Friday 17 May saw the launch of Supercollider‘s new exhibition, One Man Show by Jim Howieson. A small group of enthusiastic artists and art-lovers met at the small exhibition space on Cookson Street to delve into the recesses of their minds in the hope of unturning treasure. The results were varied.
Subjective as our responses to art are, it is inevitable that we will react in different ways to artists’ attempts at communication. Conceptual art, in particular, seems to demand a strong reaction from its consumer. More than most fields of contemporary art, this area seems to divide critics and laypeople alike. In my mind it sits alongside free jazz and the writing of Joyce. Perhaps it ought to be re-named ‘Jury’s Out’ art, to maintain the phonetic grouping. To rephrase, conceptual art is difficult. It’s difficult because it demands that you give your energy to its interpretation. Or not.
There’s always a moment when encountering a new conceptual exhibition that feels like a slap to the face. It tends to occur, for me, within the first ten seconds of entering the gallery space. The slap forces me to wobble. I teeter on the edge of fight or flight, faced with something which I don’t understand. This sensation was quite physical when faced with Howieson’s One Man Show. Rather than the customary collection of artworks which tend to be linked with an, albeit often unconventional, narrative, I was faced with a single statement piece. A waist-height structure consisting of an odd collection of wooden off-cuts, it glares at the viewer with a variety of ‘faces’; a solid, undeniable straightness to its form. The gallery’s door is wearing a bright orange filter for the exhibition which adds another layer of consideration but I must confess, I forgot that it was part of the show, being distracted by the main attraction.
The presence of a single work of art made me feel a little insecure. What if I couldn’t ‘get on’ with this piece? That, in turn, made me wonder why it mattered to me so much that I should feel an emotional resonance to every show I visited. And with that question the slap was forgotten and I was on the slippery slope of wondering which is the reason we return to Ulysses or Ascension.
It’s worth pointing out that my partner felt an immediate connection to the piece. I don’t think it’s too bold to say that this show will appeal primarily to men. Just as Catherine Payton’s exhibition appealed to my notions about birth and womanhood, so the unyielding lines of Howieson’s statement spoke to the workshop, the shed, and wood-working. Howieson’s exhibition was inspired by his work in a cabinet maker’s workshop and my partner is a skilled wood-turner and so was able to access the art from the artist’s perspective to an extent. That said, my partner also commented that he felt able to get close to this exhibition as the artist was not overtly present.
The structure has an abandoned feel to it which does allow the viewer to interpret it almost entirely for themselves with very little explicit intention from the artist. There are hints of 1970s architecture, there’s potentially a robot head and it might be the bastard child of Ikea and MFI. Oh, and it has a smooth action. If you want to know what I mean you must visit the gallery before 15 June. And be prepared to fight. You won’t regret it.
Supercollider is at 59 Cookson Street, Blackpool. The gallery is open 12pm to 5pm, Wednesday to Saturday.
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