Benjamin Murphy – Disasterpiece at Lychee One Gallery, Hackney, East London – Needed to go back for a second look at this one, Lychee One is a strange gallery, a cold gallery, a squeaky clean not very friendly white-walled glass fronted space in a new build, there’s never much information (or indeed conversation) about their shows and it really isn’t one of those spaces where the silence does the talking. You find the gallery in the no man’s land between the grit of Hackney’s Mare Street and relief of The trees of London Fields, that space in between not far from where the Death Factory was once found, almost right on the spot where Play once happened in a then condemned warehouse, the gallery is at the foot of one of those heartlessly expensive new builds where the coffee drinkers who spend their lives eating food and grooming beards on Broadway Market live. It can be hard to connect with the space and the art in Lychee One, it is a strange place. Benjamin Murphy, as we’ve said before, is always an interesting artist, both his gallery work, his sketch book pages, his black tape and his marks on the street (that we don’t see so much these days), he’s always an artist worth your time, hopes were high for this one.
Disasterpiece isn’t a black and white exhibition, it might look like it is but it really isn’t, Disasterpiece is, so we’re told,”a show that has been borne out of the hectic and significant portion of history that has been the last two years. Global chaos ran rampant and optimism, beauty, and creativity were hard to find. All over the world the resilience of the human spirit triumphed and many lessons were learnt. This show is tied temporally to that period of history, and as such had become in some ways the artist’s response to it. Indirect and inchoate though it may be”. We’re told that “this show has been occupying space in the artist’s mind for over a year. Since then he has spent time in the unforgiving minus 30 degree Finnish winter, and that calm and harsh melancholy that pervades the season has found its was into the works also, taking its place in the negative space between forms”. And yes, it is as much about the space the pieces are in, the way they’re placed as it is about the pieces themselves. Not sure if that space is “negative”, and not sure if the art is as cold and uninviting as the gallery itself is, true, the art doesn’t feel like the unforgiving Finnish winter in here, or indeed the cold bleak Hackney winter that’s right outside either (the opening night was indeed finger-numbingly cold) but it doesn’t feel that warm or inviting wither, these are not just “nice” flower studies, this show is far more than that. The space between the pieces, the placing of the pieces, the relationship of the groups of pieces we’re invited to walk around clearly is as important as the drawings themselves – “The curation is site-specific, and so Disasterpiece should therefore be encountered as one immersive experience rather than as a collection of paintings”.
There is order, there could maybe be disorder? The unforgiving medium of charcoal on raw canvas can be dirty, somehow that adds to it all – the dirty smudge of unforgiving charcoal, it does challenge the artist and Benjamin Murphy has used challenge in a rather bold way, in a positive way, he;s used it to challenge us, he’s taken on that unforgiving nature and thrown it at us. The drawings (rather than paintings) are mostly of plants or of the shapes and shadows left by the plants or the shapes of the plants themselves, of their leaves, of their masses. The pieces are slotted together in a way that breaks up the images (as well as the gallery space) and takes them beyond just being studies of plants, there are several layers or levels here. There is a kind of “labyrinthine mass”. Is it dystopian? Not sure about that, it might be? Plants shapes and everything, it might be brutalist, concrete-like, of the street, off the street? The dirty street, rather than the gallery as sacred space. It is a cold show, these are cold plants, these are slab-like concrete flavoured canvases, the curation is crucial, I’m not sure if it quite works in this particular space? Not sure if it works in this particular gallery in terms of being an “immersive experience”, it certainly is far more than just a collection of interesting charcoal drawings on beautifully raw canvas. It feels like there’s more to it that this space is revealing, that there’s more to come from the piece (or pieces), that it needs to be taken to other spaces, to other places, that we need to go with it and see it again, it doesn’t feel like these past two years are over or that the artist has brought his Disasterpiece to a conclusion quite yet? Feels like there’s more to come, I hope there is, this is a good show, it did take a couple of goes, it does feel like there needs to be more though, it feels like it needs to find that right place and space. And yes, it might not be the point, but as individual pieces, they’re pretty good as well. (sw)
Lychee One is at Unit 1 The Gransden, 39-45 Gransden Avenue, Hackney, London, E8 3QA – London Fields would be a better address, in that gap between Mare Street and London Fields itself, just through the alley over the road from London Fields overground station, just past the Fat Cap piece (unless someone has painted over it since I passed it yesterday), the gallery opens onto the street as part of one of the fancy new builds (where Play once happened before all the destruction). The show runs until March 12th, the gallery opening hours are stated as Thursday – Saturday 12 – 6pm and by appointment.
Do please click on an image to enlarge or to run the slide show…