INDEPENDENT CURATORIAL PROJECTS :-
27th Jan - 24th Feb 2007, Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham
Terra Incognita was the first of three shows that formed Parade, an initiative by Nottingham's Angel Row Gallery to showcase the work of artists based in the East Midlands. Each show had a guest curator; Mary Doyle, Leo Fitzmaurice and Indra Khanna.
The artists selected for Terra Incognita were Stephen Connell, Blue Firth, Mik Godley, S Mark Gubb, Anita R Mudaliar, Keith Morris, Lois Wallace and Simon Withers
It is a universal human activity to look back in order to discern, or if necessary create, a sense of order from the events of recent or distant history. A narrative is discovered or imposed: we look for links of cause and effect, over-arching patterns which only become clear from a distance, signposts indicating ways of moving into the future.
The artists in this show view this terrain with various degrees of unease, nostalgia or exploratory zeal. They turn to face their own childhood, a family history, a national or cultural history, or a race memory. As the boundaries of our own interior landscapes abut and overlap those of our neighbours, we are able to recognise many of their landmarks – but here have the chance to view them from new vantage points. Terra Incognita – an unknown country. But the lands these artists explore are not entirely unknown to us. We can all recognise their charts.
A second theme that runs through much of this exhibition is the utilisation by artists of images from the mass media – the press, television, family photographs, cinema, story books, the web. Several have sourced 'found' images from the mass media – selecting and manipulating from our vast shared historical stockpile of imagery and visual culture.
The ghostly figures in Mudaliar’s Conflict and Doubt are derived from generic story-book children's illustrations – being at once humorous, disturbing and bizarre. Who are these characters and what are they striving to tell us? Can you hear their messages from this airless, unchanging world where no-one grows older? Could these trapped children or animals really have anything to say that could possibly be important to us?
Like S Mark Gubb she approaches these stories with humour, after all, they can offer comfort as well as a fright. And a library such as that housing Angel Row Gallery has been a haven and a place of adventure and discovery for many children.
In Folksongs, Withers re-presents four iconic press photographs. Photographs like these are the illustrations to our contemporary morality or folk tales. Using the domestic hobby technique of decoupage, he has reworked and nullified images, removing the victims, perpetrators and evidence of violence.
The Omagh car-bombing (1998) killed 29 and injured 220. The photo released to the Press originated as a family snapshot taken by a victim and retrieved from the scene by the police. They performed their own decoupage to protect the privacy of the victims' families – all the people were cut out – presenting the viewers with the ghostly white shapes of missing people.
JMW Turner (1775-1851) is evoked in the dreamy swathes of light. Wallace revels in pushing the boundaries of landscape painting to the edge of romantic cliché and irony.
A more recent series of paintings show a caravan with an interior light on, glimpsed in a dark country field. The sinister atmosphere reminds us of horror films or the witches' cottage in the woods. Like Stephen Connell and Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893), she has explored the glowing artificial lights of our streets and playing fields.
S Mark Gubb
Gubb’s draws on popular culture for his work, and he was struck by how closely the plot of the seminal video nasty The Evil Dead mirrored the standard plot of an episode of Scooby Doo. This inspired him to edit the soundtrack of one, to the visuals of the other.
The outlawing of The Evil Dead as a video nasty assured its place in British film history and prolonged its shelf life for up-and-coming audiences as it became forbidden fruit. By watching the video, you were yourself disobedient and deserving of punishment.
In creating The Scooby Dead, Gubb is merely following in the footsteps of Disney's Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, sugar-coating a dark story with bright colours.
He gives us the opportunity to reflect on our own internal space - the primordial liquid world within which swim all our fears and desires. He shows the world below, in which life teems and gives birth to itself, and the world reflected on the tense surface of the water – which is sometimes a mirror, sometimes a lens.
These images are a small selection of numerous photos taken of a bowl accidentally left in Morris's garden, which filled with rain and started to grow algae.
He reflects on the symbolic relationship between objects. His pictures can look like galaxies, planets and zodiacs. He aims to show us both the Microcosm and macrocosm.
"Night, sleep, death, and the stars" are the themes a poet's soul loves best, Walt Whitman writes in his poem A Clear Midnight.
Connell’s series Insomnia captures a state of mind we have all experienced. Many artists have said that sleep deprivation can remove the veils between sleep and waking, dream and reality. Kafka, for example, believed his insomnia was a direct source of his creativity, and Nabokov thought sleep was "the most moronic fraternity in the world." For others the forced reflection and introspection often prove unsettling.
Like Wallace, he has captured images of street lamps and stadium lights. But is not their beauty that attracts him so much as the fear that they are polluting the sky, blotting out night, sleep and the stars.
Godley has been investigating his family history. Like many of us, his investigations have not been carried out by physically travelling to a place, but via the internet: information reduced, pixellated and then re-imagined by Godley with additional information from his mother into an imagined homeland. But he has not concentrated exclusively on his own bloodline; instead he has turned his attention to the area surrounding one branch of his family, in once German, now Polish Silesia. Here he discovered landscapes that he could use as illuminating symbols of all of our hidden family histories.
A painting of the entrance to one bunker reminds us of Alice's rabbit hole to Wonderland (and it is rumoured that Nazi scientists were developing flying saucers in underground labs). A painting which seems to show a wooded hillside eventually resolves into figure of a sleeping giant, but is in truth derived from a photo of a dead WW II soldier.
Impossible Possibilities is inspired by the book The Morning of Magicians by Bergier and Pauwell (1960). The book describes a multitude of outlandish theories and conspiracies about the past and present; our ancestors were aliens; Jesus survived the crucifixion, married and had children; the Nazi High Command were all Satanists, etc. It also inspired many other films and books, including Erich Von Daniken's 'The Chariots of the Gods?' (1968), which proposed that the gods of our ancestors and builders of many ancient artefacts were aliens (ideas backed up poor scholarship and misleading illustrations).
Click here to download a PDF of the above curator's introduction to the exhibition Terra Incognita from the catalogue Parade, published by Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham (2007, 1900 words).
Anita R Mudaliar