Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Art of Ephemera

Camden Arts Centre’s posthumous exhibition of Dieter Roth’s work is headlined by his video diaries (Solo Scenes, 1997-8). The room is filled with TV sets, stacked five-high on simple wooden shelving units. The footage is at once banal and compelling. Roth goes about his day-to-day life – eating, sleeping, working and using the toilet – with a tragicomic circularity and lack of incident. His age is apparent, as is our knowledge that this is the margin of his life; that he died making this work somehow doesn’t seem incidental.

Dieter Roth, Flat Waste, 1975-6/1992

Other works in the show include a set of Roth’s tablemats (Tischmatten) hung on the wall like expressionist paintings and his installation Flat Waste (1975-6/1992). The tablemats are full of gratifying unconscious doodles and instinctive marks, perhaps drawn in a moment of impulse or when Roth was on the phone. Flat Waste is fastidious archive of a year’s worth of rubbish under 5mm thick, filed away in black ring binders. The objects are without implicit value, yet the size and density of the archive correlated with the act of the artist as collector provides a transformational weight.

Leaving Finchley Road, two stops on the Metropolitan line will take you to Richard Saltoun, where three of Helen Chadwick’s Piss Flowers (1991-92) – sat on a bed of grass once green, now brown and patchy – adorn the window of the gallery. The well known flowers, pure and white and always surprisingly alluring, are plaster casts taken from snow cavities produced by Chadwick and her husband’s piss. They are a marvellous juxtaposition of form and process.

Helen Chadwick, Piss Flowers, 1992-3

Wander down from Noho to Soho, Frith Street Gallery on Golden Square hosts Cornelia Parker’s current exhibition; a show about a series of overlooked places and objects. Photographs capture compositions of white-filler on prison walls before it can be (and will be) painted over in bland magnolia (Prison Wall Abstract (A Man Escaped), 2012 – 2013). In the corner of the gallery Unsettled (2012) is an assortment of wooden pieces found on the streets of old Jerusalem. Here they lean casually against the gallery wall, or at least, this is the impression given. They are in fact suspended just off the floor and just off the wall by thin (at first invisible) wire. Other works in the show include paving stone cracks, cast in black rubber, also hovering eerily (Pavement Cracks (City of London), 2012). (For more on Parker's exhibition see Parker Portending.)

Cornelia Parker, Unsettled, 2012

Across Piccadilly and into Mayfair’s Thomas Dane Gallery, which holds an exhibition of Michael Landy’s drawings. Landy is most famous for his own personal Break Down (2001) in which he systematically destroyed all of his possessions, and big machines, seemingly intent on further destruction, fill many of the images on show. Peppering the exhibition, however, are small and elegant etchings of weeds. Spidery and tangled and rendered in exhaustive detail, they are exquisite and engaging. Through their aesthetic value, and the lengthy scrutiny implied in their formation, the etchings provide an honouring of the overlooked and unwanted.

Michael Landy, Creeping Buttercup, 2002

Landy’s sensibility of providing value is the opposite of Roth’s. His work is found in destruction not archiving, (although of course all of Landy’s destroyed possessions were catalogued) and in observation and imitation not preservation, yet the artists are not at odds. Through different means all four of these artists apply a transformational eye to their subject matter, initiating a re-examination of objects or substances with little or no perceived value and an alchemical shift in discernable worth. Whilst Chadwick turns waste into decorative sculpture, Parker takes casts of the cracks to make you see the stones, using the suspension of the objects as an otherworldly allegory of merit.

Travis Riley
Dieter Roth
Camden Art Centre, London NW3
17 May - 14 July, 2013

Helen Chadwick
Richard Saltoun, London W1
20 May - 12 July

Cornelia Parker
Frith Street Gallery, London W1
7 June - 27 July

Michael Landy,
Thomas Dane, London SW1
5 June - 27 July

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