Thursday, 30 December 2010


First published @HIT&MISS E-zine August 2009

Conceptual Art has been to the fore in recent months, with
Bruce Nauman’s retrospective at the Venice Biennale, Topological Gardens, winning a Golden Lion for best pavilion, with extensive promotion for veteran Marina Abramović’s performance and exhibition in Manchester and forthcoming retrospective at MoMA NY and with Jan Verwoert’s breezy history of British Conceptual Art in the summer issue of Frieze. The prestige of Conceptual Art steadily consolidates, now trails a pedigree and salutes seniors. Yet it is still expected to provide invention and experiment. Advocates routinely claim it as the most progressive branch of the plastic arts, if not the arts more generally, even as they look to its laurels. Conceptual Art claims the future, but cannot resist history. There is a problem here for the project, and this is a convenient point at which to consider it.

The casual reader is warned; this is a technical, even tricky read.

While Conceptual Art is generally understood as a movement commencing in the early sixties (hence the name properly is capitalized) there has always been a problem in defining salient characteristics for the style. A common assumption has been that, as the name perhaps suggests, idea or content to a work takes special prominence over materials or form (this is the view adopted in
Wikipedia, for example) although this will hardly distinguish it from many traditional works. Nor is it clear how this content or concept is defined, if not in relation to form. A ‘pure’ concept begs logic before art. Indeed, art is frequently taken to assert the indissolubility of content to form. So, ‘concept’ alone cannot distinguish the style. The Conceptual work is elsewhere seen as de-materialised in some way, yet clearly, such works have form or material and could hardly present content or concept without it.

Sol Le Witt’s famous formulation, that planning is foremost and execution deliberately downplayed, hints at a slightly different focus. The work acquires a recipe or plan that allows various instances to be generated in strict compliance, permanently or temporarily. This is commonplace in literature, music and other performance of course, where manuscripts, scores or scripts determine true instances or valid performance, but is unusual to painting or sculpture, remotely connected to prints. The plan is a phase or stage to the work and each instance of the performed or executed work, allows various circumstance and interpretation while complying with the plan. Permanent or temporary instances do not thus exhaust the work’s identity; the work’s identity does not rest only on instances of performance or publication. Together, these give the Conceptual work a strikingly different status, rather than material. We appreciate their materials for different qualities from traditional painting or sculpture. However, this may be experienced as indifference to material where execution is severely constrained and temporary, where beholder readily assumes the concept to be no more than briefly constrained execution. Immaterial is not so much wrong as imprecise.

Obviously much Conceptual work is not concerned with programming painting or sculpture. It often exhibits no more than text or records of events, by movie, still or audio track, of either the actions of people (often just the artist) or durations of a place, selected objects there. But these too are really to borrow from other branches of the arts, to sample phases to the identity of the work, through presenting them as plastic or fine arts. They are a way of examining the process by exporting it to an adjacent realm. Identity to a work in literature and the performing arts rests on compliance with a language or notation rather than number of instances or material. A poem, whether handwritten, typed or published remains the same work while it complies with the rules of the language of the first instance. A musical composition remains the same work when performed so long as it complies with the score. Equally, manuscript or score constitute a work even when unperformed or un-performable, unpublished or un-publishable. These matters achieve new focus in Conceptual Art.

The recording of performance by sound and/or picture, presents a similar but more recent extension to identity for a work. Recording in this sense is rarely of a single or uninterrupted performance but typically complies with script or score, or where this is absent, as in improvised or folk music or tales, with such recording practices in most other respects. The record is then an important stage to the work, so that we can rightly claim to have a copy of it as disk or tape, to know the work, at least in its recorded phase. And Conceptual Art is prepared to allow that recording need require no action or motion, may simply be of a duration for place or object.

