A criticism of contemporary art by some parents through the decades, certainly since Duchamp’s Fountain, is one of both satire and slight towards artists. ‘My 5-Year-Old Could Have Done That’ is the criticism in question, as well as the title of Kayt Hughes’ solo exhibition at Gallery North.
The exhibition comprises two floors of all new work, showcasing Hughes’s signature geometric sculptures amongst experimentations with new materials. Her colour palette borders on the delicious, with pastel tones and candy like forms, but the work never loses its sincerity in the face of child like criticisms so often associated with contemporary mediums. The familiarity of shapes derides from exploration as a child through the use of basic colour blocks, with the idea of nostalgia and a return to fundamental understandings being a recurring theme throughout her year as fellow. By using the gallery as a studio-space and letting questions arise spontaneously, Hughes has willed the exhibition into existence through her sense of play.
Pillars in Gallery North and segments of the walls are strewn with instructions for the gallery assistants: ‘Each day, select an instruction and carry out the action. Leave the evidence of your play in the gallery’. The rules are basic, yet through her sculptures the results can be tremendously explorative. ‘Stretch the plasticine as long as possible’, ‘Stack the blocks into a tower’ and ‘Build a structure with the blocks that balances onto the wall’ are just a few of such instructions, with each set of blocks changing shape and form each day. The possible outcomes of each set of sculptures is beyond comprehension without interaction, but with the sculptures being exclusively for gallery assistants use I feel as if I’m a child again, being told not to touch when the only thing I want is permission to touch.
The second floor gallery is curated to perfection, with room to breath for both artwork and viewer. Each set of sculptures can be approached and experienced independently with no singular work overpowering or underperforming, as the the freedom of the prisms, spheres and frames on each and every side of the room is both enticing and yet humbling. Entering it I feel as if I’ve walked into a sweet shop with two week’s worth of pocket money outstretched in my hand, wondering how a 5-year-old could achieve such emotions in a viewer when so many established artists are still striving to give this experience.
As ironic as it may seem, the self-deprecating title touches on the anxieties of so many pursuing art practices within the system. Admitting that she never thought her work would be exhibited in a solo show like this, Hughes continually asks herself ‘how do I be an artist outside of University?’ I can’t answer that, but for the rest of us it may be as simple as following her lead.
This collection of Hughes’ versatile sculptures is the third instalment of shows in partnership with the Woon Jai Tee Fellowship, following Ramona Zoladek in 2015 and Holly Hendry in 2014. Hughes is currently researching Synaesthesia in Salford.
Image: Kayt Hughes, My 5-Year-Old Could Have Done That, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.