Cell Project Space, London, 30 June to 31 July 2011

The group show ‘Rain’, curated by artist Nicolas Deshayes is, on the surface, made up of the same slick, post-minimal cool that was flaunted to the point of implosion in the recent V22 Young London show. But despite sharing some of the same line-up, ‘Rain’ retains what that show lacked: a critical argument and a sense of direction. The text generated around ‘Rain’ would have us believe that that argument is centred on the ambiguous attraction of contemporary mass-produced materials, and on the theme of water and its reflective gleam as the central textural metaphor. The works by the eight artists gathered here, for the most part sculptural, do all involve the arrangement of mechanical and digitally produced artefacts. The titular lead image or images for the show, though, are three images of rain falling on the ground from different directions; each frame is doubled to create a six-frame sequence that can be read as a narrative of the rain gradually changing its slanted path. Tom Godfrey’s lithographic comic print Untitled (Rain), 2011, does not have that industrial veneer, but it does make a sombre story out of minimum means. Its emphasis – and as a cipher consequently the exhibition’s emphasis – is not so much the precipitous content but the way that it is made: how framing and contextual repetition manage to create a sense of duration and mood. An unlikely reinforcement comes from the five plastic dustbins suspended from Cell’s ceiling. Matthew Smith’s Word for Pleasure, 2011, hung in two sets that look at first like they are swinging around on an industrial conveyor belt, but they also have a foreboding sense of a military rhythm to their disposition, flying to something like the march of Paul Dukas’s 1897 The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

The object of the frame asserts itself discretely throughout the show. The sickly neon yellow aluminium frame of Anders Clausen’s Colour Picker 1, 2010, matches the shade on the computer screen image it holds. Deshayes’s own Collective Naturals, 2011, is three panels mounted on a rack as if part of a department store display of posters or carpet swatches. What is on offer are mottled terrains formed from what looks like vacuumed rubbish bags, the frames around them the same tint of dark brown. Three strips of shiny grey and blue silicone sit on the low surface of Short Supplies, 2010, by Magali Reus. Frozen into bends and curls like a monument made to bits of discarded ribbon, they lie slightly upraised on a matt off-grey rectangular slab that looks like one of the gallery’s floor tiles. A frame is a separation, both physical and metaphorical; it denotes a particular space to be read. Here, it is not so much that the works disclose their partitions and deliniations, but more that the frames that hold them have been ingested, that the content and its framing are consonant.

If the frame as a construct is a creator of context, this absorption implies that the works are their own context, which might explain their sense of a tautological state of being. A smug matter-of-factness. But like Godfrey’s comic, the other works in ‘Rain’ find their content in the placement and juxtaposition of bounded spaces. At one end of the gallery, a stage light shines down onto three glass panes forming a miniature bus shelter perched high on the wall, the mirrored stripes on the glass creating a spectrum of red and green that gives way to a strong, sinister blue. The title of George Henry Longly’s Traditional Classic Fade, 2009, recalls film editing techniques and the framed cinematic screen, but it reinforces an almost noir-ish atmosphere, that time spent here, waiting at this odd bus stop, is dense, mirrored and circular.

The desire Deshayes speaks of seems to be a desire for mutable connection, the possibility of intimate engagement despite – or even through – the ubiquitous use of impersonal, glossy materials. He makes his point not just through the material surface, but more in the way that the show links industrial manufacture with its necessary correlate – repetition. Repetition signifies production, the production of both space (a product) and time (that taken in producing); ‘Rain’ suggests that in the sustained use of this surface, repetition can also create a space where we can invest or insert our own personal narratives.

First published in Art Monthly issue 349, September 2011

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