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Surface at Surface Gallery

12 October 10 words: Thomas Norton
The aims of Project29 point towards innovative challenges still available for contemporary artists across the globe
Photography by Carl Slater
Photography by Carl Slater

Project 29 (Carl Slater, David Ashton Hill, Sally Angela Davies) sets a new agenda for Nottingham art culture with the somewhat unfortunately named Surface at the Surface Gallery.

Project 29 is a co-operative that draws talented artists together to investigate 'site'. It’s an experimental approach whereby art and the creation thereof is confined to a single location, to catalyse creative perspective and make imaginative decisions about how to create contemporary art outside of a normal social context. This pattern of work is described by Project 29’s organisers as “the opposite to public art displays”. Rather than create and exhibit art based on location, the location defines how the art will be produced.

Slater, Davies and Hill’s work is reasonably fluent across the gallery. Each appears to take an approach where geometry plays at odds with natural form or as Davies puts it “Assemblage v Non Assemblage”. A slightly trite concept, it is nonetheless a familiar one that is touched upon with some sophistication in Surface.

Whilst locations along the River Trent have been chosen more out of novelty than consideration, the exhibition surprisingly makes some worthwhile points on city politics. Hill’s Five Trent Crossings examines the structure, form and history of bridgework along the River Trent. A scale model of their pillars, finely measured and cut on thin tracing paper obscures hidden photography taken of these landmarks. This photography gives the viewer a sense of each pillar’s true form outside of plans or blueprints; by doing so each piece reflects a microcosm of the respect (or lack of) that local government has shown over the last century. Sitting opposite is Hill’s other piece, a row of jars filled with foggy and toxic fluid. Whilst one’s first impression conjures up images of something far more ghastly, these are merely water samples taken from the Trent which have been left to fester.

Again, local government is taken to task as evidence of the neglect and corruption surrounding the city’s water bellows from this simple display. The remainder of the gallery’s contributions are rather more conceptual and esoteric. A slide show plays a series of Carl Slater’s photography where the beauty of each photo is marked with a treasure trove “x”. Slater’s other work includes the installation of a white branch piercing through the floor and a shelf of dust stood against the stones that it was scraped from. Although Slater’s work displays some degree of aesthetic rigour their context is explained poorly and fails to match the elegance of Hill’s commentary. Angela Davies’ work is even more obtuse – photography and mixed media emblazoned together which touches along this line of “Assemblage” but takes little care for any elaboration beyond that.

The aims of Project29 point towards innovative challenges still available for contemporary
artists across the globe. Future efforts may need to produce work that investigates location with far greater analysis and local knowledge than Surface attempts. Slater and Davies’ work struggle to match the understanding of Hill’s contributions that steal the show almost entirely.

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