This forthcoming International Touring Exhibition is the latest in a series of exhibitions exploring the traditional artistic genres. The subject provides a thematic focus for a diverse range of new or recent work by contemporary British artists.
Since evolving as an independent category of art in the seventeenth century, the still life has remained by definition an arrangement of objects defined by the codes of representation specific to a given time. Considered the lowest ranking pictorial genre in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the still life became the characteristic form of expression for artists involved in most twentieth century art movements from Cubism to Pop. Thoroughly transformed, the contemporary still life is derived from widely varying approaches employing both traditional and new media and techniques.
Object assemblages in this exhibition that can be said to represent an evolved still life genre include Jane Simpson’s arrangement of domestic furniture wired to a refrigerated element, and Anna Barriball’s coloured angle-poise lamps, carefully positioned before a wall-mounted drawing. Martin Boyce’s displaced sections of modernist furniture form dejected abstract structures, while Gary Webb’s assemblages incorporate the widest range of abstract shapes, colours, materials and sound elements to form chaotic yet precise groupings.
A number of works refer closely to the history of still life imagery such as the meticulous collaborative paintings in pastiche academy style by Bank, Patrick Caulfield’s object compositions incorporating abstracted areas of light and shade, and Jane Simpson’s sculptural homages to Giorgio Morandi. Simon Starling re-articulates the traditional flower composition in a series of photographic images recording uprooted rhododenron plants on their ‘repatriation’ journey to the land of their origin. In John Riddy’s black and white photographs of modernist interiors the architectural space functions as a backdrop for the precise placement of exquisite objects of desire.
The traditional theme of vanitas or momento mori is extended in paintings by Nigel Cooke, through the introduction of new and unexpected elements alongside references to classical motifs. In the work of Christina Mackie and Mike Nelson the use of narrative is liberated from the highly restricted parameters that traditionally operated within the genre to encompass individual histories and complex fictions. In the Duchampian tradition of redefining the meaning of everyday objects, ‘ready-made’ still lives are given centre stage in Richard Wentworth’s ‘Making Do and Getting By’ photo series while Harrison and Wood’s semi-static videos record figure and object performances. Emma Kay’s compositions take the form of printed words listing commonplace items as they appear in the text of the bible.
Catalogue published to accompany the exhibition ISBN 0 86355 448 2; available from Cornerhouse www.cornerhouse.org