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Enclave 4: notw | Robbie Fife, Paulina Michnowska, Jacopo Natoli

Aug 28, 2015

Robbie Fife, Paulina Michnowska, Jacopo Natoli
Preview Friday 28 August, 7 – 9 pm
Exhibition runs to 13 September
Open Saturdays and Sundays

The Labour politician’s concern that making any statement beyond mainstream banality might serve as a hostage to fortune, perhaps displease a particular demographics or alienate influential individuals, and so the desire to be all things to all people translate itself in repeated keywords showing an awareness of the contemporary context, cautious nods to trending issues, whilst operating within the narrow field of differentiation dictated by the market. With everyone else playing the same game, this should work of course.

The rise of art as an asset class and a perceived alternative to equity or real estate investment places the similar demand on artists to derisk their proposition. Higher barriers to entry and start-up capital costs, intensive project management, resource mobilisation, consensus building and the necessary leverage of public and private funding require art to be focused on economic value creation.

When so much investment is at stake, the production values must replace convictions, the presentation must be immersive yet tastefully minimal, design and materials current, and the work generous in scale and economical with truth. Such work exists not for the viewer but operates out of range, to feed established specifications and dominant processes.

A rupture in the accepted narratives must then become a priority to re-order our perception of the world and re-think present circumstances. Can experience be intensified? Can the act of looking, instead of merging with the existing moment, seek to ‘dis-understand’ that moment?

I was interested in the attempts, some divergent, some similar, that Robbie Fife, Paulina Michnowska and Jacopo Natoli, the three artists in this exhibition take, which amplify the unknown, create unfamiliar emotional depth and beg the viewer’s personal involvement.

The three works are small. Their physical size doesn’t occupy nor decorate the space, but rather, invites the viewer to approach, be close and dive in. This scale of viewing is how most of us now experience interactions outside our immediate surroundings: the screen that links to the world and erases the physical space around us in an intense ray of communication, creating at once –and anywhere- a private, intimate space; the box, physically finite, opening to infinite content.

At once, the exhibition places us in a system of containments (the gallery space, the frame), with closed containers (pictorially the granary / hórreo, the ceramics skull), others open (the computer window, the coffin), directing the focus or stopping the gaze, marking the field of vision, manipulating content, protecting, emphasising, layering-up, dissimulating and, doing so, opening up a space for looking out at that which can be insurmountable or overwhelming.

Each work uses existing/second-hand visual sources (classical myths, phone footage of the war in Syria, religious paintings) which creates an initial familiarity. In appearance, the works all focus on a macabre figurative portrait (the floating disembodied head of the artist, a shapeless St John the Baptist, and the scene of a child’s funeral). The confrontational images each allude to events of violence, horror (12,000 children killed in Syria’s conflict, the barrel bomb attacks by the government on cities and town being especially deadly to civilians), or supernatural, or transcendental.

The images are haunting, pessimistic, silent, bringing to mind Artaud’s ‘le visage humain est une force vide, un champ de mort’ (an ’empty force’ or better still, a spent force).

Yet we seem to stand on a threshold, a moment of crossing. A tension is created between the subject matter and the treatment of material which let us not ignore that we are looking at mediated matter (editing software, raw cuts, pentimenti, visible traces and rough shapes). The elliptical, pared down or symbolist images simplify the context rendering it universal and therefore personal. The works allude to the essential rather than provide nuance. They lead the viewer to a border between the visible and the invisible, between being and non-being and where the mind can return, again and again, to contemplate building on the void left by materialism in flight.

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