EM14 - Week Four by Shelley MacDonald

Seven more days to create Heaven and Hell

It’s early, Sneinton has one eye open, morning breath steams at the bus stop and the hunched await breakfast in the gold glow of Mary’s Cafe. Sarah is the first to arrive at Surface and we clamber up the stairs together to be greeted by a chilly reception. The Project Space has yet to be warmed by the presence of the EM14ers but the fruits of their labour are ripe for picking in this attic of Eden. Just seven more days to create heaven and hell on earth.

Sarah has a sac full of white paint, more testicular than mammalian but probably open to suggestion. It begs touch so I pick it up and we discuss its possibilities. It won’t dry in situ, no air to make solid. It might spill its seminal guts (testicles with guts, now there’s a new topography). Then again it just might bide its time, hold its nerve, if it has the balls. I place it down and it finds a new shape. Sarah and I bounce ideas, sometimes ping, sometimes pong.

We talk colour
We talk abstraction
We talk definitions
We talk white

I’m interested in white and have spent time wrestling with it but it defeated me. Sarah has a much greater ease with the stuff of light, teeth, marble, milk. She sees it as a way of starting over, a whitewash, neutral. She sprays, pours or squeezes it straight from can, pot and tube with equanimity. For me, it’s obdurate, autistic, anti-social, not to be trusted and certainly not in its manufactured pose without subjugation in some form or another. But it won’t be subjugated. Amongst colours you can sidle it up, put it adjacent, lever it between, layer it on top and it stands resolutely aloof, defiant, challenging the riff raff of colour, scoffing at its needy quest for meaning. Everything is always on its terms and it will not be called into question. You can’t add colour to it without it becoming an imposter or going AWOL, and then you have to go looking for it because you need it more than it needs you. It doesn’t exist in your psyche, expression or language; at a push it features in religion, hallucinogens and ‘in love’, all palliative and manufactured to deny the absence of white in real lives. Only black can hold its own with white. But there is a small window of opportunity; Malevich, Mondrian, Nicholson and Time have peered out and, once seen, white defers to them. Sarah talks of fighting with the painting, as if she’s waiting for it to retaliate or back down. She’s right about the battle, the mark, the dynamic, but the war is white.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson

White dispensed with and on to matters of Abstraction. Sarah questions whether her paintings are Abstract as they are pre-considered and subject to decision, thought, experiment. She lifts her paint soaked scour sponges used in the making of her painting and says that they are closer to abstraction as there was no thinking behind their painterliness, no self-consciousness, employed, as they were, in the service of creating a painting they are byproduct and therefore closer to abstraction. For me, apart from the given that Abstraction eschews figuration and representation, at its best it is art at its most cerebral, a process of deconstruction and distillation that is intellectually alive to the pulse and silence of the human heart. First there wasn’t the word there was pre realization, life is abstraction in reverse. Melanie Klein’s object relations bear testament to that.

Megan Lynch

Megan Lynch

An orange frame floats creating a portrait of Megan in conversation with a previous EMer. Megan, the most elusive of the artists is here and, as the only exclusive photographer in the group, sources her creativity beyond the walls of Surface. She has been out and about ruin hunting and there are a collage of images scattered on the floor and climbing the walls, some writ large, others in pieces but before I get a chance to delve further she’s off in search again. I wonder how her work sits against the deluge of everyday photography for, surely, it is an art form that has long existed under some threat or other even though a Gursky has peaked at a very respectable £2.7m. Now we are all photographers, documenters, reporters of the humdrum and extraordinary. We live between the flashbulb glare of the warts ’n all paparazzi expose and the airbrushed perfection of gods and goddesses, betwixt censored selfies and intimate moments laid bare when passion’s spent. Megan looks elsewhere for image, buildings with eyes shut by sheet metal, barred and grated, no longer looking out. Abandoned institutions in a state of internal decay with their paperwork strewn, upturned mattresses, personal belongings charting the path out of the inhabitants as if they left in a terrible hurry. From what pestilence were they running? Compassion’s dispersal order issued by the state? The community is supposed to care now so the government doesn’t have to. That must make the privatisation and secretion of grief its most successful policy to date. So how might Megan grapple with both building and social commentary in the click of a button?

