ORGAN THING: Two new shows, two rewarding art shows at The Approach over in East London, Sara Baker’s excellent Hems and what is happening in Jack Lavender’s blackness?

Sara Barker

What to make of what they have to offer in the two distinct gallery spaces hiding up there above the pub also known as The Approach. Still not sure why they choose to hide up there rather than hint that there might just be a rather big and often very rewarding art gallery up those awkward stairs is still a bit of a mystery, I guess it does in some kind of way add to the drama of it all,some sort of secret that only those who know know.  And as is (almost) always the case, there are two shows opening at the same time in the two gallery rooms tonight.

Sara Barker is in the small annexe space with a show called [hems], it is her work that has attracted us to the gallery tonight – “For [hems], Glasgow-based artist Sara Barker is showing a series of new sculptures. The title takes its inspiration from the humble edge that borders a skirt, handkerchief, or sleeve; a neat and folded trim, tucking away the messy tangles of loose thread and fabric underneath. In relation to Barker’s sculptures, the hem evokes figurative associations, making connections to the things which contain and hold the body. The hem also draws attention to the physical – as well as metaphorical – edges and borders of things: both the works themselves and the exhibition as a whole are in a capsulated form. Though smaller than much of her previous work, the pieces in this new series retain Barker’s distinctive artistic language where she blurs the thresholds between sculpture, painting and drawing. Employing these disciplines and their associated materials and techniques, Barker’s sculptures create both physical and metaphysical space, sometimes expansive, and at others, claustrophobic”.

Sara Barker

The Annexe gallery is small, it probably makes the pieces feel larger than they actually are, they do feel big, dare I say larger than life? And it is about the edges, the associations the bits where bits meet other bits, it is all about the bits, the tangles, the angles the bits that feel like they’ve fallen off buildings exposing the wire that holds together the concrete. There’s lots here, there’s lot in each piece, they’re all on the wall but you do find yourself changing your angle of view,  trying to get a look from the side, from beneath, from around the corner and you are tempted to reach in an peel back a layer or lift a hem.

“Originally commissioned for her solo exhibition at Cample Line in Scotland, 2020, Barker’s sculptures were made during lockdown. Using the limited materials and space around her, and without access to a professional fabricator, Barker has been getting intimate with production. Working from home, moving between her kitchen, garage and attic, she has hand-crafted her series of domestically sized wall-mounted reliefs. Incorporating painted and moulded brass, steel and aluminium as well as everyday materials such as wood, cardboard and wire, Barker conjures little worlds, abstract scenes constituted from linear shapes drawn in metal. To quote Susanna Beaumont: “Barker’s reliefs are akin to pages from a diary, sketches sketched, a draft of a composition, a quickly written musical score. [In these new works] is a kind of unearthing, a reveal. A series of archaeological sites filled with the physical, the familiar and the unidentifiable, the less pin-down-able shaky dream, the half-recalled and the fast-dissolving memory. Earthy yet brittle, [hems] gives evidence of time spent, time stretched, time corrupted, ordered and disordered.”

it is a small show, in a small room, it does feel big though. There’s a couple of good shows on in East London right now, this one is well worth your time, it is a reveal, I like that, a reveal, I do like the layers, I do like layers. 

The larger of the spaces has been completely transformed in a most unexpected way be Jack Lavender, I guess we should say that if you are already planing or are indeed able to go you should stop reading this piece and avoid the photos further down the page, just take yourself off this page and take our word for it, this show is best viewed with no prior knowledge of what to expect, do not read any more of this review for the whole thing is just one big spoiler and it is was exciting to climb those stairs without really knowing what was behind the door.      

Taping very black Proplex panels to the floor and wall with even blacker tape, Jack Lavender has transformed the main room of The Approach into a “crepuscular stage set”, turning the space into some kind of theatrical black box very dimly lit by the cold strip light that normally aluminates the usually traditional white-walled gallery. It might be opening night but there’s not many here, those who are almost creeping around in silence, wondering why there’s a phone box in the middle of the space. “Employing non-hierarchical display strategies, a few objects lurk in the space, sculptural remnants from past events, or signifiers of an impending future. A dead eucalyptus tree stands at one end of the gallery, deflated party balloons limply hang off a branch; a box of spent fireworks suggest celebrations been and gone; a disconnected KX100 phone box towers lugubriously, once the zenith of technological innovation, now an outdated and outmoded form of communication. All of these objects carry an ominous significance, spectres of a lost future”.

