Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Florence Trust Summer Exhibition 2012


I am wedded and honeymooned; returned from honeymoon and back in London, a city which I am more and more convinced is one of the best there is for living in. It's sometimes difficult to get a handle on just how great London actually is when you're living in it, when you're too close to it. It's like trying to make out the scale of the Shard from standing right underneath it. All you can see of the city is what's right in front of you at that particular instant: tourists stopping to crane their necks at every unusual cornice; perfectly manicured, semi-suburban neighbourhoods in Highbury; the utter lack of an El Salvadorian restaurant.

A common refrain has started to develop among a lot of my friends, which is something along the lines of how much they want to move out of the city and set up a commune-type thing anywhere that isn't London. When I've just come back from Berlin or had a rubbish day or am just in a certain kind of mood, I think that this sounds like an inspired sort of idea. They get broadband in the country, right? I could have horses again and space and peace and quiet and lots of other nice things. But after honeymooning in Bali, which is a little like living in the countryside for two weeks, I honestly just don't think I could hack it. A man who ran one of the resorts we stayed in said he moved to Bali when he realised that he only liked the thought of having city amenities at his fingertips, not the reality, for the reality was that he never took advantage of London living. In spite of all of the things about living in London that really irk me, I'm just not ready to go anywhere. I'm happy to be here, for here is where things are happening my friend. Unless, that is, you are a connoisseur of self-help workshops and rice-based cuisine, and if that's the case I suggest you hurry yourself to Bali.

To make up for my two weeks in the desert that is a honeymoon, I went on a massive art binge Thursday last, stopping by a good eight galleries (before capping off the day with some comedy on a roof at Dalston Roof Gardens, courtesy of Spoonfed). Of the lot (Limoncello, Florence Trust, Victoria Miro, Parasol Unit, WW Gallery, Fold, 50 Redchurch St and Studio 1.1), the Florence Trust was by some distance the most interesting show. Not least because the space is amazing (St Saviour's church in Highbury), but also because it was by far the most diverse group of artists and so provided much in the way of mental and aesthetic stimulation.

During the course of the year, the church is sliced up into ten studio spaces for a year-long residency programme which is capped off with an open exhibition. I don't think I'd really heard of the Florence Trust before I knew Ben Woodeson (who is an FT resident this year, and recently strung up an electric fence in the hallway for my most recent show at Flat C - Pink Does Not Exist), whose work primarily triggered my visit to the show. It was interesting to see more ambitious versions of Ben's work previously exhibited elsewhere this year, namely Health & Safety Violation #41 -- some 4,000 matches and a random timer spelling out the phrase "keep in a dry place and away from children". At the discretion of the random timer, the work literally bursts into flames, leaving an almighty burn mark on the wall after the main event. There was also a much larger version of the marble-filled, exploding-balloon sculpture which hung from my bathroom ceiling in the Flat C show. Given that the version in my bathroom hung rather terrifyingly above one's head there was something a little bit neutered about seeing the balloons tacked to a board at eye level, but, with each of them in a various state of destruction and marbles scattered all over the floor of the church, it was still a satisfying piece of work.

Wandering around trying to find Ben's work, at the west end of the church I walked head first into Corinne Felgate's absolutely massive sculpture, Bigger Than the Both of Us -- an overwhelming number of geometric patterns painted on board swathed in an unholy amount of glitter. Scratching my head, wondering what in the hell was this all about, I looked down to read the plan of works in my hand. When I saw that the subtitle of the work was "Piet Mondrian's complete oeuvre of geometric compositions replicated in glitter" I couldn't help but laugh aloud. I have to say that while the work itself does little for me, I do like a good chuckle. It doesn't happen often enough in art exhibitions.

Nicholas Johnson's acrylic paintings on paper were like looking at crystals under a microscope, but were unfortunately (or maybe not!) more captivating when reproduced in the catalogue than in real life; reading about her works in the catalogue, I felt I could fall in love with the works of Hanae Utamura, but I was disappointed by the confused installation -- an HD video loop of someone running up and down a garret tower in front of a floor strewn with plaster. The catalogue described an artist who attempted to cast the waves of the ocean by pouring wet plaster into the sea. I couldn't see the link between the artist who made such clever, elegiac works with the uninspired video in front of me.

The work of JL Murtaugh was an unexpected treat. A self-described agent provocateur is an artist I nearly always expect to be dreadful, but perhaps it helped that I saw the work before I read the blurb. Though if I'm honest, I'm still not entirely sure what the works actually were. Entitled Psalm for the Solvent Estates (after Booth and Charlemagne), described as a colour-coded economic classification and reconfigured hymn applied to Aberdeen Park and Europe, there were apparently twenty-two parts to the classification/hymn of which five were painted onto various walls around the space. Like a partially-eaten pie chart painted at various points around the room, each was accompanied by a verse from the "reconfigured hymn", e.g. Some almighty power sevenfold rich in energy shal sanctify our song. Looking at the works, I felt like I'd stumbled upon an artist who is just treading the line between potential genius and utter chancer.

I'd tell you to go and see it, but it closed last Sunday.


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