Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Motor: Bettina Buck Invites Marie Lund to the Spacex Gallery

For Motor, the new exhibition at the Spacex Gallery, the artists Bettina Buck has invited Marie Lund to show a selection of her sculptural pieces alongside some of her own recent work. The idea is to underline connections and highlight correspondences between their concerns and approaches. Buck choice of artistic partner is well-made, since these affinities are immediately apparent.

Lund’s five pieces in her Flat Bed series hang on the wall in the conventional manner of pictures at an exhibition, flat and neatly rectilinear at eye level against the wall. Closer inspection reveals them to be smoothed-off slabs of poured concrete into which lengths of cloth of various textures and colours have been embedded, set into place by the hardening mixture. Some of the cloth is velvet, some cotton, some silk pashminas with trailing tassles fixed like fossilised plant forms in shale from an ancient sea bed. The soft, pliant folds of the cloth contrast with the cold, polished and unyielding surface of the embedding concrete. You really want to run your hand over these surfaces to feel the contrast. But I suspect such a tactile response to the art, understandable though it might be, would be frowned upon. The folds might be smoothed out or realigned, the geological contours of these vertical relief maps fundamentally altered. The concrete and cloth frameworks are lent further textural contrast by the whitewashed brick wall against which they are set at sparing and carefully spaced intervals. Weight is another element of these sculptural ‘paintings’. The concrete ‘canvas’ hangs with a heavy, blocklike solidity; the cloth, with its rippling folds and wavering fronds caught in suspension, is light and airy, caught in mid-motion and suspended within the massive gravity of the concrete frame.

Buck responds to these wall-hung works with two installations whose mass roots them to the ground. Pressed Foam (2012) rests a triangular cheese-sedge chunk of rock on a thin layer of foam, which in turn is rolled out onto the slatted surface of a flimsy wooden pallet. Again, the gallery backdrop against which these elements are laid provides a further element of material contrast; in this case, the battered and worn poured concrete floor, with its scraped and scuffed black surfacing. These are like sedimentary layers, consisting of materials of widely differing mass, solidity, texture and tone. The rock, if dropped, would have smashed the pallet to pieces. The cumulative effect of its mass over time might yet splinter its planks. The foam, on the other hand, bears its weight and imprint, but remains essentially intact. The incongruity of seeing such an unwieldy boulder, whose roughly even cut bears the hallmark of human rather than geological shaping, gives it an extra charge. There’s something almost tender about the way the mineral block is laid on a soft bed of foam. It’s almost as if this age-old formation, the product of geological time, is being given the care due to worn and weary bones.

Untitled Marble Block (2013) is placed against the wall in the passageway between the two main galleries, making use of unofficial space. It exhibits a similar fascination for contrasting materials of widely divergent masses and textures. A roughly cut chunk of marble rests on the wheeled hardboard platform of a small trolley, another object from the shop backroom of factory floor used for the movement and storage of heavy or bulky materials. As with the wooden pallet, this utilitarian plinth gives the impression that the rock it carries and displays has been conveyed into the gallery directly from a its more natural environment - a quarry or mason’s yard. There’s also a sense that the pallet and trolley are mediating objects, connecting materials extracted from the natural environment with those of human manufacture. The mass of the marble block on its trolley presses down on a strip of felt carpet underlay, folded up into a right-angled incline against the bricks of the wall, soft layered against hard. We can sense the impression the wheels are making over time, and imagine the indentations they will leave. They would be reminiscent of those indelibly created by a sofa or bed, left behind as markers of former habitation, the imprints of substantial bodies now departed.

In the dark cave of the upper gallery, Bettina Buck’s short film Interlude shows on a seamless loop. A figure (the artist?) is filmed carrying a block of foam, large enough for her to disappear behind, along the slopes of the South Downs and the Sussex cliffs. It’s as if she’s a giant (the Wilmington chalk figure come to life?) lugging a menhir to the appointed megalithic site. There is a visibly and audibly blustering wind blowing across the sea-cliffs. This makes us aware that, in spite of its awkward bulk, this block would be light enough to be blown into the rough seas below were it not strapped to its bearer’s back. There’s a strong element of the absurd to this scenario of an onerous task rigorously carried out to no apparent end or purpose. It’s reminiscent of short films like The Goons’ The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film, made with Richard Lester, Roman Polanski’s Two Men and a Wardrobe or even Laurel and Hardy’s classic The Music Box. The laboriously pointless task the figure assiduously performs has the odd compensatory moment. The block provides a comfortable bed for the occasional lie down, and makes for an instant bench upon which to sit and enjoy the fine views. The looping of the film, which has no evident starting point, means that no conclusion will ever be reached, no goal attained. Unless the foam monument finds its way to a gallery, where it might end up balanced softly on top of a small granitic slab, a hard and unyielding bed to mould itself around.

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