Glorious Estate Anna Chrystal Stephens | Keef Winter | Carla Wright
06.12.12 - 21.12.12
Glorious Estate is an exhibition of sculptural assemblages in response to everyday objects, spaces and systems. London-based artists Anna Chrystal Stephens, Keef Winter and Carla Wright work with practices that utilise a daily vernacular, piecing fragments together to make artworks that casually reverse artistic sentiments. The works share a particular type of rogue handyman energy; imagining the labour of an urban drifter, maverick car-park attendant or deviant plumber. Aspects of the show include artists reworking detritus lying around the Tram Depot where Bruno Glint is located, with the intention to create a work that holds a meaning relevant to the space where it is exhibited. This publication marks the closing party of Glorious Estate and includes text-based contributions from Holly Black, Jay McCauley Bowstead, Hannah Newell, Anna Chrystal Stephens & Keef Winter. allotropepress edition 04 (limited to 100 copies) ISSN 2046 - 2859 edited by Keef Winter
Cover: Anna Chrystal Stephens – ‘Untitled’, photograph printed on silk, copper poles, 2012. Back Page: Keef Winter - ‘Untitled’, plywood, pine, foam, black stretch film plastic, steel hinges, plasterboard, 2012 & Carla Wright ‘Concerns of the living interacting with the dead stuff of buildings II’, ceramic, wire, oak, 2012.
All photographs by Paul Williams of Fragment Photography unless otherwise stated.
The Energy of The Degenerate
Degenerate space seldom fails to enthrall and mesmerise. Sinking manor houses held up by weedy sinews instill an alarming romanticism in Britain’s rolling hills, the cracks, leaks and precarious rubble alluding to a falsely mastered nostalgia. Yet it is the urban landscape, the dangerous mystery of the forgotten, boarded up and condemned rotten social housing of our cities that generate new histories. These are our true estates. The glory of vast concrete masses, grey and dismal units compressing and compartmentalising living beings, stacking them high into elevated, distant, impenetrable isolation. Societal breakdowns are endemic. Marginalised, desperate youth are spat out onto high walk mazes, then torn from these concrete hell-holes so that the promise of ‘re-generation’ can sit limp and lifeless on a faded council planning notice. These skeletons, these eviscerated shells, should seem as dead as when they housed the living. Yet once all attempts at an unfulfilled and forever-damned functionality have ceased, a strange new palpable energy can be felt amongst the burn-out graffiti strewn walls. In ultimate rejection and outright failure, the mysteries of a sad and troubled history are locked within the broken architecture. Rusting pipes and smashed window panes become abstract, fascinating treasures, whereas the tired scraping of a long worn-out wallpaper allude to the misspent optimism of a malfunctioning ‘modern society’ so abhorrently manufactured in a post-war boom. These 400ft tombstones generate their own fascinating postliving space, where echoes of a dismal past and arid future create new synergised environments. Here desolation works as a backdrop for new communication and connections. With the removal of social habitats comes the appreciation of greying blocks and industrial frameworks. Beauty is found in the vibrant yellows of a fuse box lid, or the umber tones of scorched and naked lightbulb. The energy of broken objects is as tangible as the throb of the swarming city, except here it is inanimate absence that is compelling.
To decode such fascinations is confounding. Why should we celebrate the disastrous and derelict urban apocalypses that blight the backstreets of our cities and outer echelons of the suburbs? They house no grand histories or ancient birth-rights, but rather serve as a disturbing yet compelling marker of failure. Do we love our urban shit-holes? Or is the truth far more convoluted. Perhaps, as we move amongst the slick new sheen of sheet glass walls, steel frames and fluid undulating lines of contemporary cityscapes, the realisation that this history will never be preserved is terrifying. Whilst grade-listed dwellings decorated in tapestries will always serve as a marker of heritage, our societal failures will be obliterated. Not only will these bizarre derelictions cease to offer an alternate to the banality of successful living, but their erasure will remove an incessant anxiety felt amongst disaster that at once excites and terrifies. Much like the balance of oneâ€™s sanity, it is only in the presence of the formidable fear of death and failure that one can truly live.
