Review: The Romance of Dereliction


From the 4th to the 19th of May, ‘The Romance of Dereliction’ exhibition ran in an old, derelict warehouse space owned by OVADA. Featuring the works of Aliki Braine, Zsuzsanna Nyúl, Emma Papworth, Robert Rapoport and Mary Robinson, the exhibition was inspired by, created from, and featured in the warehouse, the concept being how dereliction inspires creativity and creates art.

The space, specifically chosen by emerging curators Hannah Clark, Emma McKinlay and Rosemary Turner who felt that it captured their imagination as artists and provided an interesting concept for them to explore, had considerable character – broken bricks, vein-like cracks, peeling paint, and rough edges – quite unlike the usual ‘white cube gallery space’ which is felt by some to be too neutralised a space and devoid of character to inspire creative art. This space, however, remained a paradoxical one: a blank canvas with character beneath acting almost as a palimpsest, its textured walls asserting a myriad of presences from which to develop or simply create anew. Artists were encouraged to create work in response to this concept, each creating their own, individual works in relation to it. However their works do not exist in sole isolation from each other nor the space: they are ensconced and united, creating a whole discourse around the idea.

Papworth installation: Photograph ⓒ Eleanor Hill
Emma Papworth installation: Photograph ⓒ Eleanor Hill

Papworth’s installation is the most noticeable creation on entrance: a large, floaty, pastel pink, stone grey, and cream coloured wire structure hanging from the ceiling in the centre of the space. It draws our attention to both the warehouse’s emptiness as well as the walls, the ceiling and the floor to which the installation owes it support. With its light coloured fabric shaped by the wires, and the projection of flickering light onto it, this piece really brought out the ‘romance’ of the dereliction that surrounds it. Indeed, the installation is wholly dependent on the surrounding dereliction to hang, creating an interesting idea of co-dependence between romance and ruin, and moreover a need of this for creation. This installation is probably the most overtly romantic piece in the exhibition, most likely due to its shape, colour and nature, but is also crucial as it connects all of the pieces on both layers of the warehouse together.

Mary Robinson photography: photograph ⓒ Eleanor Hill
Mary Robinson ‘The Oneiric House’: photograph ⓒ Eleanor Hill

Using similar colours, Mary Robinson’s colour photographs highlight the cracks, holes, and peeling paint of a similar space to this warehouse. Small, simple photographs with incredible detail, drawing attention inwards to her photographs and then outwards again to focus on the surrounding imperfections. These photographs created a real dialogue between the art and the space, allowing appreciation of the individual photographs of her collection, of the whole exhibition, and then of the gallery. On the upper level, Robinson features another work, a colourful pastel painting entitled The Oneiric House. Inspired by the philosophical musings of Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space (1958) and his thoughts about space and memory, Robinson paints a room in which a recollection of memories and dreams reside. This was one of my favourite pieces because of the colours that she used: the reds were vibrant, the pinks soft, and the blues striking; it created a dream world in a small room, something I found to fit perfectly with the theme of romance.

Aliki Braine photography: photograph ⓒ Eleanor Hill
Aliki Braine photography: photograph ⓒ Eleanor Hill

The large, black and white photographs by Aliki Braine were other favourites of mine – cast against the dirty turquoise background and layers of red brick, the clarity of the black and white colours and the geometrical shapes made quite an impact. Braine uses the act of destruction as a creative process, creating ambiguous, multi-layered photographs which entice the imagination by rupturing the surface of the negatives through cutting, drawing and applying stickers. In destroying the original picture and placing a circular window on the image, Braine creates an interesting contrast between negatives and positives. The photographs remain ambiguous as they resist becoming conventionally complete pictures – there is space for the eye and thus the imagination to fill in the gaps between the negatives and the positives and complete them.

Aliki Braine photography: photograph ⓒ Eleanor Hill
Aliki Braine photography: photograph ⓒ Eleanor Hill

The other two creations, the film by Rapoport hidden on the upper level of the exhibition and sculptures by Nyúl were, I found, less striking and interesting than the other works. Rapoport’s film ‘A Social Script’ consisted of a solitary chair and red heart balloon in an empty space, which could be seen as both empty because there was little inside the space, and full because of the shadows created. Perhaps an important work for some, especially in regards to the contrast between absence and presence and indeed in the medium of film, I found it verging on pretentious and somewhat less than interesting. It was also one of the last things I saw, being in the top far room of the warehouse so it felt slightly disconnected from the rest of the exhibition. I did, however, see some continuity with the red heart balloon being tied to the staircase, thus connecting both the upper and lower levels. Similarly, Nyúl created multiple faceless, black grout sculptures from the insides of hollow porcelain figures which were to symbolise an emptiness becoming tangible. Described as an entirely personal work, the sculptures were eerie and ghost-like and although created from a form of emptiness they were not at all romance-inspired, though perhaps one of the most creative pieces of work.

Robert Rapoport 'A Social Script': photograph ⓒ Eleanor Hill
Robert Rapoport ‘A Social Script’: photograph ⓒ Eleanor Hill

Overall it was a remarkable exhibition, based on an interesting concept and featuring some beautiful work. Although the concept could be criticised as being almost too modern and too dismissive of the usual gallery space thought to be ‘devoid of creation’, it did produce some very creative work and was an interesting exhibition. I felt it provoked many thoughts on the process and results of dereliction and opened my eyes to the beauty that can be found hidden beneath the destruction.

Photograph ⓒ Eleanor Hill
Photograph ⓒ Eleanor Hill

E. Hill

For more information about the Emerging Curators scheme please visit their blog, and more information about OVADA is available from their website.

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