Christine has come to make the best of time and tells me of her stash of unrealised lamp bases recruited from the remnants of the closed Spode factory in Stoke-on-Trent. She talks of her involvement in the multi-disciplinary Topographies of the Obsolete project and very quickly we segue way into aging and redundancy. What use do we make of the hinterland years post fertility and pre coffin? What place sexuality post-production? Christine’s work is quiet as is its discourse, it exudes a reverential hush that makes me listen to her work in a way that I don’t listen to the others? I wonder about her work’s relationship to language and the word when you are engaging with a subject that is little spoken. These vases, in varying states of collapse and injury, hold the echo of stilled craftsmanship and a silenced workforce but more than that they breathe the whisper of mortality, the flaws and vulnerabilities of what it is to be human. They hold the very familiar story of however hard we try things break and go wrong and it hurts to either bear witness to this or experience it directly. But, as a woman in her fifties Christine’s work also brings something else to bare. What has the emerging older artist to offer the youth devouring art world that struggles to let its enfant terribles grow and mature? And if you need evidence of frozen adolescence in art look no further than Hirst’s foray into painting in his forties. How can we move on from an adolescent outing of death and sexuality that isn’t encapsulated in skulls, wanking hands, sanitary towels and other juvenilia? I wonder if the introduction of animal hides into the still of Parian will bring the scream of the abattoir to Christine’s work and these communicating vessels will need no surrealist hand (attached to an ear, no doubt) to bring the debate to the fore of what age and youth can both contribute to art.

Alex Wallis

Alex Wallis

Talking of what youth has to offer, Alex (yes, I’ve made you scrawl down the entire weary length of this blog to find your name) arrives and climbs into his overalls cutting a figure closer to some sort of obstetric workman rather than artist and, indeed, his work feels more birthed than made. He talks of a recent trip to Barcelona and how the inspiration of the buildings of Gaudi, the Sagrada Familia and La Padrera will colour his work this residency. I wonder how his latex entities might reflect the grey skies of their home country rather than the sunny hues of Catalan but he is drawn to replicate the colours of warmer climes. And I’m drawn to his wonky globes and bent phallus’. We talk shapes irregular and sharp. We talk Bachelard, corners and curves, walls disappearing and intransigent. There is something so engaging about his work that it deserves a wider audience. I suggest an excursion into a children’s playground, a cemetery, churches, supermarkets, fields, buses. All places and spaces where prescribed behaviour overrides spontaneity and curiosity. Every child know what to do with a swing and a slide but what to do with a misshapen orange thing? Soothing company Alex’s hands are in constant activity, drawing, moulding, writing, stitching, knitting, knotting, shaping, pulling at his black beard without a hint of piracy. I leave him thinking about the olfactory, how we inhale memory. Perhaps he will sprinkle some Iberain herbs in and around his work, colour the sand…He is full of thought and thinking.

I quickly catch Ali on her way out to collect her child from school. We ponder whether creativity and maternity are adversaries or allies. Do they drink from the same well and if you draw from the water for one does the other thirst? Nothing is concluded but I suspect the answer doesn’t sit comfortably. But even more uncomfortable is the nugget of information that Ali leaves me with; the week before the fire of the Sustainable Laboratories at Jubilee campus the University of Nottingham had informed the art department that it was their intention to raise the Dairy to the ground as it was something of an eyesore and even the buildings genuflecting at the feet of the pharmaceuticals giant next door needed to possess some aesthetic pedigree. So I’m relieved I edited out of last week’s blog the joke, “I said number 6 Triumph Road, not number 8 next door!!!” as that would have been just too close to the bone and surely, in the circumstances, the best humour, if any, is vegetarian. Next they’ll be asking the few remaining art students to make a sculptural memorial using its burnt embers! Now that would be funny, in a carnivorous, biting, bloody, painful sort of way. And, more importantly, it would pose a dilemma for art; prostitute itself for the big buck, the soiled commission, or decline and stand its ground even if it is being taken from under it?


The concluding East Midlands Graduate Project exhibition 'EM14:Arrivals' opens October 24th @ 6pm. Accept our Invite.

Photograph by  Joe Dixey

Photograph by Joe Dixey

Written by EM14 writer-in-residency Shelley MacDonald.