I have been suffering from flashbacks ever since my visit a couple of days ago to the Project 78 Gallery in St Leonard’s on Sea. The gallery was set up by Patrick Jones who heads the Contemporary Fine Art Course at Sussex Coast College. He sets out to show works of a standard and originality that you would normally only find in a London gallery. But it was not the art that has been giving me the flashbacks, though it was good, but the fact that I nearly, inadvertently, destroyed it.
I am not normally particularly clumsy in galleries; I associate that with my husband who, a few years back, managed to trip over a little pile of stones which unaccountably had got into the final of the Jerwood Drawing Prize. He did it not once, but twice. In his defence, if you put a little pile of stones in the middle of a wall-based exhibition, you have to expect somebody will trip over it, though you might hope that having done it once, he or she would not do it again.
But Neil Ayling’s exhibition, Facet, was exemplarily displayed; no trip hazards at all. Ayling’s work is inspired by the details of architecture that are so easy to overlook. His works involve photography but are, nonetheless, three dimensional. Imagine you had a photographic image on paper and then folded it into origami type forms or cut it up and and repositioned the pieces. His sculptures work like that, only they are made not from paper but from a variety of materials: bronze, plywood and concrete. I was just trying to photograph the work below which is cast in bronze but is still reminiscent of folded paper, when I stepped backwards to get a better shot.
My shoulder just nudged the piece behind me, which was made of plywood. To my horror, it detached itself from the wall. Amazingly and fortunately it did not go crashing to the ground; my reflexes are apparently in pretty good shape because I managed a rapid half twist and was left supporting it with my shoulder until help arrived and we put it back.
Regular readers of this blog will know my lack of sympathy with the photo police you find in many galleries and that I have often been guilty of trying to sneak a shot from under their noses. On this occasion, my photography was fortunately authorised. That has not prevented my imaginings of an alternative universe, in which I see Ayling’s work splintered and wrecked.
I am so glad that it did not happen like that because apart from the appalling embarrassment that would have ensued, it is an interesting piece. Even having been there and seen it and taken the photograph, I still can’t quite see how he achieves the effect of this composite image of the capitals of a classic column from plywood.
Ayling’s apparently attributes his multi faceted take on architecture to his youthful love of skateboarding. As he sped, twisting and turning along pavements, he would view his surroundings in a series of short bursts, when details, often at unexpected angles, would come briefly into focus, blur and then change to the next sharp snapshot. As an adult, he has continued to walk through the city searching out those angles.
In the plywood work, the capitals of the columns are clear enough but with other pieces, such as this work in concrete and polystyrene, you feel you are close to identifying just what it is, but can’t quite put your finger on it. I want to go back and have another look. Next time I will be careful not to step backwards.
Facet runs until 5 December at Project 78 Gallery in Norman Road, St Leonard’s on Sea, TN38 OEJ. The gallery is open from Thursday to Saturday between 12.00 – 17.00 or by appointment Monday – Wednesday.