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Angles  | Lesley Foxcroft at Annely Juda | 29 October - 19 December 2015

A review by John Stephens

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

I remember first coming across medium density fibreboard (MDF) in the late ’70s.  It was a new alternative to chipboard and clearly had properties that chipboard didn’t.  It was possible to cut it more cleanly, you could shape it more accurately, it was available in a larger range of thicknesses and if you worked with the right size-to-thickness ratio you could bend it without breaking it.  Dampening it with water helped in this respect, and by laminating it you could build up the thickness and retain a curvature.   

All these properties and more, Foxcroft has exploited in making the pieces for Angles.  She’s also used cardboard, rubber sheeting and lino. The work is immaculately constructed and there’s an open honesty about the way she’s used the materials, if you care to look (and the work does entice you to look), and to examine.  It’s something about what the work does - not just the way it appears.  Laminating is a process that she uses frequently, and in the untitled set of small square pieces she uses this to good effect, in distending their surfaces almost to the point of rupture. But they are then cut with either a diagonal slash or a cross; they’re reminiscent of Lucio Fontana, except that in his cut canvases the canvas curls inwards; here, the cuts curl outwards, seeming to relieve the distension. The natural buff of the MDF gives colour to two of the pieces, while the other two have black rubber as the final layer of the lamination, lending a somewhat mysterious quality to the cut surface. The colour of all the pieces in the show tends to be either the natural buff of the MDF, or the black of rubber or lino, or in some cases black MDF.  On the opposite wall another five square pieces again use the laminating process to create soft curls, almost as if they were made of fabric. All made in the buff colour; they have names like Pocket and Leave, where they are just that - objects that have an opening like a pocket, or a sheaf of papers, where the individual leaves appear to fall forward.  Whilst I’ve mentioned an openness in the use of materials, there’s clearly an illusion at play here, not least because, in the making of the pieces, she will have had to laminate the materials into a larger object in order to accommodate the curving surfaces that have then been cut down to an exact square.

Untitled, 2015, Laminated MDF and black rubber

Pocket, Leave, laminated MDF

In the main gallery there are further explorations of what Foxcroft’s chosen materials might be capable of doing.  London Corner, in the main gallery, is an example of laminated MDF being put under tension. Here two strips of laminated MDF are set horizontally on adjacent walls and overtly fixed with cross-head screws held by large steel washers. The top lamination is divided into two sections with a small gap between them, which reveals a black material in the layer beneath, creating a black line that bisects the piece horizontally. This, and the very obvious washers, create a point-and-line quality, and contribute to the material aesthetic.  But it’s the way the sections are held by the screws into the wall that create the piece.  They force the material to meet in the corner, so that it has to bow outwards, and what you see is what appears to be two parallel waves emanating from the corner, then running out on each adjacent wall.  It’s a very lyrical piece because of its overt materiality, but also one that cleverly creates an illusion of movement.  Tension - through screwing the material to the wall - is used again, but to different effect, in another untitled piece on the opposite wall.  

London Corner, laminated MDF, black lino

Using a device similar to London Corner, separating the top layer of the lamination to reveal a black strip created by the layer underneath, this piece consists of what looks like two parallel strips leaning against the wall, fixed, again, by two screws through large steel washers. Immediately adjacent, above, but leaning outwards from the wall, are two parallel strips that mirror their counterparts below.  These too are held near their bottom edge by two screws with the same large steel washers – simple, but creating an edgy tension that reminds me of some of Richard Serra’s early leaning pieces, albeit in entirely different material.

Untitled, laminated MDF, black lino

Entice, a horizontal wall piece in black lino laminated onto layers of MDF, has two obtusely angled strips fixed to the wall so that half of each angled section lies flat against the wall, each in opposing directions. The other halves of the two sections appear to float free from the wall at their extremities. Here, again, this piece demonstrates the simple aesthetic that Foxcroft has so confidently established through her physical handling and fixing of the materials.

Entice, MDF, laminated lino

However, it would be wrong to assume that the pieces are all about simplicity; two pieces, Black Standard and Give Way, play with the more rhythmic qualities that can be derived from multi-part pieces. Using a slater’s technique in Black Standard, Foxcroft creates a visually rhythmic ‘clatter’ of vertically arranged overlapping black MDF pieces that look a little like the shingles of a roof.  Like shingles, the sections appear to be arranged three deep, jutting from the wall at a shallow angle.  Viewed from the front, the rhythm is regular, as it ripples towards the floor, but seen from the side with the layers of MDF visible, the rhythm pulses in a different way.  

A similar overlapping of black MDF sections is used in Give Way. Arranged in seven columns of two, horizontally across the wall, each alternate column juts away from the wall at the bottom and then at the top, so there’s a flick-flacking rhythm of sections across the wall, which, as in Black Standard, changes as you move towards and past it.  

Black Standard, black MDF

As I was leaving the exhibition the significance of the title Angles struck me: each piece, except for the square ones I discussed at the beginning, is dependent, in one way or another, on the way its component parts are angled to each other, or angled to the wall.  They aren’t acute angles, which one might associate with the title, but are subtly and obtusely angled, and this is what makes the exhibition. And whilst it would be easy to make connections, as I have done, to artists like Fontana, Serra or even Donald Judd, there’s a very articulate coherence between the materiality, the construction and the sensitivity of these works’ expression, which frees them from these connections, and establishes a very fresh and poetic show.

John Stephens

11 Dec 2015

Give Way, black MDF

Untitled, 2015, Laminated MDF