This exhibition comes as the second part of the Grand Tour; an exploration of the creativity the East Midlands has to offer. In particular, unearthing Joseph Wright of Derby’s lost art, putting us on the map as a region of talent.
Starling recognizes Joseph Wright’s work The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus (1771 – 1795) by producing a daguerreotype – the etching of an image onto a reflective surface. This interpretation hangs on the opposite wall to the historic painting, highlighting the subtle link between the two artists. Joseph Wright focuses on depicting alchemy and the extraction of new materials, whilst Starling investigates the creation of new materials and where they originate. Above all, the fact that two local, successful artists of their time are being showcased in one room is super exciting.
Overall, the exhibition is a mix of themes, mainly conceptualizing industry and finding hidden meaning behind machines, their movements and what they produce. Simon Starling manifests these ideas through travelling and exploring Europe – somewhat paralleling Joseph Wright’s artistic career. A particularly striking piece is Red, Green, Blue, Loom Music (2015-16) a never-before-seen piece which began in Turin, Italy and a loom factory – a link to Nottingham and our lace market heritage.
The effect of the piece begins immediately when you step into the room, a solitary piano playing the sounds of Turin, a piece of music he found on his travels, even the lighting has an effect on how you feel. On the walls you can see in detail the work of a loom machine and how Starling has manipulated the machine to create his ideas – reminding us of the human relationship with machines.
In the next room you can hear the intrusive sounds of a loom factory being played from footage, which Starling has created from a lens of three colours: red, green and blue. This video clip really emphasizes what the factory would have been like and shows exactly where his inspiration came from. His work is interactive and fun, using history, colour and music to create one big metaphor, but perhaps most importantly, for someone who finds art difficult to get their head round, there is a clear train of thought in his work, which is extremely refreshing.
The exhibition also presents one of his 1997 celebrated works, Blue Boat Black (1997). This is a piece with a very clear and purposeful process - a Victorian museum cabinet, fashioned into a fishing boat, and then burnt into charcoal in order to cook the fish he caught. Not only does this allude to the Victorians and their creation of an industrial powerhouse, but also to the construction and destruction of life, the remains of the boat have done a full circle having once stood in a museum as a cabinet it comes back as a symbol of the forgotten journeys that the objects and materials make.
Part of the reason why Starling’s work is so interesting is that he touches on global taboos, which places his work on an international platform. For example Project for a Crossing is a boat made out of magnesium extracted from the Dead Sea, which now sits in the Contemporary. Starling plans to return his magnesium boat to cross the controversial waters – controversial because they lie between Israel, the Israeli occupied West Bank and Jordan. “I suppose one of the main themes in my work is altering the production of everyday objects and tracing things right back to their source,” he says, referring to this cyclical aspect.
When you first enter the exhibition, straight away you are struck with the theme of industry, size and power through the Nanjing Particles. These are huge reflective blobs (as such), made out of distorted stainless steal sculptures. These concern the high tech dominance of China today and really make an impression from the minute you walk in.
The whole vibe of the exhibition is like a puzzle, each piece of work you have to take a long look at and figure out the meaning, an exercise that is quite satisfying in the end. A particularly puzzling aspect is Starling’s fascination with photography shown through his piece, La Source (demi-teinte) 2009. When you walk into the room you see an array of balls placed meticulously all over the floor, through further investigation one realizes there is a real purpose to the piece.
Starling has enlarged an image a million times, exploding the ‘dots’ that make up the image. The intention is so abstract that you have to climb up onto a raised platform to even attempt to see the image properly, meaning that the impression you get from the piece when standing on the ground versus when standing on an elevated platform is like looking at two completely different pieces. Something you definitely have to go and experience for yourself.
The exhibition is running for a couple more days and I would definitely urge anyone up for a deep think to go and take a look, or even if you’re just interested in the type of art Nottingham folk have produced.
Simon Starling, Nottingham Contemporary, Saturday 19 March - Sunday 26 June 2016
Nottingham Contemporary website