It feels important for Hancock that the ‘syntagma’, the set of individual parts that promote a physical reaction in the viewer, work simultaneously (the ‘Breathing’ lyrics also refer to the foetus absorbing nicotine from the mother's smoking).

We start to read the geometric composition as a ribcage, partly due to the close tonal proximity of the colours, but more through the reversal of composition that takes place. The altered structure shifts our focal point between the paintings in a dialogue that is both animated and composed. Visually flickering, the drop or straightening of the elongated triangles holds our perception, building in the emotional content of the song and aligning an autobiographical moment.

Lothar Götz, Silver Convention, 2017, wall painting installation. image courtesy of the artist and Domobaal.

The scale and presence of Lothar Götz’ 2017 Silver Convention  

wall painting gives the impression that this work could have an infinite number of permutations. This sense of the kinetic, and its flow of energy and movement, has a connection with the Russian constructivists El Lissitzky and László Moholy-Nagy. These artists’ hybridity and control of the viewpoint kept the viewer involved and active, accelerating the radical changes in the revolutionary architecture and technology of the 1920s. It feels as though Götz is making a similar observation now, particularly concerning space or place, and through the particular history of a building or site. He blends these factors with further imaginary or fantasy elements, developing diverse, multidimensional relationships.

There is an example of those relationships in the hint of a skater’s landscape within the composition in the top half of the painting. Like a giant envelope, the work opens up an accentuated relationship of triangles and rectangles. The partially sloping floors and parallelograms particularise the colour choices (ochre /silver /red / blue /orange), integrating a relationship with the linear totality of the show.

Peter Lowe, Four Groups of Four, 2013. Stainless steel, 1.80m.  Image © Griffin Gallery and the artist.

I find myself making radical alterations to Peter Lowe’s order-based construction (Four Groups of Four, 2013). We learn that Lowe selects the procedures and decides on the rectangle forms before he executes a work. Yet we are invited to play with those decisions - perhaps in an orthogonal manner – by shifting the work into different sequences:1234, 3142, 2413, 4321. The syntax here is the audience’s participation; the combinations of permutation and serialisation which translate into casual or sustained interaction with the works’ reach and sense of scale.

I am reminded of Max Bill’s exquisite sculpture Unit of Three Equal Volumes (1961), also in polished metal. But I sense that the route of his approach is related to Cubism; for example, Juan Gris’ multiple use of perspective in Guitar and Fruit Dish (1918). Gris draws us into the three-dimensional solidity of the guitar, but, more importantly, the painting insists on the viewer observing the structure from above or inside the space. I like the way that this viewpoint corresponds to Lowe’s use of negative spaces, which appear as we adjust the work in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction, visually connecting and bisecting the environment.

We glance at Robert Currie’s shiny-smooth, slightly solemn videotape installation, and we are immediately drawn into its dramatic atmosphere and visual impact. The tension and lightness of the videotape (the work spans 620cm of the gallery) seems to work as a modified mirror as it disguises the architectural structure of the building. Its hidden empathy with its surroundings, and the way it changes a space, reminds me of Richard Serra’s recent sculptures (Through, 2015) shown at the Gagosian. But here it elicits a very different set of responses from this audience. The silence is tinged with a more expressive consciousness, as the viewer imagines an electromechanical device, with its programmable clocks, playing the video cassette. We imagine the VHS or Betamax tape of the 1980s and 90s, and what is happening while it is being recorded. The idea of this mass form imparting a flat, full-range frequency, not quite hermetically sealed, is a spectacular entity.

A first close inspection of Ben Gooding’s work gives the impression that it is manufactured. But - staying within the repetition of identical lines - we start to realise that the accumulation of linearity is hand-drawn. Gooding’s system-based approach uses mathematical measurement employing a sinusoidal or sine wave. The sine wave is a mathematical curve that describes a smooth, repetitive, continuous oscillation. The number of scores is worked out before the process begins, and a gradual illusion of depth is created through the pattern that emerges. It could perhaps be characterized as a syntax of the object. The surface is always dictated by rhythmic pressures as we imagine the flow beyond the frame.

