Delayed decisions at the Camden Arts Centre

7 Jan

“I make the decision to postpone decision making for as long as possible,” German born artist Florian Roithmayr explains in the video which accompanies his solo exhibition, with, and, or without at the Camden Arts Centre. This avoidance of decision making extends to how the works are displayed. He is keen on collaboration so that the arrangement of the sculptures is  a team effort and is not even final, for he encourages the invigilation staff to rearrange the works. I noted that in the video the work shown below (name unknown as the exhibition has no labels) was lying on the floor but  when I visited, it had been promoted to the wall. Elsewhere, the concrete form inside a window shaped surround had been changed from the vertical to the horizontal.

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These fruit like pieces, which according to the exhibition booklet are named Adoration, though previously exhibited as  Crustacean (another example of impermanence) are moved daily. It must be much better fun for the staff on duty than the more common gallery task of stopping people like me taking photographs. Last time I was at the Camden Arts Centre they were particularly fierce about this and I didn’t manage to sneak a single shot of my own, but refreshingly, yesterday there was no ban and they couldn’t have been more charming.

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Much of the work in this exhibition is in concrete – but concrete made vulnerable. At times it has been coaxed into shapes such as these coloured walking-stick like objects that appear unlikely and fragile.

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The desire for changeability drives the creative process but is harnessed by technical knowledge. Rothmayr spent some time learning the skills involved in industrial processes and in particular spent time as an apprentice to a ‘concrete beautician’ who specialised in smartening up and repairing concrete facades to buildings.

But it was not the smooth which attracted me the most, rather the structures which resembled something from the natural world, perhaps a lava flow or a segment of weathered coral. They are in fact created from a wholly unnatural process.

A wooden case is half filled with wet concrete which is then injected with expanding foam; Rothmayr explains how the nozzle judders and jumps as the foam penetrates the concrete under pressure. Each element then reacts with the other before equilibrium is reached and the concrete finally sets, riddled with the softer foam, which is then meticulously carved out using dental tools so that a honeycomb structure is left behind. Rothmayr does not even undertake the carving himself, that was undertaken by the Centre staff,  so that while he sets the process in motion the ultimate outcome is out of his control.

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The result if extraordinarily tactile; the surface of the concrete has a faint sheen;  I really wanted to run my fingers into the gullies and hollows.

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Rothmayr makes no promises that the work is stable. Indeed I notice a few hairline cracks in the surface which suggested that it might not be. It would be unlikely to trouble him. He never regards a piece as finished and likes to recycle parts of older works into the new. Elements of the work on show today may be destined for a reincarnation. I like the thought that in the future, his works could bear traces of successive workings and re-workings.

with, and, or without is showing at the Camden Arts Centre till March 6.

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