vii Photo: Ellie Stamp
vii & viii
Photo: Ellie Stamp
Getting their hands dirty: The malleable materiality of ‘Glorious Estate’ Within Glorious Estate the removed solidity of the built environment has been converted into graspable materials. Rough raw elements are gathered, processed, crafted, made precious and assembled into constructions within three separate, but complimentary practices. Each provide access to the fabric of made space, having already fingered it loose from more abstract processes. As such, they feel impermanent, temporary and tractable. There seems to be the possibility of re-structuring or re-assembling, adding and subtracting to these constructions that reference D.I.Y. and hand-crafted activities. However, the added elements go beyond object-hood as the artists reach into the fabric of the gallery’s maintenance architecture, tinkering with the plumbing and lighting. More than placed, the works have been incorporated. There is the distinct sense that the artists have worked here, built here, had a cup of tea and, in conversation with one another, arranged things to their liking. In this way, the exhibition channels its setting: the Clapton Tram Depot. Over the years this historical building has been re-purposed by small businesses, art galleries and project spaces, studios and residential units. Like many sites reclaimed after industry has abandoned them, it has the romantic atmosphere of a forgotten place that individuals and small communities can make truly theirs; physically maintaining, altering and shaping the space for their own purposes. Such spaces are always at risk of being noticed by the zealous eye of the urban planner or developer, but whilst they remain unseen, they can be places of great spatial and material freedom. These communally defined and self-made spaces are a key interest within Anna Chrystal Stephen’s work as she reconstitutes discarded and handmade materials into makeshift constructions, balancing a highly finished and rougher aesthetic. Built within and in response to the specific situation of Bruno Glint gallery, her sculptural assemblage ‘Survivalism’ is made up of separate elements collected, altered and made by the artist that were brought into the space to work with in situ. Two wide wooden rectangles covered with printed and knitted material arch out horizontally from the wall, a mysterious totem standing erect from within the v-shaped zone behind them. As such, ‘Survivalism’ appears to defiantly lay claim to a delineated space within the gallery, setting up camp next to the wall.
This possession of space is reflected in Keef Winter’s woodenscreen-like construction, which curves protectively around a corner of the gallery, one side of the rough wooden panelled screen bulging confidently out into the space, the apex of the tapered geometric sections coming to a sharp point. Glimmering through the ripped black plastic panel of the protective, but misshapen wooden screen, a light is prettily refracted through an intriguingly shaped bulb. Hanging from a cable protruding from a hole in the ceiling that leads into the dusty recesses of the building’s roof, Wright’s work takes advantage of an already present feature, taking the opportunity to present something surprising precious from what looks like an act of vandalism. Winter’s work was also built site-specifically for this show from materials gathered nearby. The result has an element of the ‘accident’ borne from a more reactive way of working, but has also been designed for the space specifically, as, like Stephen’s work, formal decisions were made in situ. As a whole, the exhibition takes an attitude of temporary spatial possession. The direct, if incidental, relationships between individual pieces come together to communally inhabit the gallery and give it the aura of a personalised and collectively formed place. For example, small pencil drawings sketched onto the surface of Winter’s wooden construction could almost be plans for Carla Wright’s geometrically shaped wall pieces. Just as Winter’s screen encircles a space lit by Wright’s light piece, their works ‘Artefacts – Rubble Series’ by Wright and ‘What happens when concrete is cast in cardboard’ by Winter, appear to materially mirror one another and form a strong bond as if they had been made in congruence as the artists worked together to furnish the space. Additionally, the attribution of preciousness particular to Wright’s work reflects the personal investment within handmade or D.I.Y. activity, such as in ‘Concerns of the living interacting with the dead stuff of buildings’, in which a found fragment of safety glass has been made ornamental, having been shaped, smoothed and hung from a carefully constructed bracket on the wall. Despite the makeshift aesthetic and the use of discarded or rough building materials there are clear signs of design consideration. Each have a purposeful presence within the space, positioned with care, combining to create a collectively meaningful place.
At the same time, the makeshift aesthetic imbues the objects with a certain lack of solidity and therefore impermanence. This is either in terms of their material form or in their mode of presentation. Stephen’s photographically printed silk scarves may be delicately perfect, but are draped casually over the fire alarm (‘Dreamcatcher’), the broken-umbrella-topped totem in ‘Survivalism’ and even the ‘Untitled’ silk piece in the gallery foyer, which seems to be more traditionally displayed, is actually hung from a metal pole placed nonchalantly on top of a lightbox that is a constant of the gallery fabric. An experimental, reactive mode of making and display remain obvious and there is an oblique tension between the preciousness of the finished moment of display and its ephemerality; the changeable character of the art space. As such the different pieces retain a sense of flux. We can imagine them being built upon further, or taken apart or simply rearranged. This sense of flux inherent to self-made spaces is explored by Jane Rendell in her essay ‘Undoing Architecture’ in which she revisits the experience of living in the “fragile structure” of a once derelict house, taken on by a group of friends and made into a home. In doing so she questions the authorial relationship of the architect to buildings and built spaces as well as their assumption of the permanence or completeness of their solid structures, much as the collective work of ‘Glorious Estate’ does. In her less than solid, non-contained home, the everyday rules of domesticity were broken and living spaces were constantly morphing, overlapping and running into one another; the normally enclosed structure of its walls gaining a porosity as things, people and architecture reacted with and against one another. The fabric of the building and the space it punctuated was theirs to play with and their occupation of space was intensified by its malleability and sense of possibility: “This condition of potentiality... provided the catalyst to achieve flexibility through transformation, through misuse. Within one life a single table was the crowded focus of a drunken evening, it then became several café tables, then again frames for candle-lit icons, and finally a hot blaze on a cold night. Deciding just how and when to use an object in a certain way provokes interesting questions. At what point does furniture become firewood?”