Identity for a work outside of the plastic arts is thus a graded or attenuated affair, from only script or score, to all compliant performances or copies, or those from which a single script or score may be derived, to all recordings complying with script or score, performance and recording practices, and various combinations thereof. Furthermore, translations, transcriptions, adaptations and transmissions or broadcasts by radio, television and the internet, disperse identity still further, but hardly arrive at anything as vacuous as the work of pure concept.

These issues for identity or definition of a work are thoroughly demonstrated in different branches of Conceptual Art, such as Performance, Text-only, Video and Land Art, in installation or site specific practices. But they need not be a dry or academic exercise. Conceptual Art extends the reach and sensitivity of sampling through this flirtation with other art practices, allows new complexity to content and sample.

Later exponents emphasise production or set process, such as the commissioned works of Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, while performance often invokes elaborate, sometimes controversial casting, such as in the works of Vanessa Beecroft or Santiago Sierra. But essentially work continues to deal in attenuated identity and instance; to allow us to discern norms and adventure to application, to see the work projected as phases and appreciate differences therein. These differences have nothing to do with the veiled allusion that thrills Verwoert, nor the indifference to text among YBA artists, signalled in Wikipedia’s confused and faltering account. Rather, they point to the advantage of a more adequate and integrated stylistics for Conceptual Art.

Finally, as a project, Conceptual Art cannot play both ends against the middle, indefinitely. Eventually, performance grows more elaborate or subtle, and rightly belongs to the performing arts. Eventually text grows more literary or print-dedicated, and belongs to literature. To boldly depart from the constraints of the plastic arts is to quietly enter a neighbouring realm. This is perhaps best seen in recent ‘video’ art, such as the work of Steve McQueen or Jem Cohen. Their movies are equally at home in film festivals, biennales or museums. But once secured in each, must promptly declare themselves peripheral. Motion pictures are not interested in being colonised by the plastic or fine arts, fine arts is not interested in becoming another distribution point for movies. The art-movie is a precarious compromise and effectively, the project stalls. The art-art movie, begs too much art, not enough movie.

Conceptual Art, even if divided into periods, never quite supersedes other styles or advances art by conspicuous technology. The more urgent the adoption, the more superficial it proves. The avant-garde, if there is just one, now lies in less predictable projects.



The Far East is The New West

First published @
Hit&Miss E-zine November 2008

It would be wrong obviously, to expect a comprehensive or reliable survey of recent Chinese Art from Charles Saatchi. For all the bulk of his acquisitions, his taste is eccentric, his methods hardly dedicated. The new Chinese art that appeals to him, as critics have noted, is much like previous work collected, tending to the showy and shallow, the melodramatic but trite. One can only conclude this is the man. Saatchi notoriously ignores the work of artists collected by others, prefers extensive holdings of his own, impulsive discoveries, if only temporarily. The result is that categories for his collection, like ‘New Chinese Art’ inevitably beg qualification. For example, New Chinese Art can offer no place to acclaimed talents such as
Ai Weiwei, in spite of his prominence in prestigious international surveys such as the 2007 Kassel Documenta or Cai-Guo Qiang, who earlier this year had a retrospective at the Guggenheim museum in New York. Both artists champion entrepreneurial commission and fabrication, extended installation and integration with costume, music and applied design; all the things explicitly urged on the Saatchi Gallery website. And yet Saatchi’s taste in new Chinese art does not extend to them, not because he cannot afford them, but rather because others have. It underlines a crucial flaw to his collection.

His new Chinese art favours painting and sculpture, a little performance documentation and installation, but virtually no photography, video or digital works and not much in the way of calligraphy or prints - areas one might have assumed of some traditional interest in China. The painting is divided between tired Maoist satire, such as Wang Guangyi’s
Materialist Art (2006) or Shi Xinning’s Yalta No 2 (2006) – a seam heavily mined throughout the 90s by artists such as Wang Ziwei and Yu Youhan – and the broad, polished caricatures and stereotypes that emerge from the disaffection with socialist realism, such as the work of Yue Minjun, Fang Lijun, Feng Zhenjie and Zhang Xiaogang. Feng’s work in particular is pervasive, a rare concession to popularity perhaps, by Saatchi. Just as curiously, there are no examples of Liu Ye, whose work offers a telling feminine counterpart to Zhang. Elsewhere, painters sift through common photo sources, unable to quite match them to compelling painterly treatment.

