Sam Austen, Agnieszka Brzezanska, Ryan Foerster, Gabriel Hartley, Israel Lund, Marco Palmieri, Hannah Perry, Max Ruf. Curated by Attilia Fattori Franchini.
Eight late-twenty-somethings supposedly demonstrate how the digital world has drastically altered our perception of imagery, particularly abstraction. Or at least this seems to be the thesis of curator Attilia Fattori Franchini. Predictably, it is unpersuasive, indeed scarcely coherent, but concepts are obviously not Franchini’s strong point. The press release glosses the range of work as ‘tools to escape realism while tending toward an accurate depiction of the world’ – somewhat begging what accuracy is to be obtained without invoking realism. Francesca Gavin’s equally misguided catalogue essay, built around the old school internet paranoia of Paul Virilio, claims there is a trend to abstraction as a result of the confusions brought about by a pervasive internet. Clearly, it is a trend not borne out by most other galleries and surveys where figuration is at least as prominent as abstraction; in as much as the two are easily separated, so hardly a trend to speak of. But it is a proposition abstract critical is prepared to entertain for the moment, even while scorning the rest of the show’s feeble rationale. Why should abstraction be more ‘unstable’ than figuration? For that matter, why should notions of process, temporality and ambiguity be confined to abstraction, or indeed the last twenty years? A little more perspective is called for.
The show comprises the work of four painters, a photographer, a sculptor and two video makers. Abstraction is certainly prominent, the exception being Agnieszka Brzezanska’s performance-based video. Presumably, the level of metaphor or stylisation involved in Brzezanska’s performance counts as abstraction. But this is of a completely different order to the rest of the show and the work sits awkwardly here. This said, what group show is without video these days? The ubiquitous flat screen blaring away in the unfortunate acoustics of a white cube has become de rigueur, at least for curators. This, most assuredly, is a consequence of the digital revolution. But the show has less to do with connectivity or user friendliness than an expansive framing of purpose or form that signals above all a casual scouting for remote or unfamiliar vantage points to old verities. The overall feeling is one of a bemused cruising, stepping back from issues.
The paintings of Hartley, Lund, Palmieri and Ruf all deal in pictorial basics of shape, stripe or line. Each chooses very different means to deliver them and in different ways the works buzz with slack or sloppy delivery, with a looseness or levity in the face of austerity. There may be a message here, but it is as likely so much noise. Hartley is probably my favourite, for the vaguely retro colours, admittedly achieved here with a sprayed dusting, and skewed, impasto arcs of Bunt (2013). It looks like something that might have been done in the 50s, to be recalled now only in Michel Seuphor’s Dictionary of Abstract Painting. Sometimes it helps to take a step back in order to advance. Ruf’s Drive (2013) is wittily leant against the wall rather than hung, the angle to the lean echoing the parallelogram jauntily traced in the picture. I was unable to learn whether this was the idea of the curator or artist.
The sculptures of Hannah Perry toy with the old 2D/3D interface and initially I thought this might be the instability flagged by the title of the show, but it is not something supported by the rest of the works. In fact, the modest scale throughout – all the paintings are around easel scale – actually seems to retreat from the famous Post Modern convergence and the temptation of installation. It is a technical slickness that is really foremost in Perry’s work and for this reason carries much less verve or engagement than the 2D works. But her approach would sit well with the likes of Nicolas Deshayes, currently in The Saatchi Gallery’s New Order: British Art Today and it comes as no surprise her work is to be included in the second instalment of New Order: British Art Today, planned for December.
Sam Austen’s video cleverly includes 2 and 3D abstraction and again the sense is literally of keeping one’s distance, on the move, measuring depth by disengagement. Ryan Foerster’s rugged mono-prints skip pictorial basics for photographs of landscape and nudes, given extreme treatment in developing and printing. Curiously, just where one might have expected greater digital resources, given the theme, the artist pursues obsolescence and casual distress as further, more abstract stages to photography. Stepping back here, again involves stepping back in time, at least as far as technology is concerned. Whether it provides a fresh perspective on digital options remains to be seen. In summary, there is enough to make the show worthwhile. Instability of the Image is laughable as a theme; luckily the works transcend it.
Instability of the Image is on at Paradise Row until the 12th of September.