I headed out on the 192 after breakfast, into an icy, bright, bitterly cold day. I got off the bus by Downing Street and headed down Grosvenor Street to Oxford Road, and then down Oxford Road to the Whitworth Gallery.
Before I continue, I should point out that I’m not an artist, and as such have no artist’s eye, no aesthetic eye for technique. I have an instinctive and untrained approach to art: I either like something, or I don’t like it, and I could never make an intellectual argument out of what I do or don’t like. I prefer oils to watercolours, a historical preference, but aside from that, am pretty much open to anything.
Olafur Eliasson has transformed one of the gallerys into a forest as part of the The Land Between Us exhibition on place, power, and dislocation, and I went with great hopes of this but was slightly dissappointed. I really, really liked it, but felt that it was a bit small and that the light from the surrounding galleries invaded the forest of trees too much, meaning it was hard to get the feeling of sinister darkness that I felt it needed. Having heard this exhibition reviewed on Radio 4 a while back, I wasn’t sure what to expect as I’d had great difficulty envisioning what the forest would actually look like, but it really is lots of spindly trees planted on the gallery floor, very close together, so that you feel like you’re inside a forest. There are paths that take you through to the other galleries, and paths that twist back on themselves, and it does work in terms of evoking a forest, but the daylight seeps in too easily.
I did enjoy Walls Are Talking: Repeating Patterns though, which explores gender and sexuality through examples of wallpaper for boys and girls, men and women. Examples include specially commissioned pieces, for example a subversion of a japanese print by Allen Jones, with sub manga figures in bondage gear. There’s also a print of sexy 50’s housewives, flashing knickers and suspenders in each pose, by Emily Dupen/Hopkins, and some feminist work, which is tied to either a birth of midwifery association. One of their prints showed white silhouettes of heavily pregnant women in birth and labour positions, which were made up into patterns, and repeated against a single colour background. This was very effective because until you really looked at it, it was possible to view it as a pretty patterned wallpaper, and only when you looked more closely did the intent become clearer. I have a necklace that I bought last year from Enigmatic at Afflecks Palace (a shop that does cute and dainty with a twist very well) which, when you first glance at it, appears to be made up of a series of little silver sequins on a fairly fine silver chain. You have to get really close to it to see that the discs aren’t sequins, but are in fact tiny silver skulls. I think this particular piece of wallpaper design worked on a similar level.
Elsewhere in the Walls Are Talking exhibition are a pop art-esque library of beer cans, and a deconstruction of a Bond girl wallpaper, on gold foil, which acknowledged the mode of death of the Bond girl in Goldfinger, and the eroticisation of a dead naked girl daubed in gold paint. There’s also Playboy, the Spice Girls, and either Power Rangers or Gladiators (I’m sorry, I forget which it was…). There were also some ‘women through the ages’ designs, including a really disturbing sepia one depicting the early seventies, in which a series of blonde women are depicted holding flowers whilst wearing white nightgowns. They all look doped up to the eyeballs, and it exudes a gentle passivity that is incredibly sinister… Barbie and Sindy were slightly further on from this, just before the Spice Girls.
The Land Between Us runs until 23rd January 2011
Repeating Patterns runs until 16th January 2011