The sculpture looks less obviously Chinese, more derivative of western trends. Zhang Dali’s
cast of nude casts recalls Juan Munoz, with added pathos, sadly more than the artist realises. Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s Old Person’s Home (2007), the much publicised installation of motorized wheelchairs occupied by meticulous models of ancient officials of various nations, could easily be Jake and Dinos Chapman in collaboration with Ron Mueck. Xiang Jing’s Your Body (2005) with its deceptive scale is similarly indebted to Mueck. Zhang Huan’s Ash Head No 1 (2007) is arguably the most successful piece, certainly the most pungent, uneasily addressing China’s aging population and Confucian reverence for elders as a burden of identity, sinking under lack of means or indifference.

While China unquestionably has a buoyant art market, the attention received from the west is disproportionate and puzzling. The art is competent and comparable, but there is no striking new movement or attitude, no ‘ism’ or school. One assumes it is seen as somehow reflecting the nation’s impressive economic growth and the title of the exhibition hints at something of a kind. In which case, the title might more accurately have been ‘The Revolution Comes Full Circle’. For China’s new prosperity is highly selective, centralised, rapacious and corrupt. It is built upon the exploitation of the disenfranchised and oppressed in its own population, in collusion with a spurious global ‘free’ trade, that denies them health and security benefits, educational opportunity and basic rights. The gap between rich and poor widens to feudal proportions. China is once more in the grip of a ruthless colonization by the west, but this time it proceeds by more insidious business practices, more discreet delegation.

If recent Chinese art reflects or responds to this extreme capitalism, it is through a persistent mediocrity and deference to western models. The deluge of Chinese artists in international surveys and markets then wittily parallels the flooding of manufacturing markets, at prices that endorse ‘de-regulation’ in every way, in the name of market dominance. Of course it does not quite work out – a little bit like the global economy just now. It lacks credibility, borrows heavily; only clouds the atmosphere, something China now specialises in.

On these terms, new Chinese art finds the perfect home in the Saatchi Collection, the indulgences of an ad-man and promoter, a fickle appreciation built upon markets and marketing, manipulation and deceit. The former Duke of York’s Headquarters, off Sloane Square, is Citizen Saatchi’s most stately pleasure dome to date, and while the collection grows more far-flung, more global, the focus, the seed to his needs, remains about as substantial as a rosebud.

ALTERMODERN: The Tate Triennial 2009

First published @ Hit&Miss E-Zine, March 2009

Like all periodic surveys of contemporary art, The Tate’s fourth Triennial is accompanied by extravagant claims from the curator, ample press coverage, increasingly amplified by the web. Such shows set bold themes against a careful balanced roster of current favourites and promising newcomers. The hope is to strike a happy compromise between revealing a thorough change since the last survey and confirming its findings. Reception is inevitably mixed, experts unhappy with too many favourites, not enough discoveries, or vice versa, the casual observer baffled by regularity of discoveries or lack of them.

Three years is either too small a slice of history to find enough change in, or too long a slice of the present to be adequately sampled for a longer perspective. Elsewhere, biennales attempt as much in two-thirds of the time, while in Kassel, Germany, five years allows a more measured pacing, although hardly more rewarding results. History, as historians never tire of reminding us, is best written in retrospect, the longer the better. But the sheer profusion of such surveys around the world has steadily defused any conclusion to be drawn from them. Very little actually rides on any one survey or criteria, beyond a conspicuous compliance with international consensus, a marketing punctuation for an institutional calendar. This devaluation should eventually see institutions turn to more specialised surveys, less frequent history. But unquestionably, provocation remains a large part of their appeal.

