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Exhibition Review: ESW-213 Pine at TG Gallery

8 January 22 words: Aron Fowler

Pine furniture boards are set against bare white walls in TG Gallery, as Lawrence Leaman’s latest solo exhibition explores the intersection of textile, contemporary art, and the humble wooden shelf…

Installation photograph of ESW-213 Pine. Image courtesy TG Gallery.

In Lawrence Leaman’s latest exhibition at TG Gallery, pine shelves are relieved of their trinkets and family photos. They are put to a more burdensome task as works of contemporary art. They must stimulate a unique experience for the public to reflect upon. If only the public a) knew about this place, and b) had an appointment. 

My appointment is at 15.00 PM. I scream down Ilkeston Road to arrive on time and cannon my finger through the intercom system. The buzzer is discreet about the fact I hurtled here, and the gallery’s director, Tom Godfrey, ushers me inside.

“Have you been here before?”

I haven’t.

The gallery itself is folded and tucked into a pocket of Primary, a repurposed primary school. It opened in 2014 and continues to commission new shows in Nottingham. There is a certain poetry to an almost black brick Victorian institution twisted right round to encourage things forward and make contemporary art even more contemporary.

My usher escorts me to the gallery door, and I am left alone to be surrounded by perpendicular pine. There are six shelving units, fixed to the walls of two tight rooms and a corridor. Each piece is born of the same maker and made of the same material: cheap furniture board. 

The timber is of do-it-yourself decorum – deliberately left raw. All proportions were cut quickly, I am told. Nevertheless, it is a pilgrimage for spirit levels. A site of effortless equilibrium, where surfaces are clean, joints flush, and edges smooth. 

“The works of furniture are called forward for particular inspection. I trace curves and hit square angles, register colour and grain along the way.”

Ordinarily, shelving is something we use more than we contemplate. Unnoticed forms as we go about our daily domestic business. There is an aesthetic of tidiness as we tuck away tools or books. There is familiarity when they hold photographs of loved ones. But we don’t pay special attention to the appearance of fixtures and fittings as stand-alone objects in their own right.

Here, however, in a space of fine art, the modus operandi is to stand and look. The works of furniture are called forward for particular inspection. I trace curves and hit square angles, register colour and grain along the way.

Installation photograph of ESW-213 Pine. Image courtesy TG Gallery.

London-based artist, Ghislaine Leung, has written a text to accompany Leaman’s work, the A-4 sheets printed and piled in one corner of the gallery. Industrial Finance Design charts the history of illustrious textile design company, Laura Ashley. I begin to think of the brand’s soft furnishings enclaved among Homebase hardware. But, when I regain concentration, I realise there is more to its history and a point to this text. 

Laura Ashley stayed at home, cooked and cleaned, whilst her husband worked in business. In spare moments, they used available resources to print and quilt from their Pimlico flat, Central London. Then, precarious finances forced a relocation to South Wales – Carno, specifically – where they came to occupy “first an abandoned social club and then a disused railway station.”

When the business began to balloon and international capital sunk its claws in, materials and manufacture changed with it. Labels that once proudly projected forward, “MADE IN WALES,” came to be replaced by ‘Made in China’. 

Installation photograph of ESW-213 Pine. Image courtesy TG Gallery.

A challenging final paragraph highlights the tendency to take from materials and people left over and left behind, where costs are low and profits are high. Leung cites the use of “waste materials, for example in quilting or furniture board […] Unremunerated labour, for example domestic and care work [… and] cheap labour from economically poorer places.”    

If the document tells me anything, it is that the material and labour of Leaman’s craft will be significant choices. They will reflect something; I’d better look carefully. 

“The pieces are untitled, and neither is there any introduction to the show. This is true to the form of Leaman, who seeks to blur the line between intention and interpretation.”

ESW-213 Pine is an intentionally non-descriptive title, alluding simply to the grade of timber. The pieces are untitled, and neither is there any introduction to the show. This is true to the form of Leaman, who seeks to blur the line between intention and interpretation.   

Instead of blurring the line, he often annihilates it entirely. The result is a certain sense of senselessness. But perhaps Leaman has the hutzpah to pull it off. He once claimed that artworks can be “forward projections, which nudge ahead of the state of play […and] deliberately move ahead of certain understandings.”     

Installation photograph of ESW-213 Pine. Image courtesy TG Gallery.

Accordingly, his work might give the feel of a shapeless idea still taking shape. It hints at something unable to be stated clearly. He could be right – I certainly can’t put my finger on it. 

I learn the works on display have never been in the same place at the same time. They have toured individually, but only now has Leaman convened a meeting of them all. It’s like an episode of Long Lost Families, only without Nicky Campbell to pass me a tissue. Together, these sculptures form a concentration of pine constructions. They expose variations of a theme and, ultimately, collectively claim their right to an audience. 

Lawrence Leaman: ESW-213 Pine is currently on view at TG Gallery until January 15th.

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