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Waterfront Festival

Exhibition Review: Without the Sun at Surface

26 January 22 words: Kelly Palfrey

An eight-week long residency for three local artists ends with a thought-provoking group exhibition at Surface…

“Three artists borrow the sun; you won’t even know it’s gone” is the claim made by Surface’s latest offering, Without the Sun: An Exhibition by Ryan Boultbee, Holly James and Miklós Ladányi-Tóth. This collaborative exhibition is the culmination of the eight-week Platform residency program, which gave the three emerging local artists the chance to develop their practice in Surface’s Project Space.

The title feels fitting for an exhibition created, curated and opened during the winter months. However, this title is not just a clever play on words for a winter exhibition, the ideas underpinning it are woven through each and every artwork on display. The artists had been in residence at Surface for eight-weeks over the darkest period of the year; these short daylight hours meant that for the majority of the residency the space in which they worked, and which now houses the exhibition, was indeed without the sun.

Ryan Boultbee, Moment's end. Image courtesy the artist.

When you enter the exhibition, it is immediately clear that the glass roof at the centre of the Project Space had played a central role in not only the curation of the show, but also in the creation of the artists’ work. Each work is hung or assembled in a way that considers its relationship with this large source of daylight, and none more so than Ryan Boultbee’s Moment’s end. This piece consists of a large reflective sheet positioned on the ground directly below the glass roof. I have to admit, when I first saw this work during the opening night, I found it the most challenging; the work and its meaning didn’t immediately reveal itself to me and I struggled to make sense of why this large reflective sheet was in the centre of the exhibition floor. Nevertheless, I continued to ask questions of the work and as I did so, I realised that this piece itself was mirroring the light, or rather lack of it, from the glass roof above. I realised that Boultbee, whose work frequently challenges our relationship with the built environment, was directing me to seek out and consider the beauty of the light itself, whether artificial or natural. 

The real beauty and efficacy of this exhibition is the dialogue created between all three artist’s works by the changing levels of light.

I left the opening night feeling as though I hadn’t quite seen all that Moment’s end had to offer and so I re-visited some days later during the daylight, and I’m glad I did. Whilst the reflections of the gallery lights on the opening night felt harsh and cold, it is no exaggeration when I say that, during my daytime visit, the sunlight danced across the work. The sun’s rays flickered, shimmered and glistened across the slight grooves in the large reflective sheet, like sunlight across a lake. I was struck by how different my experience of this work had been during the daylight versus the darkness; it made me think more about the exhibition as a whole and how everyone’s experiences will differ depending on the time of day or even the weather during their visit. Boultbee described his work as symbolic of the process of a residency; he claims that it is at its most beautiful and inspiring during the early hours of sunrise, a time when the gallery is closed to visitors. 

The beauty of the natural environment is explored in Holly James’ Palette. This chart of colours tracks the journey from dark to light and back again, depending on whichever way you read the work. I found myself considering all of the occasions within our environment that these transitions occur; sunrise, sunset, the changing of seasons or perhaps the changing of weather. There is no explanation from James as to which of these environmental transitions, or indeed if any, inspired the work but for me this doesn’t matter; much like Moment’s end, I found different answers in the work depending on the questions I asked of it. 

It was the flame-like glow of the flickering orange lights, and the strange sounds emanating from behind the curtain, that invited me to the back of the gallery to find out more.

Behind a curtain at the back of the gallery is Fragile, an installation by artist Miklós Ladányi-Tóth. The work features two large wooden crates each cut with intricate patterns and housing flickering orange lights, with sound by János Macska. It was the flame-like glow of the flickering orange lights, and the strange sounds emanating from behind the curtain, that invited me to the back of the gallery to find out more. As I stepped behind the curtain, I wasn’t prepared for intensity of Ladányi-Tóth’s work. The orange glow filled the room and the shadows cast by the patterns on each of the crates gave a very real sense that the room was ablaze. Whilst the pseudo-flames licked the walls, the room was filled with what seemed to be a combination of wildlife and construction noises. I felt as though I was witnessing the destruction of our natural environment in the hunt for resources first-hand when I peered closer into each crate. For me, this work is a particular highlight of the exhibition; it is visually stunning but it also activates the senses in a way that creates a very real sense of urgency and forces us to consider our relationship with the environment. 

The real beauty and efficacy of this exhibition is the dialogue created between all three artist’s works by the changing levels of light. During the brightness of midday, Boultbee’s Moment’s end takes centre stage and allows us to consider and appreciate the beauty of the built environment. As the natural light begins to dim, the gallery lights illuminate James’ Pallete and we are reminded of the natural environment and the transitions constantly taking place within it. However, when the darkness sets in, Miklós Ladányi-Tóth’s Fragile comes alive in a frenzied way and we’re faced with the environmental consequences of our actions. 

The whole exhibition forces us to reckon with the question, what is our environment without the sun?

Without the Sun: An Exhibition by Ryan Boultbee, Holly James and Miklós Ladányi-Tóth is on view at Surface until January 29.

surfacegallery.org

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