Before even having a chance to take in the small room, I find myself huddled close over a phone with two other people I don’t know, listening, shifting my weight from one foot to the other and looking around for a long five minutes. ‘The Romantics had at least been right about the feeling. The one thing the desert made you want to do was to stick something into it. All the empty space and hardly even a way to take a picture without it looking like something from a calendar for a half-passed year still shrink wrapped in the discount bin of a dollar store.’ A QR code provided on the only handout for Gabriele Beveridge’s ‘Newly Laundered Smile’ at Rod Barton leads to an audio file: a text by Paul Kneale read out by a woman describing a road trip, apparently to the Grand Canyon. It ends up defining the experience of the show: mentions of the desert, a Nikon camera and cigarettes in the audio find their physical correlations nestled among the faded colours of the four careful assemblages that make up the exhibitions. Close-up photos of female models’ faces, for hair or skin products or some such, are printed on perforated cloth that is frayed and peeling, with a few sad-looking potted cacti and chunks of amethyst propped underneath them. Their distant, hungry eyes follow us as we walk around, finding the magazine image of a rainbow stretching over the Grand Canyon, Gabrielle, 2012, held in a pastel rainbow frame, a lipstick box for Chanel Rouge shade ‘19 Gabrielle’ sitting on top. Beveridge’s skill is in hesitant photographic and sculptural collages that have the feel of a sort of bedroom-mantelpiece science; sun-faded salon advertisements sit alongside mementos and ephemera that might have been emptied out of a purse. The gathered surfaces create a set of anachronistic non-sequiturs, trawling up other times and places and letting them wax and wane uncertainly. Looking at a few concurrent, similarly sparse solo shows around London, they share this sense of understatement and evocation, but it is interesting to note what is needed to achieve that. ‘Newly Laundered Smile’ felt simultaneously too empty and overcrowded, the layers flattened and cancelled out by my experience of the other space of the accompanying audio text.
The breadth of two different practices manage to fit quite neatly somehow into an only slightly larger room at Arcade Fine Arts: Other People’s Trades featuring four works by Ardriaan Verwée and a single installation by Esmeralda Valencia Linström. Two empty canvas frames sit on the floor leaning on one wall, above them is the outline of a shelf made of the same wood, stained to a rich, dark brown-grey. A mirror rests flat on one side, holding up what looks like a small, overturned coffee table or stool. This gathering of Verwée’s work (each piece Untitled, 2012) has the sense of being a full-sized maquette for a furnished room, a model of an ideal sitting room of sorts already imagined in a form of disarray. This tone of ‘department store uncanny’ is reinforced by Untitled (diptych), 2012, where pieces of aluminium have been cut, painted and folded to appear like discarded scraps of blank paper.
Linström’s sculpture and double projection Nipple Drawing, 2012, crosses the floor with a set of parallel untreated planks of wood, the design offering some skewed advancement of Morse code or musical staves. Two digital projectors whirr away displaying still images: in one we can blurrily make out the ratty spines of a few books, in the other a green mould or fungal-like growth. On both a set of light lines mark the surface, as if each was a photo that had been taken to briefly by a toddler wielding a pencil. For the sake of vicinity we can find likenesses in Linström and Verwée’s work since both elicit a slow double-take through material alliances that appear settled at first; but what is more remarkable is that these two bodies of work don’t necessarily speak to each other as much as keep to themselves. It simply feels like two solo shows, each with a quiet potential that leaves you wanting to see more.
Élodie Seguin’s installation ‘Plan d’interrogation’ at Hilary Crisp is more shy and taciturn, turning one low-ceilinged room with a column into a shadowy game of hide and seek. Boards of MDF line parts of the floor, outlining the corners and crevices of the room. The hefty chunk of timber of Board, Gap, 2012, sits flat on the floor. A black rectangle is drawn on the nearby wall, as if the piece of wood’s shadow, but looking just ever so slightly off kilter. The large, upturned black ‘L’ of Crutch, 2012, stretches out from the column, almost lining up for a brief moment with another solid black rectangle on a further wall to make some semblance of a solid shape. But it is only fleeting: Seguin’s work demands motion, placing us as the motor in a constructivist mobile, where all the right angles give way to slightly misheard echoes, then to overlapping intimate whispers that ask you to lean closer, then to turn and walk back around another way.
Seguin’s work is a strong example of one of the current practices that productively rattle some of the ghosts of Minimalism, noiselessly taking up their sense of phenomenology and a politics of exhibition display. But taking that awareness of context, a sense of politicised movement and understatement to another level is John Knight’s Quiet Quality, 1974, at Cabinet. Taking a stand at the Frieze Art Fair, Cabinet’s booth just held a table, some chairs, and a wall text with the name of the artist, the title and dates of the show in the gallery. The subsequent show consists of two largely empty rooms. In one, an electric blanket is folded into a neat rectangle in the centre of the room, its plug winding out from the wall socket. It doesn’t even feel as though it is switched on. A small clipping from a magazine advertisement is the sole occupant of the other room, a gushy ‘advertorial’ style quote for a California housing development: ‘large, dramatic condominium-style homes that could offer the spacious feeling of a private home, combined with the maintenance free living we were seeking.’ The flimsy white blanket takes on a monolithic feel, a pseudo-minimalist sculpture carrying the weight of the desires of ownership and home comforts, slowly unravelling as Knight lets us pick at the threads: the development and subsequent domination of suburban, commuter-culture America, tied in here with the art fair cycle, the taming of Minimalism and the relentless re-commodification of arts practices. Perhaps I’m stretching it, and Knight had the benefit of two loaded locations, but the method of his practice emphasises the common, necessary element found in each of the shows above: restraint, or rather empty space punctuated by slight signposts that let us navigate a way to our own conclusions.
Originally published in Art Monthly 363, February 2013.