Fresh news from the past

By | Art & Design
Cathy Lomax, Tresco, 2014

In the occasion of the Hammersmith and Fulham Arts Festival (8-15 of June 2014) opens the doors at the Kelmscott House in Hammersmith the show curated by Transition Gallery titled News from Nowhere (9th of June – 2nd of August). In partnership with the William Morris Society and located in its headquarter – ex-residency of the famous 19th Century British artist William Morris – the exhibition draws a line between the legacy of modern English art, promoted in early modern times by Morris, and the contemporary art production of artists mainly based in London.

News from Nowhere is a group exhibition that includes works from 12 different artists featuring:  Benjamin Bridges, Matthew Cowan, Annabel Dover, Debbie Lawson, Cathy Lomax (Transition Gallery director), Laura Oldfield Ford, Alex Pearl, Alli Sharma (Transition Gallery director), Mimei Thompson, Mark Titchner, Joel Tomlin and William Morris. Within the backdrop of the Kelmscott House and along the line of Morris’ political activism against mass production – as well as other aesthetic themes behind the artist’s vision – the exhibition puts together very different works which in one way or another can recollect and revive Morris’ school of thought.

Among the artists oriented towards political activism we find Mark Titchner and Laura Oldfield Ford. The first one mainly works with text installation and video, lingering between street art and installation for gallery space. Using the technique of the ads with slogan and street posters, the artist communicates effectively his explicit messages. Laura Oldfield Ford instead, working mainly with black and white drawings and paintings, and inspired by English Brutalist architecture, relates to the picturesque English tradition to narrate her personal dérive within urban spaces once unrestrained and now objects of corporate planning strategies and gentrification processes.

Debbie Lawson, Fox and Ivy, 2013, photo Angus Leadley Brown

Debbie Lawson, Fox and Ivy, 2013, photo Angus Leadley Brown

Other artists present in the show are more oriented towards different kinds of research; often on a more intimate and personal level either using everyday objects or referring to the domestic interior and popular culture. Cathy Lomax, Annabel Dover, Joel Tomlin and Debbie Lawson are among the ones that belong more to this category. Cathy Lomax works mainly with paintings with predominantly female figures as subject matter, often referencing popular culture icons and film language. Annabel Dover works with several different media including video, photography and cyanotype exploring the hidden stories behind everyday objects. Joel Tomlin’s sculptures instead, are often employing everyday objects to recreate still-life looking compositions such as fruit standing on wooden boards; this production reveals the legacy of informal art, and the sculptures – almost quoting Rachel Whiteread’s work – are painted in shades of white, de-saturated of their colourful qualities to look like casts.

Debbie Lawson is certainly one of the more challenging participants of this exhibition. She is well-known for her famous rug sculptures which take the shape of different animals, functioning as a mould. The artist works with everyday objects animating them; especially playing with pieces of furniture, she turns them into surrealist objects of some sort and sometimes even living beings. Certainly, in the context of this particular exhibition, the use of the Persian rugs and the artist’s love for furniture reflect a link with the famous product design collection and wallpapers created by William Morris and his followers.

Matthew Cowan, Cosmic Weight, performance, 2013

Matthew Cowan, Cosmic Weight, performance, 2013

Two other artists stand out from the group for their attitude and choice of subject matter; Benjamin Bridges and Matthew Cowan. The first one, who produces mainly paintings, works with both figurative and abstract subjects with a strong inclination towards sci-fi imagery.  Cowan instead is the real outsider; working with techniques of appropriation, re-enactment and performances his art often refers to folklore, anthropology and material culture.

News from Nowhere is certainly a challenging and unusual event, especially considering the location loaded of historical significance where it takes place. Highly promising.

How can the combination of the artists’ work and the space of Kelmscott House originate a new discourse both around modern tradition and contemporary practice? 

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