Tate St Ives – Visited 20th September 2021
Approaching this exhibition through the Tate St Ives galleries, I wasn’t so sure as to what I should expect to encounter when I finally reached the installation space. In the room before the main installation, I didn’t realise the pieces there were connected to the main installation in the main gallery, but enjoyed them in a kind of isolation, as works in their own right. Moving through this room of what I had thought were autonomous pieces, into a much larger space containing what can only be described as a scene from someone’s dreams with some droning audio really blew my mind. It was an incredible scene which I hadn’t been prepared for, and which is only comparable to me with one other installation work which I have experienced called The Age Of Love by Heather Philipson, back in 2018, which felt like a 1990’s nightclub.
While initially to the unprepared invader of this space, it feels daunting and overwhelming, that feeling soon vanishes to be replaced with a sense of wonder at the fantastical scene. The first engagement with the installation is to wonder upon the open space containing two animalesque effigies with the pyramidal structure behind. They kind of stop you in your tracks as you take in the scene. These raggedy looking dark sculptures are Yang’s take on ideas by other artists who have visited St. Ives, the smaller one on the right in the photo is her take on Li Yuan-Chia (Untitled 1993) and the other is in reference to work by Naum Gabo. The second of them has a head and torso that can be made to spin giving the evocative scene of a primitive native dancer gyrating within the gallery space. Both of the artists referenced in these sculptures have previously had work exhibited in and around St Ives in the past. Moving around the gallery, away from these oddities, we step abound the pyramidal structure to look up a canyon created centrally in the gallery space to house the cluster of Sonic Half Moons.
At first glance, looking up the canyon, with its slightly offset walls, seeing these metallic jellyfish style entities hanging there is quite disconcerting. There is a feeling of intrusion into a space where you don’t quite belong, or of a dreamworld where jellyfish roam the skies. On my first visit to this installation, I walked among them, looked up through the tentacles of one, gave another a prod, tapped one of the bells they appeared to be made from and then wandered off slightly bemused at them. On my second visit, a few days later however, I realised that motion, again was a part of this section of the installation, I requested one of the assistants to ‘activate’ it for me, so she set it spinning and gently wafting over a section of floor. The premise seems to be that they have the ability to emit sound, and changeable patters of reflective light at all times, but only do so periodically, adding a more random seeming element to the display. There were several of these hanging through the centre of the gallery, however only one of them was activated between the two times I paid a visit to the work.
Passing the strangeness of the central arrangement, with its ethereal vision, we come next to an arrangement of what are referred to as “Mundus” cushions, each with a different space themed design, these are arranged on a structure which looks like stacked Prie-Dieu shoved towards the corner of a church, but in a gallery setting instead. The usage of the space themes as opposed to ecclesiastical is quite intriguing, but appears to fit well with some of the other artwork, helping to tie together the overall theme of the installation itself as to do with strange attractors. Following this, my walk around the space took in the main picture wall, which has various local scenes, artists and weather events all intermeshed together, as though they were one overarching narrative taking up an entire third of the wall space of the entire large gallery. While it was a bit of a muddle, it did kind of have a general thematic trend running throughout, with strange voids, circles and other shapes within.
In the final section of the gallery space, nestled beside what I shall refer to as the feature wall, there is another selection of intermediaries, these ones are made from straw with inclusions and have more quirky individual titles like Running firecracker, and Tilted Bushy Lumpy Bumpy both made in 2016. Neither of these move, unlike some of the other pieces in the room, but unlike those, there is a certain naturalistic style inherent in the construction, reminiscent of both thatched rooves, and in a way, basket weaving with some inclusions in the weave. They appear static in the room, but as objects of veneration within the temple of art, gathering in attention from those in the room. There is a lot of conflict amongst the miscellany of pieces of individual work in this exhibition for such a limited amount of attention, and as I noted within the room, that attention is lavished on different things by different visitors, so in a way, two different visitors may take away two completely different ideas of what the exhibition is about from each other.
The view in this fifth picture is from the far corner of the gallery, looking back through the multiplicity of the white cube space, from this end, the artwork looks similar, but the blank wall with inclusions of handles at random points plays with and enhances the idea of space within that wall and between the objects. There was little information inside of the gallery space itself, just a blurb on the wall, everything else was in a small pamphlet placed on a rack outside of the room, in a space where it can be picked up after the main visit to the artwork to flick through. This literature gives a few insights into what on earth the exhibit was about, and about the piece on display as well as their construction, but the overall concept is very vague and is quite open to interpretation, both in a physical, and spiritual sense, giving a chance to reflect on what you personally believe to be the subject of the installation itself.
In my opinion, this installation is quite a nice, pleasurable experience to visit and to view, well worth the investment of time taken out, I personally went to see it twice, on different days to be able to better understand what I thought that I personally was taking from the experience.
Baltic Plus | Heather Phillipson: The Age of Love