The Texture of Time at Murmurations Gallery

Back last year, when Joe Nguyen, owner of the Murmurations Gallery in Bexhill, asked me to curate a 3D exhibition, we discussed various angles; it seemed to both of us that exploring the nature of time could work well. It appealed to me because much of what I do is, in some way, related to human mortality and it appealed to Joe because only a stone’s throw away on the beach you can see dinosaur footprints, so there was a local connection.

When I asked two fellow Broomhill National Sculpture Prize finalists, Stathis Dimitriadis and Paul Tuppeny to join me, I was delighted that they too took inspiration from the enormity of  geological time. We all felt texture was important in our work. So that was the basis for  The Texture of Time which opened at Murmurations Gallery today.

Paul Tuppeny: Here Beneath Our Feet

Closest to the dinosaur footprints is Paul Tuppeny’s wonderfully evocative work, made out of lead and mirror glass which shows human footprints, as if on wet sand or perhaps fossilised in the same way the dinosaurs made their mark all those millions of years ago. On the wall above it is a painting Doubtful Species, the man on the Beach,  which again shows the beach and the ghostly impression of a man, perhaps the creator of the footprints below. This work is itself about time, for as Tuppeny points out the knots in the walnut panel of wood took 120 years to develop.

man on the beach
Paul Tuppeny: Doubtful Species; Man on the Beach

When thinking about which works would go together,  I was sure Stathis Dimitriadis’ tall column Escape from Reason would contrast with Paul’s footprints. They did; but I was also pleased how the orange in the rings and the orange in my work complemented each other.

The Texture of Time; gallery view

Stathis works in ceramics and in his Ramble, he imagines the detritus of our everyday lives fused together as if by geological forces. This is work which really rewards study as you recognise the bits and pieces which are generally disregarded.

Stathis Dimitriadis: Ramble

My favourite among Dimitriadis’ works, Respire, reminiscent of  a heart. brings our exploration of time back to the human, the fragility and the short span of our lives. This is a wonderfully clever piece; I particularly like the way that the tubes reach down below the level of the base.

Stathis Diamitriadis: Respire

It was planning where everything might be placed that led directly to my work.  It was clear that at the entrance to the gallery there was a large expanse of wall space but not so much room on the floor. I am interested in works which sit on the boundary between sculpture and painting – and here was the perfect opportunity to make something site specific: paint on canvas that was also sculptural.

Fault in the Fabric of Time takes the idea of geological strata not as they are now but as they might be – millions of years in the future, long after the human race has been wiped out by asteroid impact, super volcano, or, if we as a species are really stupid, nuclear war. At that point geologists, perhaps from another planet or the evolved descendants of whatever manages to survive the catastrophe, would dig down and discover the strata that arise from the current geological epoch, the Anthropocene, with the same kind of wonder that we feel when thinking of the dinosaurs that walked in Bexhill. For these future geologists would deduce from the tiny fragments of plastic deep in the rock, that there had once existed an advanced civilisation. Plastic there will certainly be;  it has recently been discovered that it can even be found in the oceans’ deepest trenches. Fittingly therefore the Anthropocene layer is made from compressed plastic bags.

Sue McDougall: Fault in the Fabric of Time (detail)


Sue McDougall: Fault in the Fabric Of Time

Of course geological time is long but not infinite. Even if the human race survives; even if we successfully colonise other planets, we know that the habitable earth and the solar system will come to an end, though thankfully it has around another eight billion years to go. But beyond that, by big crunch, or by heat death, or something else entirely, there could be the end of the universe itself. So my geological strata fall into the funnel of time, and as time unravels, we have disconnected matter, with a nod to string theory, end up as string on the floor.

The Texture of Time runs at Murmurations Gallery, 17 Parkhurst Road, Bexhill TN39 RJD until March 23. The Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday 10.30 -4.30. Stathis Dimitriadis, Sue McDougall  and Paul Tuppeny  will additionally be talking about our work at the studio in the De La Warr Pavillion on March 18 from 12.30 to 3pm.
















Tonico Lemos Auad and the redemptive power of effort

One of the joys of visiting art galleries is the way that they can stimulate you to think about the world in different ways. Sometimes an exhibition can lead to completely unexpected avenues of thought. So it was with the exhibition by the Brazilian artist Tonico Lemos Auad which has just opened at the De La Warr Pavillion in Bexhill. Since my visit, I have been pondering on the nature of tin cans, synchronicity and whether effort alone is sufficient to make an artwork interesting.

I will explain: the impact of work Auad’s work creeps upon you. It is not flamboyant or particularly visually compelling but it does enter your mind. The visitor is confronted at the beginning by a set of hanging sculptures that look like vertically assembled curtain poles. Look closer and you see that they are elaborately covered in linen. Lumps of sea chalk which seem untouched from a stone mason’s yard turn out to have delicate designs nestling on their surface, so subtle that they are easily missed.

At the far end of the room were the tin cans – lots of them. On first sight it looked as though it might have been assembled by an art student with good connections to their local recycling centre. ‘So we have tin cans – arranged,’ you think.


