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What Shall We Do Now?

5 August 07 words: Hugh Dichmont
Contemporary art, as many people often complain, is not about pretty pictures

The result of a four-week residency at the Surface Gallery, What Shall We Do Now? presents artwork by eight recent graduates from regional universities.
Indicative of the informality of modern art education, the exhibition comprises a variety of different artistic approaches, from animation and sculpture to drawing, video and photography.

Contemporary art, as many people often complain, is not about pretty pictures. In the western tradition of painting and sculpture craftsmanship was integral to success and respect; in particular ones ability to recreate the world in a descriptive, representational manner. But artists have long since shifted their focus to allow more abstract ideas to creep into their work, often using the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticise the discipline itself.

Jack Fabian’s fragmentary architectural drawing, pencilled directly on to one of the gallery’s white walls, appears half-remembered, eroded in replication, and in a state of dissolution. His mural is paired with a flawed and dysfunctional maquette of a building, painted grey like the gallery floor. Fabian’s works seem to express the struggle involved in trying to represent the concrete and tangible when relying upon incomplete or limited information. The fact that the two pieces attempt to camoflage themselves in their environments is perhaps revelatory; they too are ready to be forgotten and misrepresented, perhaps by me.

Using cheap, inelegant materials, artist Alan Armstrong presents the viewer with a botched facsimile of the natural world. Trees are indicated by use of rough wooden blocks, held clumsily together by glue and screws, with pink woolen threads bandaging areas, imitating a kind of ineffectual bark. Perched on top of one such tree is a small, porcelain curio bird. It overlooks a horde of plaster-cast, illegitimate offspring; eyeless and wingless, they bear little resemblance to the original. With a screw twisted into their underbellies as stand-in feet, these ugly ducklings are ungainly and awkward, but not without charm.

The juxtaposition between found and made objects within Armstrong’s landscape stirs questions of aesthetic value and representation in art. Armstrong makes no attempt to recreate nature exactly, in fact, his creations struggle to exist. In spite of their disposable nature and zombie-like appearance, his miniature porridge blob birds are endearing and animated characters, whilst their bric-a-brac forefather, although slickly manufactured, is irrevocably static and lifeless.

As part of their collaborative wall sculpture exploring the accuracy of shared information, Steven Bradley and Beth Pearson use a quote that serves as an accurate description of the show as a whole. It reads: “Through a series of sensory and digital translations truth is rendered impaired and redundant.”
This show explores the view that given the subjective way we process the information we receive, our perception of the world is prone to fault and degradation. When realised in art, our interpretation of the world often does little more than illustrate how little we understand anything at all.

What Shall We Do Now? was on display at the Surface Gallery during July.

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