For this Triennial, curator Nicolas Bourriaud concentrates on his specialty, installations, while granting an international scope to chosen artists. He invokes themes of exploration, assimilation and translation, bundled here as ‘Altermodern’. How much installations represent contemporary practice, how well they illustrate ‘Altermodern’ and how well ‘Altermodern’ captures a recent trend, are obviously the first issues to an evaluation. Predictably, responses have been mixed. Critics are quickly divided between the converted and sceptical. Bourriaud‘s reputation is built mainly upon his book Relational Aesthetics on which a preference for installations and interactivity rests, together with previous curatorial assignments in Paris and Bordeaux, illustrating his taste. His writing is a useful starting point.

Two issues are immediately clear. Firstly, Bourriaud takes a social rather than art historical approach, so that art is dealt with only vaguely in his little lists and desultory jottings. There is neither effort nor aptitude to nail down any stylistic distinctions that might anchor talk of Modernism, as a period style, for instance, rather than modernism as general doctrine or ideology. This in turn creates problems for locating Post Modernism in art. Tellingly, in a recent interview he dates post-modernism from the oil crisis of 1973, rather than earlier use for a period by art critics or historians. So the first point is that as a curator he tends to engage work at the level of social agendas and struggles for stylistic distinctions within works. For Altermodern, Bourriaud is content to define formal aspects as an exploration of ‘the bonds that text and image, time and space, weave between themselves’. The expansiveness of these terms clearly can do little to distinguish selections.

The second issue is that an aesthetic that gives prominence to relations between parts, fails to spell out how these collections and connections must then be contained within suitably robust frameworks, or wholes, and that parts are not arbitrary or given, nor any assembly guaranteed. Importantly, installations remain related and relative to practices in painting, sculpture and prints; derive parts accordingly. This is really where content to an installation resides, in relation to preceding and adjacent categories. To loosen or ignore these relations is to empty an assembly of all but the most superficial formality, to ultimately confuse the work and its context or surroundings, to eventually conflate the roles of artist and curator.

Indeed, a persistent criticism of the preference for installation, particularly in international surveys, has been that as installations acquire greater licence over surroundings, greater commission of parts, greater power and prestige is accorded administering bodies, not least the curator, favoured artists or pet tools. The work effectively advertises just this authority. For, where the work is firstly the sum of its parts, the curator would seem to be the artist of artists, the institution a work of its works. Advocates of the aesthetic of course welcome this inflation and the endorsement it brings broader matters of design. Above all, it is an institution-friendly aesthetic and much of its acceptance lies in its reinforcement of an imposing sector of the cultural economy.

These are fundamental considerations. Turning to the particular concerns of Altermodern, ‘the bonds that text and image, time and space, weave’ and the themes of travel and change, the question is how well these fit the work, how works illustrate such features. Eleven of the twenty-eight artists use motion pictures of one kind or another, for convenience here termed video. These obviously introduce a temporal dimension to work. Most combine them with spatial concerns to the viewing arrangement. Multiple screens, furniture and other objects often interrupt or prompt repositioning by the viewer, so that the contents of the screen depend on and determine some travel, some adjustment or change to relations between parts of the work.

Again, it is not hard to accommodate the works within the curator’s generous brief, but it can hardly be counted as topical or timely development for video. For quite some time video artists have been concerned with the spatial circumstances of viewing, with the impact upon décor and mood of screen content and the impact of décor and mood upon screen content. Video art typically records performances (often involving the artist) or durations of a fixed scene or object, occasionally using found material. These tend to be shared or varied between screens or suitable surfaces for projection, their scales, sound tracks, positioned angles and resolution. Many of these options rely upon recent technology and signal privileged access and resources. More elaborate performance, production values and settings for viewing has been the staple throughout the last ten years or more. But as noted, these subtleties are largely lost on Bourriaud, where the concern is with more direct or naïve content, marshalled only by a designer’s eye for decorum. Hence the guiding principle becomes the ripping yarn, the lively anecdote or intriguing snippet carefully collected, like so many curios. But as some critics have noted, these quickly prove wearing, unrelated.