Many of the material elements that make up the work in Glorious Estate have this same sense of a multiplicity of potential, although it is sometimes hard to tell at what point in a making process they currently belong to. Wright’s ‘Artefacts’ present the found waste products of building sites as valuable pieces that could also be geological samples of natural material. Equally, Winter’s ‘What happens when concrete is cast in cardboard’ is the finished product of an experimental artistic process, but lies on the floor like a piece of diamond shaped rock waiting to be chiselled into. Material is presented here, and in the rest of the exhibition as unstable. It is touchable and workable. The basic, unrefined processes of all built environments, often hidden, are exposed. Such is the dark viscous fluid that appears to have leaked from an attractive brass tap connected to a copper pipe on the gallery wall. Winter’s piece ‘Extraction’ mirrors a functional pipe next to it, but unlike its hidden, painted-over neighbour, its bronzed colour attracts attention. The tap appears to provide access to hidden recesses within the building, from which a mess of sweet black treacle emerges. ‘Extraction’, like much of Winter’s practice, details the unseen and the less attractive, yet necessary working components behind the neat external surfaces of the built environment. An awareness and understanding of this hidden materiality within the built environment provides access to it as something that can be manipulated. There is a great sense of freedom in being actively involved in the shaping of one’s spatial environment: “Desiring creatures transgress; they resist the logic of architecture as the other who completes self.”1 Such interventions are not clean. They are personal, messy and difficult, but also potent, like the ooze from Winter’s extraction, or surprisingly beautiful, like the delightful form of Wright’s delicate bottle-like light bulb. HANNAH NEWELL
1. Jane Rendell, ‘Undoing Architecture’ published in ‘Site-Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism’, 2010, I.B.Tauris, London, pg27 – 35.
Iâ€™m caught in a machine and there are feelings behind glass screens and I can see all the components stare back at me. And I cannot speak for the anxiety, the pointing fingers and the official portrait. Clones of old friends lined-up, all-day making ammunition. I walk along a bright corridor with stainless steel walls and glaring white lights. Scarlet-red flames pour from the gap underneath the doors, flowing across and into each-other from both sides engulfing my feet. The corridor soon intersects another but I keep a straight path. I finally arrive at a door on Iraho Shopping Street. It opens to a dilapidated building where an old friend hides with his wife. Both are estranged and reclusive amongst the rubble. They are waiting for a message but it has not arrived. They invite me to take part in the construction of their shelter. In the yard, piles of raw material sit, ordered and sequenced into size, weight and value. We build from what we can remember, post and lintel, makeshift foundations, metal wires tied to tree stumps. Our tools are basic but we work on - sharing our knowledge as we build. Columns and beams are erected from thick wooden planks and steel tubes, panels of plastic composites are fixed to the exterior and white rockboard lines the inside walls. Gradually, out of the waste material of the old buildings, we fuse a new shelter together, not pretty to look at but functional and unyeilding in the harsh wind. Keef Winter
Folk enclaves and the interactions between them; tribes, friendly and hostile. Scraps and precious stones, cultural debris and tools, stuff of anthropological enquiry. Physical living structures and hypothetical social structures. Propositions for a society without domestication in mind and apocalypse envisioning environmentalist movements. Fetishisation of making do; re-use and re-appropriation of materials. You can't see houses, you can see shelters which spell out the process of their construction through their appearance, you can see the way they have been assembled, the hand-madeness, the tendency to build instinctively with what’s available, like with a nest. Transient communities constantly constructing or dismantling. Adaptability. The speed with which community adjusts through introduction of shared cultural signifiers; symbols, new and specific words and phrases, for new and volatile terrains. The possibility of small scale (stateless?) but ’friendly’ societies with unique cultural practices. ANNA CHRYSTAL STEPHENS
