(Not) Getting Personal

For two days at the end of January, Flat38 Gallery in Margate will present works by eight artists selected by its owner and curator, Claire Orme. It is the first exhibition organised in the space that simultaneously serves as Claire’s residence and thus ties with production techniques tried and tested by curators in the past (Harald Szeemann curated an exhibition dedicated to his grandfather in a private apartment in Bern in the 1970s; Hans Ulrich Obrist started his career with a small exhibition in his kitchen in 1991). Claire, however, quickly reminds me that her aim was to think of the flat not only as a domestic space loaded with pre-existing meaning but mainly as a gallery space (she installed new lighting and made adjustments to the flat in order to prepare for the exhibition’s installation). She wanted visitors to feel defamiliarized with the gallery’s unusual or unexpected location and regain a sense of being in a more formal, controlled environment when they enter Flat38.

The artists invited to the inaugural exhibition form a group of Claire’s friends, colleagues and previous collaborators, an act that rekindles the inevitable intimacy of the space and a number of works. Affective relationships and human contact pervade the art of another Claire participating in the show, Claire de Lune, who has only recently moved to Margate. Working with ceramics, painting and installation, the Scottish artist creates delicate, colourful characters that frequently do things together- they go swimming, look up dreaming or sit on hilltops. Their individuality fuses with their surroundings and traditionally antithetical elements, such as pink and blue hues she uses, come to coexist harmoniously in her frames.

Shifting the intimate from inspiration to (self-)inspection, two artists investigate their own entanglement with normative roles, beauty, motherhood, female identity and popular culture. Alice Steffen, a co-founder of ‘Brains and Lip’ with Orme, delves into her personal experience and makes installations that repurpose white heels into flower heads, fake red nails into stinging, sparkling nettles and hair rollers into a bronze crown. Liene Steinberga Cesar, too, utilizes her circumstances as material rich and real enough for exploration. Her photographic series and, during the Flat38 opening night, a new, site-specific performance represent a conflicting situation the young artist finds herself in. On the one hand, she seeks independence as an art practitioner, desiring to pursue attractive career opportunities; on the other, she needs and wants to deliver care and attention to others as a mother and a wife. Cesar’s careful balancing act sends her teetering between structures of liberation and constraint.

Her performative piece will focus on the history and functionality of male suits which she has previously tried to fit into, only to find out that they both, shelter and suppress her. When women began to assert themselves in the all-male working environments in the early 20th century, their attire had to be adjusted for the professional context. As clothes tended to sexualize them and emphasize their body shape, the new suits, pioneered by Chanel, were designed to move away from this by appropriating male office wear. An important chapter in the female emancipation, the suits de-sexualized women but also brought on their de-feminisation – the female fashion blended them with men. This situation of erasure was reversed by the launch of ‘power dressing’ in the 1970s that rethought their office wear to convey that power and femininity were not mutually exclusive and that women did not have to adopt masculine features if they wanted to succeed.

Potential ruptures and searches for personal trajectories can also be found in ‘Is This Still a Manifesto?’ by an artist working at Dover Arts Development (DAD), Louisa Love. She says: ‘This work started as a kind of personal manifesto or collection of motivational notes-to-self but quickly became a drifting chain of thoughts, connections and internal conversation’, deviating from its original objective. It is telling that Love’s plans did not follow an intended linear path and she ended up contemplating intersections of self, art, materiality and knowledge production. The artist’s ‘manifesto’ functions like a kind of mini-archive in which she (dis)organizes her meditations, impulses and doubts and which she will inevitably, like every good archivist, reconstitute in the future. Not even she can know what that will spawn- her work’s title appropriately ends with a question mark.

Charlie Cameron’s is another Kent-based artist included in the show. He has studied illustration, worked as a screen print technician and recently been admitted to Resort Studios. Cameron overlays found photographic imagery with hand-drawn elements, achieving print composites of objective material, so to speak, and spontaneous and subjective responses. His images are perched on the boundary between figurative and abstract, past and present, taken and given.

Similar methodology occurs in music by Devonanon, led by John B McKenna and Richard Greenan. Their latest album, ‘City of All Times’, is a collection of field recordings and songs taped in various European locations that Devonanon collaged together. During the exhibition, they will immerse visitors in ‘a city where there is no homogenisation – just total existence, total cacophony’. Meanwhile, Phil Maguire will take basic sounds like sine tones and noise and proceed in the opposite direction. Maguire’s work deconstructs sound in an attempt to push, tear and stretch its qualities to the maximum (or rather minimum). By breaking down and rearranging the sounds, his grainy tracks evoke a crackling fire, raining, buzzing or low droning, giving listeners an opportunity to construct their own associations in gaps, spikes and in-between moments. Phil finds endless inspiration in one of the most influential 20th century conceptual artists, John Cage – if any sound can be music, the potential for sound art instantly explodes the well-known boundaries even if (or especially if) one chooses to produce inconspicuous, reductive music like Maguire.

The exhibition will also feature a sound installation by the curator herself since Orme has had an active artistic career alongside her other activities. She plans to install an improvised piano composition, based on the hauntings of the sea, in the flat’s balcony doorframe and play (out) her uneasy fascination with one of the many determinants of Margate’ identity. The opening night will also see/hear musical accompaniment by Sam Bristow who founded the record label videogamemusic and has a regular slot on NTS radio.

Flat38 exhibition will be short-lived but will assemble artists who collectively buck the trend of uniformity and flatness – its multi-media nature and the artists’ curious connections to each other through people (the curator) and places (Margate) promise an event that favours selection, disparity and value of relationship. That’s quite a compelling message to launch with.

Flat38 exhibition will take place on 28th and 29th January 2017. Liene Steinberga Cesar, Claire Orme and Claire de Lune will next take part in POW Thanet festival – Cesar with a performance in a web-like suspended structure (8-12 March, 101 Social Club, Margate), Orme with a curated exhibition at Margate Arts Club and Claire de Lune within the exhibition Revolution at the Viking Gallery.



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