Liverpool Biennial 2010: Kirsty E Smith and Olwen Holland's Blink Unblink at The International Gallery.

Art Not feeling that well and wanting to come straight home after work yesterday afternoon (felt like a man cold but probably tiredness and a touch of hay-fever) I hadn’t planned to stay out for the private view at the International Gallery last night. I’d planned to pop in earlier to say hello, to thank Kirsty E Smith and Olwen Holland for their invite, look at the exhibition and slope home. I had planned that this would happen at about four o’clock and that I would be stepping through my front door for five, slumped in front of the television tutting along with Sue Barker at the lack of organisation in at the Commonwealth Games venues in Dehli by six, followed by the usual disappointed drift towards bedtime.

Four hours later, nearing the end of the private view, I was still there. Kirsty and Olwen were so friendly, so passionate about their work, that once we began chatting hours disappeared. It’s not often that I’ve had the chance to talk to artists in such detail; usually it’s a case of saying something diplomatic if we’re thrown together at a private view or in the space, but I think I learnt more about the trade in this short time than I ever have, from purpose to logistics. So in a blur of conversation, four turned to six, and the private view I wasn’t going to be at with the influx of their friends and family, then six turned to half eight and time to come home.

Olwen Holland has been an artist for ten years and is interested in spaces, the interiors of buildings, rooms, creating three dimensional experiences from two dimensional representations. She’s influenced by the likes of Vermeer and de Hooch, 17th century interior paintings and the subtle lighting they employed to similar effect. This Liverpool exhibit, Aftermaths, is a series of six photographs of the inside of a house, offering an indication of some kind of domestic crisis: a pile of broken crockery in front of a fire in a living room, soiled magazines in a hallway, sea weed in a bath, vines growing in a stairwell (which are serendipitously mirrored by an actual vine growing in the stairwell).

The usual idea is that we tend to remember the good experiences, the good stuff and not dwell on the bad stuff. But actually in our heart of hearts it’s the bad experiences which probably contribute more to the who we are. Like these photographs we often think of them in an abstract way, especially as time goes on, the aftermath, the, as appears in another shot, chandelier that lies broken on the floor. The photographs are like representations of these bad memories and we’re being drawn into them -- physically in one case. A set of wooden steps in the gallery space reappear in the photograph above leading up to a tattered dress hanging in a window (which also fits in with Olwen’s idea of the third dimension).

By a complete contrast, though not necessarily thematically since all the work is an attempt reconnect with memory, are Kirsty E Smith’s sculptures. Rather like the Tony Cragg pieces, they’re almost impossible to describe accurately. You really have to see them. Tall Legs is an upholstered white box, fitted atop a set of table legs which when you put your hand in offers a very sensual experience due to the mohair lining (she likens it to the orgasmatron from Woody Allen’s Sleeper) and they’re all like that, objects that are both familiar and totally unfamiliar at the same time and we spend half that time trying to work out how they were constructed.

My favourite, is Hyacinth, a kind of foot stool built about a biscuit tin with pink cushioned legs and interior with feathers sprouting from the lid. But what catches the eye is that this is an old biscuit tin with a needlepoint patterns printed on the top and sides which include aphorisms which exemplifies the two elements which seem most important to Kirsty. That they’re constructed with the utmost quality control, no half measures and that the story of their production is almost as important as the object. She attended a cabinet making course just so that she’d know how to construct Rachel, a small wooden cabinet on springs then spent many hours making sure that the brass rail on the curtain that attached to the top fit her exacting dimensions.

Those four paragraphs are a barely adequate synopsis of everything we talked about, though I suspect I did rather a lot droning/interrupting. This was just a thoroughly enjoyable evening, the kind of evening I should have more often involving conversations about the logistics of collecting seaweed, black and white films set in the Outer Hebrides and I’m properly challenged about what I’m doing with my life by near strangers. It’s true; so rarely am I asked what I do, a question which these days doesn’t always mean “where do you work?”, I don’t have or didn’t have a clear answer or at least one that doesn’t require various qualifications or even the odd non sequitur (I don’t, I’m a mess, really). So between munching twiglets and and knocking back grape juice, I probably learnt a lot about myself too.

Blink Unblink continues at The International Gallery until 23rd October and is open Tuesday to Saturday 2pm - 7pm.

1 comment:

  1. Stuart your visit was a,'wee slice of heaven'. Yes please come out to play more often. You left me wanting more of your special droning, interrupting, amusing, self effacing and INTERESTING company!