Sunday, September 19, 2010

Burnt Offerings

The word ‘black’ is a referential void, sucking in all kinds of ideas, images, stances and politics. The show dives into this semantic fluidity and looks at the idea of blackness in all its shades: sensory, aesthetic and cultural. Each artist was asked to select or make a piece of work in response to the word ‘black’ – a simple, open framework devised to encourage artistic digression.

Kieran Brown has been collecting wooden ornaments and knick-knacks from charity shops and car-boot sales over the last two years. You know the sort of thing... African heads with dangling metal earrings and those elongated masks (Easter Island approximations), statuettes with metal necklaces or spears, miniature pagoda's, carved giraffes. Remnants of travel and sunny climes to be found cluttering many a charity shop or junk shop shelf, nestled among the coloured glass and bad pottery.

As part of his ongoing, ever evolving project No air, no care, Carbon archives Kieran buries these discarded exoticisms in steel drums filled with sand, firing them in a kiln at searing heat. The sand prevents the objects from destruction and they emerge from their incinerations intact, but newly fragile, as charcoal objects. Some even retain their metal components like favourite trinkets carried through to the after-life. The blackened souvenirs are then clustered over sturdy plywood crates, the sort reserved for sculpture and object d'art travelling between museums, the lids and boxes arranged haphazardly as though briefly unpacked for inspection at an airport.

I have often noticed these dusty unloved things in charity shops, objects of the far-flung, both geographically and in time. Many have a curious sadness to them, having sat on the proud mantel of a suburban sitting room only to end their days thrown into a bin-liner during the eager house clearance of a dead relative. But the burning somehow deletes these sentimentalities and the objects are cast anew in the flames, like some sort of ancient fire ceremony. They are reborn to a new life, no longer on dusty musty old Earth. The packing crates assist in this removal of the personal, the earthbound, and our mementoes are released back into the far-flung, whatever and wherever that happens to be. As such this piece can truly travel. It may be sited anywhere, or nowhere, in constant permutation.

It is too obvious to describe this piece as simply being about foreignness, or the other, as the press release tells us (and in any event the clogs, presumably from Holland, are not distant enough). Some of the objects Kieran chooses complicate matters, and quite right too.

The process of death and rebirth is at the heart of this work, and the bestowal of new sculptural life. As the piece develops I hope it becomes bigger and sprawling, gradually taking over the gallery spaces it inhabits, like a charcoal army spilling from the crates, perhaps strewn with packing chips and polythene. This piece, already two years in, feels like the beginning of a much longer project.

But the overall show is overcrowded and difficult to negotiate; Kieran's work swims vigorously, while the rest unfairly sinks, but this is no fault of the artists. There is not enough space put between these works. Paul Chiappe's deserves a quiet communion impossible here, and Michael Lisle-Taylor's sculpture is done a similar disservice.

BLACK - A Referential Void*
Until 3rd October 2010
Madder 139
1 Vyner St., E2 9DG

T +44 (0)20 8980 9154

*I notice from a google search that the original title of the show was Young Gifted and Black. Thank God they changed it.