Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Anne Hardy at Maureen Paley

Posted in Reviews by mollybretton on October 20, 2009

Prime, 2009

At the centre of ‘Prime’, a small wood carving of an antelope stands surveying the surrounding landscape – a cluttered collection of metal propellers, bundled cardboard firework shells, shredded paper and coils of metal wire.  Two sky-lights illuminate the wooden shack; foil and paper wedge the roughly hewn gaps between the planked walls.  A large pile of sawdust rises from the worktop ledge, a spattering of stray darts pepper it’s surface.  With closer inspection this mound transforms into a miniature, contested landscape when we notice the English and American flags printed on each of the darts tails.  Initial thoughts of this being a space of recreational tinkering fade in the presence of these politically suggestive objects.

Intense and cryptic the six large-scale photographs that combine to create this exhibition are the photographic equivalent to a fiction novel’s opening paragraphs.  Imaginatively and methodically Anne Hardy sets the scene, introducing us to our new surroundings but unlike in most novels Hardy does everything but introduce us to the main protagonist.  This absence of human presence is the real intrigue of her works, as we pick through the densely populated settings to try and build an accurate imagining of who the inhabitant of these spaces may be.  Left only with the detritus of objects abandoned mid-stream, each item seems a witness, pregnant with information of previous human activity.

In the photograph ‘Unity’ cold light falls in shafts onto sheets of red plastic that cover a semi-circle of partitioned booths.  Like a stage, the floor shows white tape that would seem to indicate the absence of other frequently used props in this scene.  Images of eyes printed onto red circular stickers dot the roughly textured black walls. Trails of limp, black bunting hang from the ceiling along with gold metal chains that emphasise the room’s tapered wig-wam shaped structure.  There is a touch of sci-fi about the setting and there is also a hint at influences of religious architecture as our eyes are encouraged ever heavenward back to the top of the building.

Meticulously created in her studio these sets call to mind the pedantic photographic processes of Thomas Demand.  However, despite traces of the familiar in some of the architecture and objects Hardy depicts, unlike Demand’s work, everything about these photographs is a construct, a fiction. In rendering these spaces, we imagine that Hardy embodies a process similar to that of a Method actor and in trying to conjure these missing fictional characters we find the boundaries between artist and imaginary inhabitant blur.

The disconnection between the three-dimensional nature of the sculptural set and the rendered two-dimensionality of the final photograph encourages a mental leap for the viewer.  The original sculpture is dematerialized and rendered as a conceptual construct since we are never allowed to experience it in any other manner than that which the artist has dictated.  It is the controlled intention behind each detail of Hardy’s photographs that is the real content of these works.  All that we see is under the absolute control of the artist.  At issue here is the value that one gives to the detail Roland Barthes referred to as the punctum, an absorbing detail unplanned by the artist and entirely personal to the viewer.  Such a detail is deliberately denied a place in these works, where Hardy saturates each photograph with intention in every detail.  Although our immediate impressions of these images spark intrigue and fire imagination, Hardy paints the scene with such precision that we are left excluded not knowing what part we have to play in this game of make-believe.

Unity, 2009

Anne Hardy at Maureen Paley from 9 October – 22 November 2009

Sam Taylor Wood: Yes I No

Posted in Reviews by mollybretton on November 7, 2008

Escape Artist 2008

No.1 The Piazza Covent Garden

Harshly spot-lit from the peripheral darkness; the artist’s limp body hangs above a stage, impossibly suspended by colourful party balloons.  Exhibited in the dim lighting of the ground floor the images of Escape Artist present a startling lack of gravity and an uncomfortable tension between the heavy appearance of the artists body and the weightlessness implied by it’s suspension.  It’s like watching a rabbit being pulled from a hat; we’re left asking, if not by magic, how did they do it?  However, for those who have previously experienced Taylor-Wood’s Self Portrait Suspended series the familiarity of this digital trickery will prove a little disappointing.

The building is spacious and un-finished looking and it’s temporary nature as an exhibition space is evident but it is well suited to compliment the second series of photographs displayed on the first floor.  The After Dark images show clowns within abandoned post-industrial settings where the cliché scary clown from ‘It’ has been replaced by clowns that stand around procrastinating, pathetic and dejected. They appear as perfect parodies of the defunct structures in which they stand.

Like in many of the photographs the character of After Dark (With Fire Engine) appears miniaturized by the scale of the industrial architecture surrounding him.  Two objects create a focus in the foreground, a brick and a scrap of paper and the clown stands beside a toy truck looking towards them expectantly.  We sense his desperation for an audience to validate his performance.  In After Dark (With Tunnel) we are placed as that audience as the clown looks out forcing us to accept a certain responsibility for his plight as he precariously balances on the edge of a platform in the beam of an oncoming train.  Has the constant charade of merriment finally become unbearable for him? Or is Taylor-Wood exemplifying these clowns to raise issues surrounding a larger industry of entertainers, ones whose existence is reliant on our presence and continuing support?  The setting of these photographs in a location where the reaction from those watching Covent Garden street performers is audible certainly seems poignant.


White Cube Mason’s Yard

The photographs exhibited at Mason’s Yard are subtle, less dynamic compositions than that of the series at The Piazza.   Often slightly out of focus, and looking more like holiday snaps, the overcast skies and rural scenery of these shots are decidedly bland without the music drifting up from downstairs.  The music sounds like the score to a Sunday night costume drama and instills in these images a much needed depth and romance, especially when one considers these are intended to represent the characters and themes of Wuthering Heights.   

Following the music downstairs we encounter Sigh an eight screen film installation made in collaboration with the BBC Concert Orchestra.  Entering to the side of the conductor we are presented with a further seven screens hung in a circle, each displaying a section of the orchestra.  The musicians readjust their finger positions, pucker their lips to exhale and sweep and pluck at the air but all without the presence of their instruments. 

Despite being set in a disused industrial building, reminiscent of the After Dark series the intimate angles and the divided nature of the sections of the orchestra maintain our focus on the people.  Seduced by the concentration of the players and the details of their denuded physical movements you find yourself regressing to childish wonder at the impossibility of how a combination of objects, hit, stroked and blown in certain ways can combine to create something so immensely moving.

This is a pleasingly composed show and it’s worth the walk to both venues as the quizzical nature of the works stay with you long after you’ve walked away.


Sam Taylor-Wood

Yes I No

White Cube Mason’s Yard, SW1Y 6BU (24th October – 29th November)

and No.1 The Piazza, Covent Garden WC2E 8HA (24th October – 5th November)


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