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Jane Bustin: Rehearsal at Copperfield Gallery, London

16 March - 20 May 2016

A review by Laurence Noga

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

“The systems approach is compatible with the evidence that human decisions are largely based on an intuitive feeling of rightness – Rechtsgefuhl – but seeks to validate this subjective feeling by a massive information input, which stands in true correspondence with reality before being refracted through the unconscious.”

Jeffrey Steele (Systems, Arts Council 1972-3)

Jane Bustin’s material approaches allow an open system, without a hierarchy. They include: fresco techniques; oil-washed aluminium; acrylic panel painting with ceramic glazes; mirrored copper with latex; polyurethane; wood; copper; silk; paper; gesso; ceramics and ready-made objects

Together, the artist’s relaxed sense of geometry evident in her idiosyncratic solo exhibition,
Rehearsal, at the Copperfield Gallery, her sense of rhythm, and her distinctive handling of material through assembly and editing, effect a powerful coercion on her audience.

Bustin works with a highly fragile phenomenology in her expanded approach to painting. This sense of ‘memorial’ is interwoven with techniques that are always meaningful, and which bring together a systematic emphasis on materiality with an intuitive proportional balance. Like Donald Judd, Bustin uses pairs as a single work. She is prepared to generate, or test, arbitrary oppositions in her approach to symmetry and asymmetry, combined with her technical virtuosity in surface facture. With Bustin the relationship between the artist and the object is always equal.

Faun, acrylic, polyurethane, copper pins, balsa wood, 50cm x 100cm, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Copperfield, London

The influence of the Russian ballet star Vaslav Nijinsky (1890 - 1950) underpins her decisions here, as a dancer who exceeded the limits of traditional ballet. But this is a show with a more personal edge, not only because works like Faun (2015) are hung at the same height as Bustin’s son, who is also a dancer, but through her ongoing correspondence with the painter Jeffrey Steele. That conversation, in its lucidity and recognition of significant concrete events, combined with an understanding of the intimacy of human relationships (expressed in writers like Proust) casts a spell over the exhibition.

Spectre, acrylic, oil, wood, aluminium, 30cm x 35cm, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Copperfield, London

Research, collaboration, and correspondence all seem to have equal weight in Bustin’s vivid shorthand of privacy and illusion. In her work Spectre (2015), Bustin’s line of enquiry synchronises the different surface qualities. She uses two adjoining panels to register an apparition with unequal time value. The painting’s assembly and colour decisions disturb that passage of time, allowing the colour, and its spatial depth, to register in the viewer’s subconscious. The side of this work interacts with the spectator, flickering enough colour peripherally to be visible as you view the front of the work. This phosphorescence attracts your curiosity, makes you look at the sides with equal scrutiny. The small deep red rectangle at the bottom corner of the Prussian/Ultramarine blue panel has an intense registration, played off the frontal white rectangle.

The manipulation of this structure calls to mind the relief constructions of Victor Pasmore, where the painted wood and plastic (e.g. Relief Construction in White, Black and Indian Red, 1961) is handled in an instinctive manner. I get right down underneath this picture to investigate the stained surface of the red /silver panel, but it’s the light green/red lines painted down its side, with a minute red rectangle at its base, which creates that relationship between form and substance.

Nijinsky’s Window, oil, acrylic, aluminium, porcelain, oxides, 30cm x 28cm, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Copperfield, London

In one of Bustin’s conversations with Steele in 2014 they talked specifically about Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. That sense of insight feels embedded into Bustin’s operations and assemblage. Nijinsky’s Window (2015), 30 x 28 cm, oil, acrylic, aluminium, porcelain, oxides, has a bodily emphasis in the handling of the surface facture, but the power and strength of the dancer feels unbalanced, perhaps alluding to Nijinsky’s social awkwardness. The thin, slightly inflated porcelain ceramic feels torn and dysfunctional, hinting at Nijinsky’s fragile mental health just after the First World War. The in-between space has the most concentrated red/gold oxide colour which filters out into the continuous undulating surface, echoing Morris Louis’ veiled paintings such as Mem (1959), allowing the same sense of diffusion and enveloping of the viewer in the same moment.

Rehearsal II, copper, acrylic, oxides, cloth, 80cm x 50cm, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Copperfield, London

Rehearsal II (2015) is strategically persistent in its placement; the mirrored copper surface nags at our self-consciousness. This encounter catches the viewer off guard, stretching the neck adjusting their position. Nijinsky, in his score for L'Après-midi d'un faune, talks about this inclination of the head, a slight forward tilt. With Bustin we get the history (Robert Morris or Judd a reflection of polished metal) but we also experience the exhibition space or the rehearsal space. The cloths hung next to the work further extend the colour source. They pick up on the opaque colour used in tonal shifts on the side of the work. The cloths themselves are important to a more philosophical sense of system.

Nijinsky I, overall, acrylic, thule, polyurethane, wood, 28cm x 44cm, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Copperfield, London

In the symmetrical work Nijinsky I , (2015) the use of opacity and transparency introduces real and virtual depth, with an internal compositional relationship. The work is sensual, psychologically charged. Bustin states that the materials include ‘thule’; this is a term used in medieval geography to denote an unknown place, beyond the borders of the known world. The light and its illusionism connect to a feeling of unreality. You start to notice the small white ceramic cloth, its connotations shifting the balance of the show, reminding me of the work of Joseph Beuys with his interest in different substances, and how they could be explored through spirituality and ecstasy.

Rose, Copper, oil acrylic, polyurethane. 30cm x 42cm, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Copperfield, London

Rose (2015) draws our attention further towards the problems of construction. This work seems to have the greatest sense of a machine aesthetic. By this I mean that it impacts on the viewer through a sense of co-existence. Its visual power echoes both the machinery of the dancer, and the industrial impulse that drives the language of precision.

Nijinsky, like Steele, was a revolutionary. His use of symmetry and 'sensual expression' questioned the role of choreography, to the point where he became paranoid, even frightened of the other dancers in his company. Bustin explores this sense of vulnerability and subversive attitude by making her works objects of desire. Through a kind of dematerialisation, she invites recognition of the perceptual/ psychological/physical. The whole installation adds this extra dimension through a sensation of sound and movement. Its undulation and acceleration is dependent not only on the notion of sequence, but in its very intimate exploration of symmetry and resonance.

The strength of the show is its ability to engage us in a series of relationships which push the viewer towards a systematic/ syntagmatic order. That system has an elaborate complexity in which the conversation between language, literature, linguistics and logic combine. There is an inherent chain of reaction, which unwraps, for the spectator, a dialogue between concept and object. This multi-layered synthesis of art and life is backed up by Bustin’s understanding of a semiological approach, in which she is able simultaneously to induce a memorable sensation with a combination of generative and emotional processes in the real space.

The exhibition runs weekly, Wednesday - Saturday, 12 - 6pm until 20 May, 2016