“They are like a landscape,” says the invigilator.

“Hmm,” you say, non-committally, not adding, ‘or like a lot of tin cans.’ ”Oh, there is a design painted on each of them.”

“No, not painted on,” says the helpful invigilator, “left behind.”DSC02605

So it turned out. Someone, I would guess some hapless assistant rather than the artist himself, had painstakingly scraped away all the original design leaving a grey surface, polished by liberal use of WD40 and decorated by the small remaining emblem – a flame, a tomato, a polar bear, a face. I was  both surprised and horrified- what effort, and to what end? Yet there seemed to be a point; if they had just been stencilled or transferred, the visual effect would have been virtually identical but the installation would have been pointless and somewhat naff. It was the hidden effort which made it rather magnificent.

I might have gone home and experimented with a tin can of my own just to gauge how time-consuming it would have been until I reflected that there were none suitable; these days most tin cans have paper labels rather than a printed design on the metal, hence the large number of drink canisters and sardine tins Auad had used. Not only are these particular cans a product of hours of work, the creation might not even be possible for many more years as printed cans give way to paper labels, plastic and carton.


This was not the only example of Auad’s belief in the redemptive power of effort. On the walls were a number of black abstract pictures, inscribed with small triangular marks. They were pleasing enough but not striking. Look at them closely and you realise that these are not painted; instead threads have been painstakingly picked away from the linen, so the designs are effectively carved out.  How long would this have taken?  Far longer than you would have expected at first sight. How often did they go wrong, requiring the whole exercise to be started anew?


The one place where effort was less obvious was in the garden; this work was supposed to be about our relationship with nature and comprised eight little plots, seven of which held medicinal plants and one of which was awaiting members of the public to plant something, in which case they were welcome to take a plant in exchange. This may become more interesting in time. At the moment rather than getting me to reflect on the environment I was more struck by the fact that this was the third artist created indoor garden that I had seen this winter; (the other two were Empty Lot in the Tate Tubine Hall and Raze Bloom at Hales Galley.) I cannot recollect having seen one before. You could put it down to synchronicity and the collective unconscious; I think it is just another manifestation of Sod’s law; however original you consider your idea to be, at least two other people will independently do something similar at about the same time.

Auad’s work is showing at the De La Warr Pavilion, Marina, Bexhill, East Sussex, TN401DP  until 10 April


The Drawing Machine

Anybody who has creative friends knows the feeling.Your friend shows you a poem, the first draft of a novel, a painting or even the proposed colour scheme for the living room and there is that small pang of panic when you realise you don’t like it. And because it happens, not all the time, but often enough,  most of us have found a polite enough way to deal with it. Mine is to put my head on one side and say, “mmm; that’s really interesting.”  The beauty of it is that I sometimes say it when I do like something and genuinely think it is interesting as well. I am sure that I am not alone in using this particular formula, as I have had it said to me on quite a few occasions too.

Because I was away most of the summer, I didn’t catch up with some of the local exhibitions; in particular I hadn’t seen the De La Warr’s pick of the best offerings from the graduate shows from the University of Brighton and Sussex Coast College. With only a few days left to run, the staff were even uncertain whether it was still showing but, eventually, they directed me to the back stairs and there on the first landing was this.

Naomi Holdbrook: Drawing Machine 2

My husband snorted on seeing it. “I think it might be her’s,” I said. “She told me that she had created a drawing machine with the idea of taking herself out of the mark-making process.”  The label showed that it was indeed Drawing Machine 2 by Naomi Holdbrook.

Drawing from Drawing Machine 2

The drawings the machine had made, suggested that artists need not worry just yet about having their role usurped by robots. Elephants have done better. Immediately, the formula, “that’s really interesting,” was going round in my mind. Then we turned and, behind us, up a few more stairs, were a pair of screens showing films of the machine in action. You could suddenly see how the various broken bits on the floor must have worked.  I can honestly to say that it was one of the best and funniest art videos that I have ever seen.

In the video, we see Holdbrook attempting to control her fantastical machine as it whirrs and clunks. The pendulums sway; it runs for a time and then the various elements get out of sync;  bits fall off; the paper breaks. It is the perfect metaphor for the frustrations of artistic creation. My husband loved it. The exhibition runs only till November 1. If you have a chance, do go and have a look. I now want to see it running for real.

Naomi Holdbrook: Video Still, Drawing Machine 2
Naomi Holdbrook: Video Still, Drawing Machine 2

Platform Graduate Showcase 2015 at the De La Warr Pavillion closes on November 1

Keep things as they are – wouldn’t we all?

On the day of my twentieth birthday I felt depressed that I was no longer a teenager; up to that point I had greeted birthdays cheerfully enough; after that point I didn’t. I also remember complaining to a friend about getting old on the eve of my 34th birthday.  At the time it seemed ridiculous to the friend. It seems ridiculous to me now. I have been thinking about my attitude to these two birthdays and others,  having just come out of the Ian Breakwell exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill. It brought me slap bang up against my own preoccupation with time passing. Whereas these days I try hard not to think too much about it, Ian Breakwell made it is his life’s work.

