Despite the exhibition’s title, Colour Snap is not all about colour. Works from artists Rhys Coren, Jacob Dahlgren, Anna Mac, Anna Ray, and Liz West have been brought together with the aim of “exploring the ways in which colour shapes our world”. They have in common vibrant and diverse colour palettes that brighten the gallery at this dark time of the year.
Some of the works explicitly engage with colour: Liz West’s Autumn Lights (2016) investigates the relationship between colour and light; in Rhys Coren’s Snap (2016), a sequence of changing colours is driven by snapping fingers; Anna Mac’s Colour Palette Series (2017-2018) make reference to colour theory in their resemblance to plates from Josef Albers’ Interaction of Colour. However, these artists have considered much more than just colour in the works on display in Colour Snap. In conversation with the artists, it emerges that they were motivated by reflections on the extent to which they are responsible for their own works.
In Anna Ray’s Tassel (2018), coloured silk tassels are suspended from a fringe of hairlike wires. Ray was inspired to work with tassels on learning that she is descended from Huguenot silk weavers and trimmings manufacturers. For this piece she has selected a cream, yellow, ochre, and pink hues, for forms that “have a sublime, mysterious, slightly shifting quality” when displayed in natural light. In the gallery, where artificial and natural light compete to illuminate the installation, layers of shadow multiply the silhouette of each tassel and give the piece additional depth.
The work began as a test piece, as Ray paid homage to her ancestors by stringing silk tassels on the wall of her studio. In that small studio space, the wires from which her tassels are hung were coiled and compressed. Ray made no particular effort to measure the overall length of the wires, and did not have a true sense of how long each would be if uncoiled. It was serendipitous that some days she chose longer wires than others – part “accident”, she says, and part “instinct”.
The request to display work in the University of Hertfordshire’s gallery provided an opportunity for Ray to display the work in a larger space, where the wires could fully uncoil and the piece could be expanded. It was only after she began to hang the tassels on the gallery wall that she developed a sense of the range of lengths that she had cut, and the effect that it would have on the final installation.
“As they hung, I couldn’t control it,” she says as she describes the process of hanging the tassels in the gallery, one by one, from the top of a cherry picker. Not only were the lengths of the wires different, but each one uncoiled in a different way. She recognised a “fluidity” that was “inherent in the way the wires bent.” In this way, the unpredictable behaviours of her materials dictated the arrangements of the tassels on the wall.
Allowing the materials to guide the structure of the installation, Ray was thrilled to see the unplanned structures that emerged. She describes the end result as “almost a pattern, but not quite.” There are colour clashes, and tassels of the same colour that have clustered unexpectedly when wires have intertwined. She is particularly fascinated by the tassels that are “stranded and strangled at the top”.
A kind of randomness was also at play in the creation of Jacob Dahlgren’s interactive installation, A Wonderful World of Abstraction (2006). This forest of silk ribbons, suspended from an aluminium frame, can be explored by visitors to the gallery who weave their way between the hanging ribbons. Dahlgren developed the piece after seeing a comic strip in which Bridget Riley is shown climbing into one of her paintings, and was prompted to explore the ways in which an abstract painting could be extruded into a sculpture, so that that audiences can get lost inside.
Dahlgren did not select the colours of the ribbons, nor dictate their arrangement. He instructed gallery assistants to purchase ribbons of every colour available in a Stokholm haberdashery, and then invited volunteers from the Friends of Moderna Museet to knot the ribbons to the frame. Each participant made their own decision about which colours would be hung, and in what arrangement. No overall pattern was planned, and there was no coordination of the decisions made by the many participants.
“I like to put decisions on other people,” explains Dahlgren. The artist establishes a set of rules or constraints, and then watches as the work emerges. He likens the process to a quilting circle, in which each contributor has responsibility for a small section of a determined size, but is not able to anticipate how their own creative decisions will rest alongside those of others in the group. As he avoids coordinating the participants, Dahlgren feels that the overall result is random.
While it is true that the arrangement of ribbons has the appearance of randomness, and Dahlgren has not himself dictated the arrangement of colours, there was a series of purposeful decisions made at various stages in the construction of the piece. The palette was dictated by a colour selection made by the haberdasher, and then later, creative decisions were made as each participant knotted their choice of ribbons around their allocated section of the frame. While each of these participants made their decisions independently of each other, and in the case of the haberdasher, without knowledge of the context in which the ribbons would be used, the result is not so much randomness as it is the result of isolated decisions, brought together without knowledge of an overarching plan. The sum of all of these small decisions is greater than its parts.