Things you find in the compost heap: Object Relations – a Review

I am fascinated with things, objects, stuff. They have always been central to my art practice. It is for them which I draw, paint, photograph, write, talk and live. I’ve always been interested in objects and in particular, our relationship to them relative to our relationship to everything else we touch in our lives.

One of the objects I have previously been obsessed with: the abandoned balloon

So when I came across this exhibition at the Nuneaton Art Gallery and Museum, and a panel discussion with the exhibiting artists, I knew it would interest me. 

The event

In addition, I happened to know the two artists, as they are both lecturers at University of Wolverhampton where I am doing my MA by Research, so that was another very good reason for me to attend. 

Object Relations is essentially an exhibition of things and the connection those things have with their environment, including us. It is an exhibition of things as seen through paint and photography on one level, and through the eyes of two very different minds on another.

Knowing the artists meant also that I had some insight into the their personalities before I went to the discussion and exhibition. One is a painter, the other a photographer. One has a more organic, instinctive practice. The other is very methodical, almost scientific in his approach. One is messy (in a good, creative way). The other isn’t (in a good, creative way). This fact alone is interesting when viewing the work on display.

I learnt from the panel discussion that before either of the artists had any thoughts of an exhibition, independent of each other, they decided to study objects. Neither of them had an end in sight. They just had an interest and went with the flow: Christian Mieves, through paint, and Euripides Altintzoglou, through photography. They were both experimenting, with no end intention. They were both looking into how random objects relate to their environment, how they themselves relate to objects and how the indexical relationship between the artist then the object then the viewer could be ruptured in some way, either partly or fully. They wanted to depict these objects through their chosen media.

In his studio, Mieves created several very large paintings of many and few random objects in the studio space. He painted with freedom and without much prior thought or decision making. He just painted. He didn’t follow what he saw strictly, in terms of form or colour, he just reacted.

Altinzoglou, meanwhile, started taking photographs of random objects. He took photos allowing the camera to make errors. He was interested in the effect this would create. He just wanted to see what would happen.

They both hoped to take something simple, complicate it, and simplify it again. They both wanted to consider themselves, the material, the effect.

Not having known about this exhibition until recently, I wondered how they had come to unite for this exhibition and how they had found a common ground knowing how different they appear from each other. Yet, it is clear from looking at the pieces on display that the two bodies of work have a clear bond: things. They might at first appear very different: variously-sized paintings, same-sized photographs; textured surface, sheen surface; many colours, few colours; painting, photography. In fact, the contrasts are just superficial. The uniting factor, objects in their environment, is extremely strong.

I learnt that they came together, by chance, and realised they were doing the same thing. The result: a series of painted objects in their environment on canvas as colours, light, background blended together and a series of square light boxes showing photographs of objects as colour, form, shape and mysticism. I have deliberately not included photographs here. One of the significant points about these pieces is that they work so well because of the physicality and, in some ways, the agency, of the material when seen in person. That can not be translated online.

As I sat and listened to the panel discussion I spotted a number of really interesting ironies  or contradictions about the artists’ practices, responses to their artworks and the artworks themselves.

Aim: freedom / lack of planning or pre-thought.
Result: a fascinating intellectual context (object-ground relations, phenomenological starting point-ontological result, defiguration of the figurative into something partially abstract, temporality of the placement of objects in space, medium-specificity of paint and photography to name a few of the themes).

Aim: a private experiment, not intended for the viewing public.
Result: framed images in an exhibition.

Aim: to examine recognisable objects.
Result: a blurring, blending, abstractional study of colour, shape, form, light.

Aim: messy practice, experimental.
Result: order and beauty.

Aim: a simple process, a letting go of all the chaos and complication of much contemporary art thinking.
Result: busyness, movement, mess, depth, chaos (and to some extent, this contradicts the above contradiction).

The chair of the panel discussion, Andrew Bracey, who is also an artist, came up with an interesting metaphor to describe the process that both artists had used and the contents of their heads: a compost heap. A compost heap contains all of our waste, it breaks down that waste and turns it into something fertile. It is about a loss of control, an organic process, a liberating process and a reactionary process. The artwork in this exhibition, and the thinking behind the artworks, is just that. 

My brain

I like that idea. I like the idea of having a compost heap of thoughts in my head, and what I have learnt from this discussion and the exhibition is perhaps I just need to let my ideas and thoughts ferment and react, and they will then create something new and interesting, and with depth that can be found rather than before the process, after the process.

I think I will try that.

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