Daryl Brown’s distinctive sculpture, Unknown PWR, is skilfully constructed. The lightness of the materials (aerated concrete, plaster and paint) gives the work a strangely disquieting attitude, as if it were holding a secret. The totemic forms have a martial sense of space between them. Brown uses a repetitive additive construction process which develops and metamorphoses as the traditional methods of cutting and sanding progress. The slotting together of each segment with its infiltrated colour has elegance and entropy. Manganese blue pigment is squashed and sanded back flatly, leaving the traces of sanding visible, allowing the work to hover between its physical dynamic and a kind of memorial of measurement and division.

Patrick Morrissey’s inter-related works illuminate and transmit a totally direct, physiological experience. The relationships switch between old and new structures; his hypnotic film works have a feeling of older video cassette recordings. The patterns collide and resonate, perhaps reacting to the misalignment of tape over time from machine to machine. The approach establishes a connection, throughout the show, through his use of algorithmic compositional structure. Characteristics such as periodicity, rhythm, and sequence work both horizontally and vertically. In his highly optical painting Notional Wall (2015), Morrissey develops vibration and contrast through the shape and placement of the coloured segments. Within the openings the tonal values are interwoven through striations of densely layered colour with crisp, thinly-painted fadeouts, producing uncertainties for the viewer from any viewpoint in the space.

Wendy Smith’s carefully constructed drawings have a sense of patterning taking place over time. Machines, technologies and commercial phenomena are transfused with memories and emotions. The weight of each mark feels consistent and precise, despite being hand-drawn in pen and ink; Smith understands how the body of material she creates can be added to or subtracted from. The approach seems to relate to research in perceptual phenomena (metrology / the scientific study of measurement) and calls to mind Richard Allen’s 1972 gouaches on paper such as Green and Pink (ENSP 16). The important difference with Smith is that the image emerges from the drawing process, as if coaxed from the surface itself. As Smith says: “I have no preconceived idea as to what will emanate from this procedure; no ‘image in the mind’s eye’ is operative at any stage”  

But in a way, the making of works like Night (2016, gouache on paper) allows us to enter an infinite and fragile space of subdivisions, depicting a level of experience that allows Smith to make work that is self-determining and illusive.

Duncan Bullen’s individualised, pinpointed marks are made in a highly methodical manner. The economy of means (pencil or pens) develops repetitive, or near-repetitive, arrangements. The formations deal with the accuracy and inaccuracy of the human hand, building subtle fluctuations into the composition. From far off we observe a phosphorescent molecular structure which seems to flare; from close in we get the touch and pulse of the drawing. The sense of a drawn breath is aligned to the drawn mark: as the elements start to find their own timing, the form begins to emerge. Bullen’s research has focused on the Japanese concept of ‘ma' - the interval, pause or emptiness between structures. That interval or breath involved in making the work brings us back to Kate Bush’s concept in her lyrics: “Leave me something to breathe”.

The linear construction of this show works through an expansion and contraction of straight and sometimes parallel lines. But the magic of this exhibition is that it has become part of our resonant world, and a part of human experience.     

Robert Currie, 1 Day, 6 Hours, 46 Minutes, and 5 Seconds, 2018, videotape, 620 x 180 x 290 cm.  Image © Griffin Gallery and the artist.

Ben Gooding, 1192 and 1708, 2017-18 Scored aluminium, 70 x 50 cm.  Image © Griffin Gallery and the artist.  

Daryl Brown, Unknown PWR, 2017. Aerated concrete, plaster and paint. Image © Griffin Gallery and the artist.

Patrick Morrissey, Notional Wall Stackers I-II, 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 46x61cm,  Image © Griffin Gallery and the artist.

Wendy Smith, Night, 2016 Gouache on paper, 70 x 70 cm.  Image © Griffin Gallery and the artist.

Duncan Bullen, Pulse – 4:17, 2017, pencil on paper, 50 x 50 cm. Image © Griffin Gallery and the artist.