F.M. 10 ‘Continua’

Enter a brightly lit exhibition room filled with hipsters and moving objects: the second annual East Midlands graduate show in Surface Gallery does not lack ambition. Whereas last year the curatorial team simply selected some of the works of graduate students, this time around they invited thirty of them to send in their plans for new projects. From all the replies, they selected six artists, working with them to develop their plans right up to the moment when they installed their completed features in the newly renovated gallery.

So, now we have the six best young artists in the region, and pieces with names such as ‘Long Stick Series 1’ and ‘Horny Double Oh?’ But are they as exciting as promised? The ‘Mortar Column’ looks most like, well, a mortar column. Although ‘Long Stick Series 1’ has a smart concept, it failed to keep my attention beyond a few glances. When I later asked some of the artists why they thought they had been chosen, they took quite some time before answering.

It is easy to be witty about conceptual art, which always has more layers than it first gives away. Calvin Sangster’s ‘Podium’ looks like your average sports podium, but the artist had much more in mind: masculinity in the smell of muscle rub, institutionalism in the colours, chauvinism in the whole picture. Victoria Smith’s ‘A Girl Stands on the Shore’ looks like a simple cardboard construction, but once you find out that it is a video installation it really draws you in. Kyla Hands’ simple-looking layered white paintings in fact took up to three months to make, since every layer of pulled-back paint has to dry for more than a week. Most intriguing, in my opinion, was ‘Before the World Turned Rotten and Sour’: a construction including a model railway, a gun, and a video of an Asian girl crushing a miniature city with her high heels.

However, without some direction the exhibition remains just that: intriguing, but too random to keep the viewer’s attention.

Terra Incognita

Above ‘e.m 10 ‘ Continua’, in Surface’s newly renovated Project Space, is an exhibition that is definitely easier on the eye. The gallery invited international artist Emma Dexter and textile artist Kashif Nadim Chaudry to install work that would respond to the new room.

Kashif Chaudry uses the space of the room lavishly, using half of the floor and a wall for his sculptural installation ‘Harem’. “Desire has never been so tangible,” was the promise in the press release, which was realised by the artist’s arrangement of beautifully coloured fabrics over reclining bodies, covering a lot but leaving nothing to imagination.

The other pieces in the room are by Emma Dexter, who started working on most of them in the jungle of Mexico. She was living in surreal sculpture garden Las Pozas and allowed herself be inspired by the current affairs of Mexico and the local symbolism. The artist uses different forms of art, from photography in ‘Tempus’ to an installation with a floating chair in the ‘Four-chambered Heart’. Again, a lot of the background inspiration might get lost in translation. The gentlemen’s closet turned into a wall piece is lovely, but I had missed the fact that alluded to the centennial celebration of the Mexican revolution and the war on drugs now. And even though I found myself circling the floating chair construction for a long time, there was no way of knowing that to the artist it symbolised floating in your own equilibrium. Nonetheless, all the pieces are beautifully made, with warm colours and a lot of attention to detail.

I was left questioning whether contemporary conceptual art is as interesting for the uninitiated visitor when the artist is not available for explanations. ‘Terra Incognita’ will pass the test. But as for the young graduates’ work – perhaps not all of it.

D.J. Pardijs

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