BEN CRAIG, All or Nothing, Platform Arts, Belfast, 6 -26 November, 2014

There were three artists taking part in the exhibition curated by the Platform Arts: Ben Craig, Lucas Dillon and Paul Quast.  The following is not a review of the exhibition, rather a brief meditation on some of the ideas raised by Ben Craig’s  objects.

You live and learn, 2014, drop-leaf table, wood, cardboard, bubble wrap, cling film, emergency blankets and paint, 180 x 110 x 305 cm approx.

 

This installation view points to a multitude of materials and functions, mostly of objects with practical use, i.e. table, chairs, microwave oven… Craig let them huddle in groups with shared habit, it was not enough to counter the feeling of chaotic display. Until, that is, the objects useful for life receded when my attention focused on an useless object, the one lit up  in the centre of the view.  Even without seeing the lovingly made details, the assemblage insisted on punching a hole in the chaos, dominating it, challenging it by right – angled order. That in turn became crowned by voluminous weight reminiscent of an asteroid. It is landing on all the small rectangles which  hold the construction sturdy and upright.

You live and learn (plinth)

You live and learn(plinth) detail

 

 

Craig labeled this shot “a plinth”  suggesting that the mass  above it  is the dominant part of the exhibit, like sculpture on a plinth. Evoking early 20th C effort to liberate sculpture from plinths and pedestal, it directly disputes Brancusi’s conviction.  To some degree it undermines its own – the plinth is punctured with numerous absences of matter.

So – in brief, the right angled, carefully balanced order of flat parts, lovingly placed, supports the weight of  somewhat  amorphous mass.  Its volume balances as if on the  slim point of contact.  Its weight is an optical  illusion. Emergency blankets and paint do not weigh much.  This dual aesthetics of geometry and of its complete absence creates uncomfortable tension and incongruous humour. Letting the eye to caress the stains of paint, the exact distances between the nails, the joy of tactile surfaces – minimizes the discomfort and in turn, shifts the voluminous blob into the sphere of carnevals/ theatre.  Even the look of the plinth provides a comforting link to early  20th C  constructivism and De Stijl, thus familiarising the new by paying respect to the old.

Similarly, the seemingly heavy top  object appears as an overweight, oversized abstraction, a gestural spill that became three-dimensional nod to abstract expressionism.

The internal fascination  with learning from other art continues in  exquisitely melodic  Twirly.

Twirly (1)

Twirly, 2014, PVC piping, energy saving light bulb, iron spring and aluminium, 100 x 70 x 60 cm approx

 

 

Found objects are allowed their own previous identity, however, they share the new whole effortlessly and gracefully. Thinking of Orphism? Frantisek Kupka comes to mind.

František_Kupka,_1912,_Amorpha,_fugue_en_deux_couleurs_(Fugue_in_Two_Colors),_210_x_200_cm,_Narodni_Galerie,_Prague

František_Kupka,_1912,_Amorpha,_fugue_en_deux_couleurs_(Fugue_in_Two_Colors),_210_x_200_cm,_Narodni_Galerie,_Prague

 

Craig’s third object announces the source of learning in its title:

Arp (1)

Arp, 2014, aluminium, coloured card and foam board, 60 x 60 x 70 cm approx.

 

 

Arp (2)

However, the discipline of high modernism gives way to informal play, chance allowing the fragments to land where ever. A smile at the chaos, a part of Craig’s creative space, space for work.

Studio view

Studio view, 2014, mixed media, dimensions variable

 

Objects arrive and descend, some by chance, some by careful placement, stimulating thoughts about their independence from the contexts they left behind, holding on to the associated memory of their practical function. A sort of variant on the concept of Tracy Emin’s  My Bed, 1998 – they carry imprints of living whose particulars they hide.  The whole  cannot be reduced to enumeration of all its parts, nor to the associations with other similar installations. The interesting layer in this is both the respect to the visibility of each object and severe denial to give out content of each part. The meaning is  carried – as it were, in the air above them all – it is my space for work. And even that may not be true – the installation will cease exist when the exhibition ends.

Again, it is the internal fascination of possible being, possible truth, slipping into opposites or just hiding away silently.

Craig anchors his work both in the mundane and in the elite of grand masters of older art.  In this he revives the honesty of the medieval journeyman, like Albrecht Durer, who traveled to Italy  to learn about painting a naked body from Giovanni Bellini.

You Live and Learn….

Images from the exhibition courtesy Ben Craig.

http://benthomascraig.tumblr.com

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