One of the inevitabilities of writing an art blog is that one is always on the look-out for works that are not just interesting but will also provide a good photograph. But they are not necessarily the same. Sometimes really interesting works don’t photograph well at all; sometimes photographs jack up a piece of work a few notches higher than you feel it strictly deserves. And sometimes, the knowledge that the photograph is likely to be striking can make it difficult to decide what you think of the real thing.
One of the things I like to do from time to time is to concentrate on an area and visit as many galleries as I can without any plan other than to see what is there. Recently, after wandering around ten in the Shoreditch area, I discovered Raze Bloom by Rachael Champion in the Hales Gallery. After seeing various paintings of varying shapes and sizes, some good, some to my mind not good at all, it came as both a surprise and a relief. Too many paintings in one morning can be indigestible. I could see at once that Raze Bloom would make an interesting photographs. But was I actually convinced by it as a work?
To start with, I wasn’t sure. Although a surprise to find healthy green grass in a gallery room without windows, and realise that the artist has created a synthetic eco system, you are still left with a display that would not turn heads in the local garden centre. Coming to think of it, if you knew where to look, you would, no doubt, find healthy grass of an entirely different kind growing under artificial lights in other windowless rooms across the capital. So perhaps it was not particularly remarkable.
But despite this initial scepticism, the work continued to stay with me as did the exhibition as a whole. Cleverly curated, it brings together the works of three artists and explores the relationship we have with the environment, the natural and the artificial. The utilitarian nature of Raze Bloom was surely part of the point; created out of industrial materials, it is a commentary on the way that neighbourhoods are razed to make way for new rapidly built construction. It reminded me of the Joni Mitchell song, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot… hey took all the trees. Put ’em in a tree museum. And they charged the people. A dollar and a half just to see ’em”
Raze Bloom was central but needed the other works to highlight the changes that happen over quite a short period of time. On the wall is a video by Rachel Pimm, Rubber, showing the harvesting and creation of rubber as it turns from a plant to a product. The film is beautifully shot and the soundtrack, which you hear through a headset, amplifies the sounds of production so that you notice the drips and sloshes as the liquid latex is harvested and eventually turned into sheets of rubber. It appears quite romantic but it would not always have been so; this was once industry but the natural product is now increasingly replaced by the synthetic.
Also included in the exhibition are beautiful and poignant photographs of Agnes Denes’ Wheatfield Project. This took place in 1982 when Denes with the help of volunteers cleared a site in the centre of the city, bringing in topsoil to create a two acre wheat-field in the heart of Manhattan. Her stated aim at the time was “to call people’s attention to having to rethink their priorities.” and she explained that the project grew “out of a long-standing concern and need to call attention to our misplaced priorities and deteriorating human values.”
Deane succeeded in harvesting a thousand pounds of the grain. In the photographs you can see the crop ripening in the middle of the busy city. In the back ground the twin towers are still standing. At the time it must have seemed near miraculous to have succeeded. Now looking back at those photographs taken thirty three years ago, it already feels as though we are looking at a gentler and more optimistic time. Meanwhile, Raze Bloom seems to be looking towards a harsher future.
This exhibition at Hales Gallery has now ended