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Popty Bach 2013

November 4, 2013

In September there was an international workshop held in part of the alphabeds bed and mattress factory on the border with Ceredigion, involving six artists- three from the UK and three from Southern Africa. There was an open day on the 26th of September, and it looked great.

Wondering around the workshop, what was most in evidence was the kind of work you really go to art college to do. All of the artists were operating outside their comfort zones. There were assemblages made out of scrap and plaster, an enormous moss circle, viewing tubes containing little vignettes made out of found objects and cellophane and enormous drawings.

It’s easy to see a lot of this work as basically formalist. For instance, Igsshan Adam’s sculptures made out of thread and spring steel rely principally on the formal qualities of the materials he used to make them. This can get pretty interesting though. They’re not really freestanding sculptures, and partly because of the location they don’t rely on an arty context to work. There’s also a potential for layers of meaning based on the relationship of the work to its context- in the final version of these sculptures, they were actually twisted around a staircase. Igsshan was also responsible for the magnificent moss circle. At first, it looked entirely chaotic, but on closer examination there was a lot of rhythm and composition to it. It also works as a metaphor for the world, given its shape and presentation.

The structure of the workshop, I suppose, lended itself to this kind of formalist improvisation. But some of the work was much more naturalistic and complex. Take Clifford Zulu’s pokerwork pictures. On one level, they’re nicely crafted African artefacts. Some of them don’t fit this though- one of them featured a portrait of the artist gagged with some kind of bondage gear. A lot of the work in his room did talk about the situation of the arts and wider society in Zimbabwe. Works like ‘holy shit’ are political, but surprisingly deft. While the language isn’t subtle, the way the pictures are assembled can be.

Quite a lot of this work is contextualised and site-responsive. Given a good enough setting, this kind of thing can seem a bit like gilding the Lily. I think it avoids that though. Louise Bird’s work, for instance, used a lot of material that was ‘native’ to the location: spring units, plastic wrap, etc. Her work is usually related to scientific concepts, but in this show she chose to explore different metaphors. A lot of it looks like food. Sometimes, her work can look like architecture, or animals, but ultimately it’s also strongly related to process.

Talking to the artists involved in this show was revealing. Iggshan spoke about how he sometimes resents interpretation of his work. He referred to an earlier piece where he created the number 69, using it as a formal pairing. A lot of critics understandably interpreted the content as sexual, something he rejects. Now there is a problem with some of this. That cheeky beast the intentional fallacy is rearing his ugly head again. Ultimately, I suppose, it’s true that an artist can’t control and isn’t responsible for how his work is interpreted. I want to consider something else though. The fact is that criticism and interpretation is a form of art in and of itself, and quite often it can involve appropriating an artist’s work for your own ends. If you then impose interpretations that are basically foreign to the climate that the work was created in, it becomes problematic.

Peter Baker’s viewing tubes were intriguing too. He spoke about drawing attention to the quality of light available in the location. They’re all indoor pieces, but the reasons behind them are more reminiscent of land art than anything else. You could draw parallels to James Turrell. The one artist who really leapt to my mind when I first looked down them was Dan Flavin though. They had the same elegance. I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself, actually, because this is the kind of thing you really do need to turn up to the open day for. It wouldn’t be easy to do this in another location or at another time.

The only niggle I have about this workshop is that it wasn’t long enough. It would have been interesting to see what would happen if there had been enough time for the artists to really communicate and share influences.

There was a lot more to see at this exhibition. There were flowerbeds made out of spring units and pigments by Victoria Malcom. Huge, exquisite drawings by Witty Nyide.

You can find pictures, and the comments of the artists here:

http://www.poptybach2013.blogspot.co.uk/

 

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