Ubiquitous Materials (exhibition)
South Hill Park
Curated by Outi Remmes
Hard Graph Circle: installed shredded documents and coloured shreds,
Unavoidable Contents of Life 2011: Sphere
Sur-Plus Remains: Waste remains from SHP venue publications.
A3: 2D to 3D Sculpture Making Machine
Merger: hand printed B&W photographic prints on aluminium
Spike 2,3,6,8: Four CCTV sequences.
The significance of the ubiquitous in the work by Jeannie Driver and Christopher Lundie
The Ubiquitous Materials exhibition is an investigation into the use of humble paper that has is sometimes considered as a lesser medium than triumphant oil painting, expensive bronze, luxurious marble sculpture, or contemporary forms such as digital media that is supported as one of the Arts Council England’s investment areas in arts funding. The exhibition also explores repetition and obsessive actions by the artist that focus on the minor errors that occur in the process of printmaking or aim to achieve meanings though a disposable material that is shredded to be thrown away. It is an exhibition that brings together two artists, Jeannie Driver and Christopher Lundie.
When first seen in images, Jeannie Driver’s work may be read to be conceptual. It explores a range of concepts that include topical environmental issues about the use of office paper, an everyday life commodity. I learn from Driver that the use of office paper has increased in the age of digital communication. While one now communicates using email, submits forms online and googles information in a digital form, we consume and print out paper extensively. Driver also discusses her research that has highlighted the new “asbestos of tomorrow”: paper dust that is generated with shredding in the office work environment.
On one hand, Driver’s work encourages the viewer to consider these issues. On the other hand, it also introduces a fascinating dialogue between the information that is stored in office paper and the process of shredding that protects one’s identity and confidential information against identity theft and fraud. Driver uses a range of office paper, from hospitals to business papers, and from Freud’s Interpretation of Dream (1900, photocopied chapters for the author’s PhD research) to art brochures. At South Hill Park, the artist shred the centre’s craft and design fair catalogues: the unwanted waste from the art centre is an elemental part of its new exhibition. The references such as occasional letters and images are still visible in the paper shred, but the object has a new meaning(s).
Before visiting Driver’s studio in Portsmouth, the conceptual qualities and the debates and arguments that her works propose give much food-for-thought. Viewing the work displayed in one of the large spaces of the studio, the aesthetic quality of the work came as a surprise. Driver presents her 2011/12 work as individual pieces displayed on walls, directly on the floor and ceiling: some of them can be considered as installations, but there is a specific quality in the work: although the work is three-dimensional, the material of paper is closer to the domain of painting rather than the traditional domain of bronze and marble sculpture. According to Donald Judd, the American Minimalist, his work was neither a sculpture nor a painting: it broke away the traditional distinctions between painting and sculpture: his work consisted of “specific objects”. Not unlike the minimal sculpture, each piece by Driver develops a strong presence; they are unavoidable - in spite of their modest origin as a disposable material and neutral colours. The pieces envelop the space; they work with the space and take ownership of it.
The visual and conceptual signals in Driver’s work suggest almost juxtaposing conversations. The art historian Lucy Lippard once wrote about Eva Hesse’s minimal objects that they stage physical and formal attributes such as hardness/softness; precision/chance; geometry/free form; toughness/vulnerability and natural surface/industrial construction. Driver’s work also combines the opposites: the conceptual/aesthetic; hardness of the processed paper mass that fix together for an installation/softness of the idea of white shredded material; the natural handmade artwork and the mass-produced industrial paper; the geometric form of the artwork in the gallery and the non-orderly form of paper when it comes out from a shredder. This process of juxtaposition allows the viewer to focus on the visual beauty of the work before returning to the conceptual questions that the work proposes about environment, data protection and paper dust health hazards.
Christopher Lundie also explores paper: his work consists of quiet marks on a paper, introducing complexity in simple forms and a nearly controlled technique of etching and linocuts. These marks consist of dots, lines and grids, mostly on white backgrounds. The artwork may look empty at first glance and some of the marks are so small that they become hard to reproduce in publications. The aquatint etching works are displayed in a series of works. This encourages the viewer to move from one print to another that allows the small differences between the prints to be observed. The difference is found in the dimension, position, thickness and the hue of these marks. They are best viewed in a white cube gallery environment that allows contemplation about their meaning or importance.
Lundie’s work reinforces the traditional concept about the artist and the importance of the mark made by the artist: the special skills and talent by the artist’s hand that transforms an ordinary matter to a new domain of significant art. However, in Lundie’s work, the artist does not discard the inconsistencies of the printing press, ink, paper, and matrix: these inconsistencies are celebrated and make the work, allowing small alterations between each edition of the etchings.
Lundie’s work is no less alien to the influences of the twentieth century modernist art history than Driver’s aesthetics of abstract objects in space. Like Driver’s work, the abstraction in Lundie’s work is an invitation to the viewer to decide their interpretation. The work is almost annoying to a viewer who may wish to understand the work at once, be impressed by the large bold shapes and to move fast forward in the exhibition: Lundie’s work requires time and effort to open. The repetition and a serial quality of the work allow Lundie’s marks to develop. For every visit, the patient viewer finds out more: the modest dots develop new characteristics and become important – and, powerfully, they demand more time and ask the viewer to investigate them for interpretation. Similarly to the twentieth century abstraction that moved away from figuration and often preferred titles such as “untitled” or a number, Lundie uses titles such as Holes (Aquatint Etching, 2011). However, the strength of Lundie’s work comes from the minority of its marks, which moves him away from the large oil canvases of American Abstract Expressionist painters. Lundie does not require vast gestures to be successful. The reward is small forms, repetition and errors.
Both Lundie and Driver know the potential and challenge in ubiquitous forms and media. The exhibition is a testimony for the significance of the ubiquitous that allows complex readings, timely investigations by the viewer and new perspectives that surprise both conceptually and visually.
Dr Outi Remes
Outi Remes is the curator of Ubiquitous Materials and worked as the Head of Exhibitions at South Hill Park Arts Centre, Berkshire (2007-11) where Christopher Lundie is the Artist in Residence. Outi is currently the Director of the New Ashgate Gallery, Surrey. She is also the Adjunct Associate Professor in Art History and Visual Culture at Richmond, the American International University London, and lectures at Birkbeck College, the University of London. She was awarded a PhD from the University of Reading (2005). She is a committee member of the Museums and Exhibitions Group, the Association of Art Historians, representing the interests of UK gallery employees and creating a cross-dialogue between academics and curators.