WAKE/ARCHIPELAGO – as we’re not far away from the end, what of it?…

WAKE/ARCHIPELAGO – as we’re not far away from the end, what of it?

By Diana Damian

The two exhibitions taking place in tandem, at Dilston Grove and Cafe Gallery, present a challenge to the usual restrictions imposed by curated exhibitions. On one hand, WAKE presents a structure where six artists inhabit the gallery one after the other, using traces from the previous work to develop material for the space. Initiated by Anne Bean, each artist was invited to invite their next, creating an inherent relational dialogue. In ARCHIPELAGO, Gary Stevens invited fourteen artists to co-habit one space for the duration of the exhibition, producing work collectively without being required to directly interact.

The results, in both cases, are surprising, engaging and bring a particular level of anticipation, involving the audience directly into the process, easing them into a particular engagement with the development of the work. Anne Bean began the process in WAKE by rolling out a hundred kilometres of yellow ribbon into the high, concrete and abstract space of Dilston Grove. Whilst her followers, William Cobbling and David Cotterrell both employed projection and sculpture to interact with the material and develop performative installations, it is Carl von Weiler whose I found particularly striking. Instead of carrying on the legacy and developing the aesthetic life of the yellow ribbon, he packs it all into a series of packages suspended from the ceiling. The space is completely transformed, dominated by a series of nests of heavy black fabric, tied with industrial rope and suspended from the top of the former church at different heights. It is dramatic, emotive and highly engaging work, dominating and changing the architecture of the space- giant nests, like alien eggs waiting to break out in a forgotten concrete palace. Their weight, texture and the creaking sound of the wood bars that holds them in place make for a uniquely atmospheric environment, whilst also interrupting a conceptual trajectory that has formed at Dilston Grove.

In ARCHIPELAGO, it strikes me that the opposite happened; in this communal process of creation, works seemed to be more disparate than coherent, cacophonic yet evocative nevertheless. Walk into Cafe Gallery and you’ll come across such a variety of works that you’ll feel like entering a foreign landscape, paved with signs which at first you’re to read individually – only as an organic map. Where WAKE seems inviting in its process, ARCHIPELAGO seems to be more isolating as time goes by, as a community of works is formed that feels more insular- this in itself is a fascinating phenomenon. What to make of Emma Benson’s Unravelling, a performance art installation where her hair feeds down a colourful tube like a tree with growing roots, in close proximity to Frog Morris & Lee Campbell’s I Love Ducks/I Like Duck, a brilliantly witty piece inviting audience members to write on a post it either a message to celebrate ducks, or a recipe for cooking duck. Whilst you’re writing your thoughts on the yellow post its, Emma Benson’s roots reach your feet, growing and growing throughout the gallery until they reach another organic installation, Michelle Griffith’s Human Folk Bird. A couch sits in the corner of the space, filled by a landscape of trees and flowers; nestled among the branches are collected folk songs from all around the world. And opposite this is Graeme Miller’s Conjuction, a seminar between a series of speakers and microphones, a statement about voice, absence and responsibility.

In their dialogue, WAKE and ARCHIPELAGO chart an interesting shifting geography of forms of collective artistic practice and audience engagement. Of course, the curatorial certainly comes into play, in the form of two opposing structures that feed off each other in spite of their distance of concept and space. ARCHIPELAGO’s apparent cacophony is as engaging as Wake’s progressive cycle of works. The ribbon laid out in the beginning forms the key material of work, whereas Archipelago is more dictated by the local geography and the implied and even forced proximity of the works; their discrepancies become strengths when the work is viewed as a collective effort.

Occupying Southwark Park, WAKE and ARCHIPELAGO relate to their local landscape but also change the space geographically, marking out a collective experiment that relates directly to its architectural landscape. The two different forms of continuity inherent in each exhibition exist and engage in tandem, drawing out a series of landmarks that will, in turn, leave their mark in this South London park. The two exhibitions are far more than curatorial exercises, they exploit and explore ways of making without being shy of the consequences of their structures, and this does not only make for engaging work, but also for strategies for a different, altermodern artistic practice.

ARCHIPELAGO continues in Cafe Gallery until Sunday 17th July, 12-6pm daily.

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