Jack Lavender

And it does feel a little ominous, the space is too big to feel claustrophobic, you don’t feel enclosed, it does feel exciting, initially, an “oh wow!” reaction from viewers as they push through the door, I m not sure if I;m seeing the phonebox as outdated (but then when did any of us last use a public phone box to make a pone call?), I’m seeing the phone box as unreasonable clean and graffiti free, where are the prostitute cards or the stickers, where’s the smell of piss, someone goes in and picks up the receiver, half expecting to hear something, I assume they heard nothing?    

“Lavender’s concern with time has been apparent throughout his practice. He has an instinctive impulse to collect usually forgettable souvenirs from the everyday and preserve them as relics of a particular moment or era, as if they are destined for induction to a time capsule, ready for some distant future generation to discover. To quote Mark Fisher, what Lavender’s work shows us is how: “In the last 10 to 15 years, the internet and mobile telecommunications technology have altered the texture of everyday experience beyond all recognition. Yet, perhaps because of all this there’s an increasing sense that culture has lost the ability to grasp the present everyday life has sped up but culture has slowed down.””

So are we in some kind of Planet of The Apes type future? The bit where they found the old subway train? Well there’s actually not that much to see in here in terms of “things”, it is more the experience, the messing with your ideas, the unexpected questioning of what an art gallery is. It does feel strange initially after a while the few people that are in here do just start chatting like they do at any art show opening (I’m standing in the dark space hearing about someone’s health issues, someone else’s rent problems, hard not hear them talk, it does feel amplified in here in the lowlight). Does it feel like we’ve broken into some kind of lost world? A pharaoh’s tomb or one of those old Tube Stations they closed back before the war, do we need more mess though? Is it too clean in here? Phone boxes always were dirty grubby places back when we all had to use them.     

Jack Lavender

Lavender, or maybe the gallery say he is “Combining the concept of the “slow cancellation of the future” in cultural terms, with the more urgent threat of global warming and climate catastrophe, Lavender employs gallows humour as a kind of salvation. In his collages – a few exhibited in the gallery, but mostly viewable via his concurrent online presentation “Tired but Wired 2” – Lavender takes his images from found printed material magazine and newspaper clippings, old books and flyers, with a particular focus on the ‘90s and ‘00s new age and raver subcultures. In these works, the world is on fire, both culturally and literally. Images of planet Earth are symbolically interchanged with clock faces, counting us down until the moment it’s all over”

It is initially exciting, thrilling maybe? And then you let that initial “wow” drain away and start to wonder why, without at this point reading anything like a gallery statement or any on the show information, you wonder around the blackness of the gallery dropping down to see what that is almost at floor level on the wall in the corner? And then, after, I don’t know, what seems like fifteen minutes of not looking at much,  it probably wasn’t that long really, you quietly leave and think well that was interesting, but was it really that exciting? Was it ever meant to be? Did it actually back up the words you’ve now read? Was it any more than just a challenge to what a gallery space should be? And as interesting or exciting it was to be in there, was it really anything more than that? Was it just an initial rush? Am I actually they bothered either way? I mean I liked being in a gallery that was head to foot in black cardboardy plasticy stuff, I did like walking on it, I know a Goth or two who would think it to be some kind of heaven, but was it anything more than just an experience?  (sw)

The Approach gallery is up above the pub of the same name, 1st Floor, 47 Approach Rd, London E2 9LY. There’s a not really that obvious door inside the pub just to the left of the bar. Both shows are on until 23rd October.  

Do as always, click on an image to enlarge or to run the slide show…

5 thoughts on “ORGAN THING: Two new shows, two rewarding art shows at The Approach over in East London, Sara Baker’s excellent Hems and what is happening in Jack Lavender’s blackness?

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