Glorious Estate At Bruno Glint Gallery the visitor becomes an anthropologist. Entering the cobbled mews and climbing a rusty staircase, we come across a space transformed. Fetishes of some post-apocalyptic society cover the walls, a mysterious structure of unknown ritual-use stands in our midst. This is ‘Glorious Estate’, the gallery’s latest exhibition, in which artists Anna Chrystal Stephens, Keef Winter, and Carla Wright explore late-modernity through its physical detritus. Keef Winter’s sculpture of plywood, pine, industrial insulation and black plastic film is a combination of precision and roughness. The piece is composed of three hinged panels, one of which features triangular facets forming an irregular, upturned pyramid. In contrast, the other panels of the sculpture are made up of dented industrial foam and ply. The resultant form, roughly L-shaped, is inscribed with stains and roughly painted here and there. It is at once a refined exploration of three-dimensions and a piece of chaotic maverick DIY. Like Winter, Anna Chrystal Stephens adopts an expressive somewhat anarchistic approach to construction, and her wall-mounted assemblages are built from a variety of found materials. In ‘Survivalism’ patterned textiles are stretched over frames to form screens, the apparently haphazard combination of materials evoking the structures of refugee camps or new-age settlements. Attached to this, a pole supports a totem of tangled wire adorned with bright, synthetic-string. A length of silk draped over the totem partially obscures it, perhaps an act of deference to its mystic power. Stephens’ two other pieces also feature silk digitally-printed with images of twigs and plastic stacking boxes. There is a sense of subversion in the combination of a material associated with luxury and objects that are normally considered too mundane to be worthy of notice. In Carla Wright’s works a certain clarity of form, geometry and use of materials (including safety glass and oak) combine in an unmistakeable reference to modernism. It is a particularly English type of mid-20th Century sentiment that brings to
mind Eric Lyons’ ‘Span Housing’, Denys Lasdun, and Ercol furniture. The translation of these icons of utility into pure aesthetic objects could be read as an implicit critique of their practical value, although there is something simultaneously celebratory in the elegant lines of Wright’s sculptures notably in ‘Concerns of the living interacting with the dead stuff of buildings’. Discarded materials are transformed into objects of veneration in an exhibition which at its core, is an exploration of ideology. The notion of planned modernity is evoked in references to the stark edifices of modernist architecture, while the utopianism of the commune is explored in the work of Anna Chrystal Stephens. But despite this optimism (or perhaps in reaction to it) the spectres of industrial decline haunt the show, a malevolent dystopian spirit amongst the fragile beauty of the art objects. In the dialectic of modernity versus anti-modernity, and industrially produced versus handmade, the exhibition explores the shifting ground of design practice in the 20th and 21st centuries. More than the art object in contemporary discourse, it is the contested nature of the design object and of industrial production which forms the basis of this show. In that sense, it is a ‘To the Finland Station’ (Wilson 1940) of visual culture, exploring the trajectory of progressive applied art, but pointing out the limitations, romanticism and ultimate naivety of the doctrines that prevailed. Jay McCauley Bowstead
i. Anna Chrystal Stephens – ‘Untitled’, photograph printed on silk, copper poles, 2012. ii. Carla Wright – ‘Concerns of the living interacting with the dead stuff of buildings’, security glass, wool, oak, 2012. iii. Carla Wright - ‘Untitled’, light bulb, fixing, cable, 2012. iv. Keef Winter - ‘Untitled’, plywood, pine, foam, black stretch film plastic, steel hinges, plasterboard, 2012. v. Carla Wright - ‘Concerns of the living interacting with the dead stuff of buildings II’, ceramic, wire, oak, 2012. vi. Anna Chrystal Stephens - ‘Survivalism’, Wood, string, yarn, photograph printed on silk, fabric and wool panels, broken umbrella, 2012. vii. Carla Wright - ‘Artefacts - Rubble Series’, construction site rubble, paint, metal tiles, plywood. 2012. viii. Keef Winter – ‘What happens when concrete is cast in cardboard’, coloured concrete, 2011. ix. Anna Chrystal Stephens - ‘Dreamcatcher’, photograph printed on silk, 2012. x. Keef Winter - ‘Extraction’, copper pipes, brass, black treacle, 2012.
allotrope press ISSN 2046 -2859
This publication marks the closing of the exhibition 'Glorious Estate' and includes text-based contributions from Holly Black, Jay McCauley...
Published on Dec 21, 2012
This publication marks the closing of the exhibition 'Glorious Estate' and includes text-based contributions from Holly Black, Jay McCauley...