WELCOME. The imposing text invitation reaches forwards through an imperceptible distance of pitch black space. Assertive, it conversationally suggests IF THIS IS A BUILDING, THEN THIS IS THE ATRIUM.
YES, it reads, THIS IS THE ATRIUM.
Elizabeth Price’s film WELCOME ( The Atrium) 2008 is, like the atrium of a large public building, installed just beyond the entrance and what could effectively be the lobby area for the V22 Collection Show. Blinking in the half light and unsure if the small door in the side of the expanse of industrial brick work really is the entrance to V22, the visitor is ushered in by an official figure behind a desk, wearing a scarf from Lucky PDF’s exhibited fashion line S/S Young London Collection. This is displayed adjacent to the front desk, clothes draped over a folded screen for close examination and completed with a digital presentation of the modelled designs. In contrast, on the other side of the room and affixed to the wall high up and out of reach, is Phyllida Barlow’s SWAMP untitled: parapet 2010, glowing an otherworldly cobalt blue from its altar like spotlighting. However, there are affinities between the two practices. Both have been made from publicly available appropriated material. For Lucky Pdf this material is digital and and for Barlow it is physical scrap. This has then be sculpted into something other; something that itself crosses boundaries between fashion, architecture, object and art. Crucially, they are presented together as part of a collection of art, a part of the art world process that V22 underlines as potentially positive to an artists ongoing career development and continued practice if conducted within a good, ongoing relationship. Within the theatricality of the exhibition is a business like creative pragmatism.
The opposition of these two equally material works, also introduces the theme of accessibility that is integral to V22, who, as an organisation seek to make the intricacies of the art world more accessible to the public as well as to the artists on which it relies: to bring the different participant’s of that world into closer collaborative affinity with one another through the back door that they have left open.
From this half-illuminated space the viewer is disconcertingly plunged into almost complete darkness. Unlike its thematic architectural suggestion of an atrium’s vaulted ceilings and reverential, sky-scraping windows, Price’s work is sequestered behind heavy dark felt curtains that shroud the entrant in velvety blackness. This allows the screen at the far end of the room to expand and engulf the space within its own crisply lit realm as an intensely loud and pervasive soundtrack swells. The gleaming perfection of a contrived fountain, pieced together in tantalising snap shots of deconstucted material culture, begins to bubble over and flow with a viscous paint like fluid. These half-identifiable metallic and catalogue clean plastic components exist in a unpeopled void, lit by large theatrical spotlights, evidenced as the film slides sideways from the central focus of the fountain. The atrium and the building in which it expands, are evidently constructed within the imagination of the viewer and the work. Having been introduced to this stirring, creative conceptual space, it then manifestly unfolds through a series of increasingly bright adjoining rooms leading through the exhibition, populated with assemblages and constructions that have both a strong collective and singular presence.
Amongst these are continual contrasts and cross overs between a finished slickness and an almost art povera material aesthetic, particularly in the sculptural elements. There is always a sense of making; a careful choice of material and visual variables. An exhibition of a collection, it is also clear that many of the artists are collectors themselves, assemblers and organisers, whether that be in the form of Vanessa Billy’s pragmatic crafting of Grounds (250 litres), a sheet of glass laid over compressed earth; the collective reconstitution of digital images of the Romanian Peles Castle into solid, rectangular stone-block-like inversions of meshed, marbled paper by Peles Empire; or Alexandre Da Cunha’s transformation of banal objects into a Kitsch version of minimal aesthetic in SILVERLINKTECHMASTER. As if to highlight the agency of these choosing, shaping, assembling artists, each piece within the show has an astonishing quantity of breathing room. Whilst desire lines link different works together across the immensity of the industrial cavern, they each command a generously sized space and confidently stand alone, allowing the work to be accessed in its own right and under its own conditions. Access to such a large space is advantageous in showing a multifaceted collection of separate artists’ work and the presentation echoes the independence that V22 hopes to give its artists. Every collected artist has the opportunity to own shares within the collection. This allow the artists to retain a sense of agency over their work and for the work to have a certain amount of independence outside and within the collection. At the same time, the collected artist also becomes part of a community within V22 that has internal influence on the organisation.
It is also apparent that many of the works have been re-assembled or re-made to exist in this space for the exhibition, such as Phyllida Barlow’s architectural constructions of scrap material which become increasingly heavy with each making. As they are unavoidably affected by the process of being dismantled, they are materially changed by each exhibition and continue to adapt and grow with each exhibiting space. A sense of flux, of continual process echoes throughout the concrete chambers.
That V22 are carving out a space for working is re-iterated by the traces of labour in the works’ displayed and the sense of their physical installation. As an organisation, V22 gathers up and places a business umbrella over the three active necessities of an artists career: a place to work, a place to exhibit and a collector to purchase and house artworks. Predominately, there is a need for space for work, in both senses of the word. A space for artwork and artist to be and to function. In Price’s film a building is invoked, incorporeal yet inhabited by viscerally material objects. From here the show opens out into increasing lit interconnected vault-like rooms that are progressively populated with works. Disorientated by the darkness, the theatrical proposition IF THIS IS A BUILDING permeates throughout the rest of the exhibition. It suggests possibilities. The disused industrial cavity that opens up beneath V22’s offices and studios has the essential bareness of a stage set that allows such architectonic re-imaginings.
The V22 collection brings together a series of art works from both well known names and emerging artists. A convulsed time-line of long standing artistic development and gathering significance. It is a collection that consistently implies development rather than fixity; the combination of imaginative energy and organisational support that decides that IF THIS IS A BUILDING, then ….