Furnished Archipelago: Exhibition Review

Furnished Archipelago at Paradise Works

Written by Josh Molyneux

Photographs by Josh Molyneux and James Ackerley

Furnished Archipelago has created a zone of altered context in a corner of Salford, with a feeling of being both embodied within and separate to the world outside. Showing works from Depot Art Studios artists Jack Ginno, Rowan Eastwood, Alistair Woods and Sam Potter alongside sculptural furniture pieces by James Ackerley, this exhibition at Paradise Works generates a strong and distinct sense of character through the cohesion of the works and the space.

When considering the work on show it feels natural to consider it as whole, with the individual pieces as component parts, such is the overall feel of work which points in the same direction. It seems safe to assume the Depot artists are close, drawing influences from shared sources and producing works that support each other. Giving little away, the accompanying information simply lists the artists’ impetus for these works as a “common interest in the everyday, authorship, time and space” and this ambiguity is fitting of work which has no obvious object. However, the congruence between the pieces gives their particular ambiguity a distinct flavour.

Purposeful areas of negative space, block colours and square shapes which proliferate the work from Ginno, Potter and Woods suggests geometrical abstraction, with some pieces almost entirely one colour or finish. Eastwood’s piece ‘This is Bliss’ which fills out the centre of the room consists of two tent shapes arranged to form a structure with rotational symmetry, all angles and space. Ackerley’s series of ‘Prototypes for Uncomfortable Chairs’ are geometrical forms, like the experiments of someone who has just learned to attach blocks together within digital 3D modelling software, brought to life. In form, the work feels clean and sharp.

However, the abstractions are not ‘pure’ – they bear marks of having been in the world. The works have scuff marks as though from shoes on a wall, fingerprints showing where they have been carried, scribbled scratches as if someone has scraped past carrying an awkwardly shaped object. Some works have anti-theft tags on them. Indecipherable numbers, parts of words and acronyms are scrawled onto several of the pieces, like notes of measurement calculations or inexpert graffiti. This gives the pieces a feel of utility, like they have served another purpose. The tent shapes in the centre are made from a yellow tarpaulin fabric, a material which feels connected to construction – something you might need a dust sheet for. The furniture sculptures look like they’re made from bits of old office drawers – the paint has come off at the corners. The soft foam of the seat cushion is left uncovered, exposing the synthetic nature of the material. This style is then reflected in the structural elements of the venue, with the strip lights and reflective material of the roof blending in with the technical materials of the pieces.

The result is that the geometry and finishes of the pieces feel architectural, like notions of the building blocks that go into our lived environments in contemporary urban life. Potentially oxymoronically, for me it is like the work gives off an abstract notion of the concrete world, seeing the everyday through a hazy impression. Since this perspective is so consistent throughout the pieces, once in the space, it really feels as though you are inhabiting this conceptual environment. Visitors are invited to use the sculptural furniture, and this interactivity really adds another dimension to the experience, further realising the construct through touch.

By getting carried away by this sense of world-building I feel I neglected the individual merit of each of the pieces, which could easily stand their ground in another context where they do not form part of an aligned project. However, I just feel that the overarching achievement of the exhibition is to make the whole space feel special, rather than merely a blank background in which to place interesting objects. Even the way you enter the exhibition space, through a channel in many floor-to-ceiling rods, feels like a symbolic move from whatever is outside to in.

As an added thrill which I was not expecting having not studied the exhibition guide, there is a small room off the main exhibition space which contains Eastwood’s ‘I’m Looking Up At You’ where a small moon glows, mid-air in a dark room while Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ plays from a corner. It makes for a warming scene and for me a feeling of conclusion, rounding off an absorbing body of work.

Furnished Archipelago at Paradise Works is on from 18th until 26th August – open weekends and by appointment. Free.

Our guest blogger Josh Molyneux is a designer/artist based in Manchester, working primarily on jewellery that draws on his background in philosophy. View his work or get in touch via Instagram @josh_mol_design.

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