Breakwell died of lung cancer in 2005 at the age of 62, a year younger than I am now.  Going round this major retrospective, it felt as if all his work was leading inevitably to that point. It was there in the small video of him lying on the bed smoking a cigarette and planning to scatter paper out of the studio window in Smithfield. It was there in the obsessive diaries, in his work The Waiting Room, in which there are two large portraits facing each other, accompanied by the sound of a ticking clock, even in one of his best known works Man Walking; also in the portraits which bear the name of the exhibition Keep Things As They Are. There are faces yes, but the days of the calendar form the background and can’t be escaped.

a portrait of a woman by Ian Breakwell showing a calendar in the background
Keep things as they are – Silken Chains

It was painfully there in the self portrait of himself after he knew he had cancer – Parasite and Host and in the final video in which he describes his days, as his face, ravaged by the disease, morphs slowly into younger versions of himself and back again. I kept  telling myself that there was no reason to believe he had premonitions of an early death when he was young and that many of the works apart from the final ones would have felt different at the time.  Except of course, he would have had premonitions, as well all do, that one day he would die. Indeed one of his comments on the video was why should things seem different because of a diagnosis.

Self portrait by Ian Breakwell showing himself bare chested ; the eyes are blacked out
Parasite and Host 2005

It appears from the exhibition there cannot have been a single day when Breakwell was not aware of the passing of time. Take the diaries – he was a compulsive diarist, starting in 1965 and keeping it up for the next forty years. In the 1974 diary – he would have been only 31, there is a dated page for each day of the year and, on it,  there is the same image of a wristwatch on his wrist, taken as if from his point of view. The face of the watch has been cut away and different images imposed where the face would have been. Talking about the work, he  explained they were  images of what had come into his mind at the time he looked at his watch. Individually each day does  not particularly interesting or visually striking but together they are extraordinarily strong– a year covering the wall, the repetition, the ordinariness of the images emphasising the mundanity of daily life.

A wall is covered by the 1974 diaries by Ian Breakwell
Ian Breakwell: 1974 Diaries

The Walking Man project arose from a man he saw from his studio window walking purposefully several times a day on a route around the market area. The man was not a tramp as he had no bags but he was not engaged in any business other than that of walking. Breakwell started taking photographs of him which became The Walking Man Diary and he also started recording what he might have seen. In some of the works we have a catalogue of the minutiae of life in this part of London. For instance in The Man Walking No 8 there are three categories of words – all typed. In large type the record of what he passed,   “past the gin factory, past locked and guarded gates. Past the workshops for sportswear, skirts and separates. Past the window filled with cash registers.” Further down the page he notes “the silver book shaped lockets.” Below it, in small type, are the words walking, walking, walking, repeated throughout the page. A third line of type has phrases in capitals HERE HE COMES, HERE HE IS. Smithfield is a part of London I know well. I had my first job as a journalist just off Ludgate Hill in Wardrobe Chambers and later with the Evening Standard in Fleet Street; I often bought meat from a butchers in Smithfield Market, maybe a butchers below Breakwell’s studio; I might have passed him in the street; the words conjure up how the area used to be thirty years ago.

Text plays an important part in many of Breakwell’s works. Some are pure text – such as the thought – almost a slogan ” it is better to be hemmed in than hemmed out”; others virtually amount to stories, including a disturbing account of men dismembering what we deduce to be an animal from the fact that his studio was in Smithfield but which from the words sounds uncomfortably like a person.

He was also a skilled draughtsman. His huge drawings entitled Monk, based on the American pianist and composer Thelonious Monk are on four walls of a small room reflecting the way that Monk used to walk in circles. The are formed from compressed charcoal and appear simple at first; then you notice detail – the trace of smoke from a cigarette a staple banged into a fence.  A fragment of Monk’s music can be heard on headphones providing an urgent but interrupted rhythm.

Drawing in charcoal  by Ian Breakwell of a full length man, Thelonious Monk
Ian Breakwell: Monk 2002 drawn in compressed charcoal

Perhaps one of the most evocative works in the exhibition was a video The Other Side made in the De La Warr Pavilion itself following a residency in 2001 and displayed on a double sided screen As the soundtrack plays Schubert’s Nocturne in E major, couples waltz on the top floor balcony overlooking the sea. The music and the grace of the dancers are reminiscent of a film scene, but they are not classically beautiful film actors but elderly couples and you a conscious as you watch them that their remaining time is limited.

couples dance on the balcony of the De la Warr Pavilion
Scene from the Other Side. Hastings Observer

On the reverse of the screen, the same music plays but the balcony is empty, though shifting reflections in the glass are like memories or ghosts of the people who had danced there. It is surprisingly moving; a friend said her eight year old daughter cried when she saw it. I went up to the third floor balcony and looked out of the window towards the sea and thought of Breakwell making it. That thought will come to me each time I go back to the De La Warr.

View out of the window from the De La Warr Pavillion
The same scene today

Ian Breakwell: Keep things as they are will be showing at the De La Warr Pavillion, Bexhill until Sunday January 13 2013.. Admission free.