The latest set of installations in the Gallery brings together the work of four artists: Catherine Bertola, Cath Campbell, Jo Coupe, and Jennifer Douglas. Near the gallery entrance, walls are lined with Douglas’ large canvases of distressed canvases coated with hues of grey floor paint upon which varying marks have been made. In the alcove opposite, Coupe’s sound installation fills the upper gallery space with the sound of the artist’s voice, humming in imitation of the different buzzing of 50hz and 60hz electricity transformers. The hums sound a chorus that fades in and out, becoming, at times, indistinguishable from the background noise of the fans of the workshops. Coupe’s large photographs, that capture the visible effects of electromagnets on a camera, lead us into the main part of the gallery, where Campbell and Bertola share the space.
Campbell has filled the main floor area with a tar-paper shack, inspired by a found photograph of John Steinbeck, taken during his time spent in a migrant camp conducting research for The Grapes of Wrath. The shack houses another sound installation, that plays a dislocated soundtrack for the silent film to be screened in the neighbouring room. The sound is a migrant voice, singing a song that incorporates subtitles from the film, as it narrates a journey that follows the route of dustbowl migrants. Separating the two parts of Campbell’s project, Bertola has painted directly onto the gallery walls, using ash, an image of the interior of a stately home that was lost to fire. Her other works on display are smaller, framed photographs of other grand interiors, also destroyed by flames.
These artists have worked independently in the development of their contributions to the shared exhibition, and did not directly collaborate. Campbell describes making no attempt to force the separate works to “fit together”, and yet, serendipitously, “it comes together”. As the works were installed in the gallery space, connections became apparent, and key themes emerged to unite the separate projects.
The most apparent shared theme is the built environment. All of the artists have, in their own way, engaged with habitation and architecture. Interior surfaces (predominantly floors and walls) are a focus for all four artists, with each artist exploring their chosen surface in a different way. Some works, like those of Coupe and Bertola, consider the recording and depiction of interior surfaces, while others, like those of Douglas and Campbell, refer to the occupation and use of those spaces.
Bertola and Campbell present two very different domestic spaces. Campbell’s modest shack references a drive to carve out habitable space in a hostile environment, far from the comfortable and profusely ornamented stately homes that are pictured in Bertola’s interiors. The side-by-side location of these two artists’ work emphasizes the extreme contrasts between two ways of life, in the pioneering United States and the well-established UK.
Both Bertola and Coupe employ forms of self-reference in their treatment of walls. Drawing from a photograph of a lost interior, Bertola has stenciled the wall with a greyscale imitation of wallpaper, running down to a flat depiction of a dado rail. The gallery floor is extended, as trompe l’oeil, into an image of the floor from Bertola’s source photograph. The painted dado rail and floor converge, evidencing that Bertola’s subject is not an interior itself, but rather, that interior as it was captured at a particular moment, through a particular lens.
Coupe’s photographs, printed on aluminium, depict the white walls of another gallery, photographed at a time when the artist’s camera was affected by the switchable magnets that she was using for another project. The photographed wall texture is visible through the rainbow of colour that is a side-effect of magnetic interference, revealing the similarity between this photographed surface and the white wall on which the print is currently hanging. Framed by the white wall of its current location, the image invites us to consider the contrast between the gallery wall and an identical surface, filtered through the lens of a malfunctioning camera. Thus, the eye and the camera are revealed as two different ways of viewing a surface, each capable of producing a different image of the same subject.
Coupe’s sound installation also engages with the built environment, albeit less directly. Although the sound is itself abstract, Coupe has approached the project as a sculptor, aware of the relationship between sound and space. The humming that emits from her speakers echoes around the surrounding walls, drawing an audible picture of the space. When installing the sound, Coupe was conscious of the competing sounds that exist within the Gallery, from the whir of the workshop fans to the hum of the cafe fridge at the other end of the room. With so many similar sounds, Coupe’s layered recordings become part of the architecture of the building.
Douglas’s attention is focused on another part of the interior: the floor. Her canvases are coated with floor paint, then scratched and marked in imitation of the marks left by people as they move regularly through an interior space. Like Coupe, Douglas also approaches her work as a sculptor. Her practice begins with explorations of materials in relation to form and space. She sees her canvases not as paintings but as “sculptures on a surface”.
These varied approaches to built spaces, including domestic and gallery spaces, unite these artists in unforseen ways. Attention to inhabited space is just one of many ways in which the various works converge and connect, and over a series of blog posts I will be exploring these convergences in more detail, prompted by conversations and responses from invited guests.