Thursday, 17 April 2008

Review: "On Time" East Wing Collection 8

The East Wing Collection is a biennial student-curated contemporary art exhibition featuring the work of up-and-coming artists alongside that of well-known established names. This year’s committee is made up of second and third year students from the Courtauld Institute, one of our smaller colleges specialising in History of Art. Through a democratic selection process, they have chosen works by 31 artists to deck our halls with for the next 18 months, and hopefully get the public to explore the institute’s passages and corridors, staircases and lecture rooms, in search of some of the best contemporary works this side of the Thames. The exhibition is called On Time, and deals with the notions of temporality and mixed, overlapping, and interpreted time. The opening night saw a champagne fuelled stench of heavy talk and light projectors; Harald Smykla offering us a technicolour version of our main stairwell complete with scribbled passers-by and eager witnesses, all from an acetate sheet coloured and projected back onto its subjects with an OHP. Incorporated into this dizzying spectacle were two dancers called ‘green bean dance’ who grabbed and flung each other round our basement cafĂ© amidst Stephen Brunel Hurst’s wooden crosses and plaque like references to machinery, arithmetic and engineering. Their sounds echoed through the paint-encrusted spaces of an 18th century palace, once famously home to the RA summer exhibitions, now returning theatrically to the eclectic mix of contemporary artists and their works, usually present in Piccadilly during those summer months.

One of the highlights of the show is Antony Gormley’s ‘Blanket Drawing 1’ unfolded and pinned to a white wall like a spent human soul bowing down in front of its viewers, its edges curling, its creases flecking cracked and brittle paint. Through the door and into the next staircase you’ll find a series of canvases with enlarged and painted website pages, mostly ‘facebook’ or those whose subjects are embittered teens with tag lines such as ‘the taste of tears’. Arresting and cold, the faces of the reproduced bedroom snaps offer to the public a real taste of the unprotected openness of private lives broadcast perpetually over the world-wide-web. Time ticks on, and each room unearths another view of lapsed and lapped time-spans, Sue Blackwell’s ‘Whilst You Were Sleeping’ (a dress cut into a thousand butterflies hanging from the ceiling by knotted tense threads) offering not only the image of other-worldly time zones, but the proof of time spent on the creation of a ‘beautiful’ artwork. The exhibition is so extensive that by the time you’ve managed to get round it all, there’s not much left of our little institute to explore, and the time that has passed has filled up with its own images.

Well presented and beautifully designed, the spaces occupied by the exhibition come alive with projections and unseen light, or wait, brooding and uneasy, for you in the darker areas of the corridors. Sebastian Winnett’s ‘Untitled (grappling hook)’ is a video piece on loop, depicting a man in a box-like room swinging a home-made anchor through the air. Prodding at ideas of purgatory, perpetual tasks and two-sided ambitions, he sometimes wins, sending the metal lunging around his body on the rope, sometimes loses, tangled up and exhausted in the middle of the grey cell. Take time to walk around the maze of old passages and staircases that cross and extend through the college and I am sure you’ll see something that will pick at the threads of childhood memories, or play out tasks, aspirations and possible futures like anchors; sometimes spinning with their own momentum, sometimes weighing us down. For more information about the exhibition and its opening times please see

- Matthew Reeves

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