Text by Bruce Davies
As the old adage about buses goes so to can the same be said for galleries. You wait around for ages then two come along at once. February saw the opening of two new gallery spaces in Leeds; &Model on East Parade and across town xo gallery space on Kirkgate. Of course these are not gallery spaces in the Henry Moore Institute sense, but they are the closest approximations of the tabula rasa aesthetic necessary for certain types of contemporary art practice. As an opening gambit xo take the blank canvas idea of the white cube as their subject matter and attempt to analyse the problematic relationship between the art world and the colour white, and by default the audience.
In the case of certain artworks that have been selected by the venue’s curators, it seems like the work has been metaphorically laid on the couch in an attempt to coax meaning out of itself, in other cases the connections are less obvious. Perhaps it is the disconnection between information, that which we are told, and visual stimulus, that which we see, that keeps artists, curators and their work in need of regular psychoanalysis. In the explanatory information a distinction is made between the intellectual freedom to be gained from the immersive environment of the white cube and the fascistic connotations of the colour. In considering the differences between the types of purity supposedly on offer in the show, slowly the boundaries begin to blur and shift and the immersive environment becomes hostile and alienating. The floor, also painted white to match all of the other surfaces becomes a symbol of repression; you can imagine the effort made each day to scrub away the build-up of dirt from everyday life, the everyday life that the whiteness tries to expunge from this space dedicated to the act of contemplation. The exhibition itself seems to have a haunted ethereal quality to it; the subject of death emerging at regular intervals through pieces such as David Steans’ ‘The Lord Cufflington’, Jay Cover’s ‘Limbo’, Garry Barker’s ‘Ghost Mower’ and Rachel Westerman’s ‘Replacement’. Elsewhere in ‘I wouldn’t Say I was Religious’ by Jack Fisher, the ubiquitous Apple Mac is laid to rest. The omnipresent logo that signifies most contemporary artist’s tool of choice is unceremoniously buried, the first note of the start-up sound playing over and over and over, stuck in an eternal loop, forced closure, forced re-animation.
The points at which the show’s theme emerges with clarity are the points at which the artists take either a playful or oppositional stance. Graham Gussin’s ‘Dark Corner’ questions the notion of an exhibition that is more referential of the space that has been created to examine itself rather than the work that would inhabit it; a supersaturated black corner that is so subtle as to almost be missed yet is completely Spinal Tap in its blackness. When you do eventually notice it the nature of its surface becomes difficult to understand, is it flat or hollow, does it stick out, why is it there at all; a cipher to be interpreted within the rules of the show. Simon Boase takes the playful angle by presenting the product of a 10,000 page PDF. The entire document apart from the front page is completely blank and would therefore run 9,999 blank pages through the printer. The pages are presented stacked in a corner, a USB stick marking a point roughly a third of the way down the document and the top page turned over so that it can barely be seen. It is hard to know if the element of confusion that exists within the more playful works is real or a conceptual confusion. The work of Verity Hatfield exemplifies this confusion with a piece in braille that cannot be touched, an instant dichotomy for both the sighted and the blind. The fact that this piece of work is intended to operate in this manner, suggests the reluctance to proffer information often associated with the white cube space; curatorial cards often being played close to the chest for fear of being accused of spoon feeding. It is in these moments that the exhibition truly works, not just as a display of interesting artworks but as an attempt to get to grips with the whys and wherefores of contemporary curating.
An Arrangement In White ran between 21th February – 13th March at XO, Leeds.