Hence too the popularity of Relational Aesthetics, where parts remain the comfortable, pre-digested meanings of the social historian rather than challenges to interpretation more familiar to art history and criticism. For all the eccentricity and apparent provocation to Altermodern, the work is essentially simplistic and undemanding.

Apart from videos, there are soundtracks in works by Tris Vonna Michell, Olivia Plender or Mike Nelson where stories or anecdotes are again foremost, situation or installation curiously dulled for the exercise. Whether these recitals quite count as translations or texts is uncertain. However, the emphasis on illustration in work such as Charles Avery’s installation, underlines the priority assigned literature, an indifference to less direct or literal pictorial reference. In one of the few works not to engage with time or text, the suite of machined wall panels by Seth Price, an elementary reversal of figure and ground is achieved between panel and wall to generate silhouettes between panels. This is presumably enough to qualify as ‘mobile’ parts, in temporary alignment. But it is hard to see how such a feeble gimmick could appeal to anyone other than the most dedicated Relational Aesthete.

Other works assemble more sculpturally, such as Subodh Gupta’s massive Line of Control or Rachel Harrison’s work across three rooms and while assuredly site-specific and temporary, never quite engage text, time or travel as prominent features. More technological works, such as Loris Greaud’s white room pulsing to a record of his brainwaves, Gustav Metzer’s slow motion light show and Katie Paterson’s star chart updates all translate and transfer, but again hardly announce text or travel, hybrids or assimilation. There are nods to commissioned fabrication by Simon Starling, although this is curiously insular when set against the curator’s sweeping ambit. Remote fabrication (or the readily-made) has been something of a regular in such surveys for at least fifteen years; its many exponents include Wim Delvoye and Tobias Rehberger. So the show does not quite capture the theme in many instances or the theme simply lacks substance.

But such works are essentially place-holders. They stress the continuity of Bourriaud’s approach with preceding efforts. Altermodern attempts to direct Relational Aesthetics to new, cosmopolitan opportunities for artists, to demonstrate the scope and vigour available there. Yet the preference for installation, the commitment to an aesthetic of assembly and administration, in the end pre-empts findings. Relations become rigid or dull and parts or works babble at each other, denied greater formal resources, less evident content. Bourriaud’s approach has been popular, but after ten years or so looks tired. The show is one of half measures, like the title, a clumsy portmanteau for the social historian on the run.

Altermodern Reviews

Rachel Campbell-Johnston – Timesonline
Laura Cumming - The Observer
Charles Darwent – The Independent
Richard Dorment – Daily Telegraph
Waldemar Januszczak – Timesonline
Ben Lewis – Evening Standard
Adrian Searle – The Guardian
Ossian Ward – Time Out
Jonathan Jones – The Guardian

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

FADE AWAY – ‘painting between representation and abstraction’

Curated by Alli Sharma
Transition Gallery, 3 – 24 December 2010
Unit 25a Regent Studios, 8 Andrews Road, London E8 4QN

Fade Away surveys a broad range of painting in London at the end of 2010, seeking a common theme in painterliness, or the forthright demonstration of materials and application, while allowing differences between ‘representation and abstraction’. The title implies that such differences are of diminishing importance. While this may accurately reflect the dearth of current criticism addressing the division, it is an unfortunate note on which to consider the many differences to ‘painterliness’ spelled out by the 39, small-scale works (averaging around 50 cm square) hung in close formation. Indeed, differences to material and application within abstraction or representation and across the two here would seem to generate as many versions of painterliness, as are supposedly shared. By this route, too much fades away.

In other words, painterliness does not entirely hold together differences between the selections, because painterliness itself becomes equally diverse. At best, it prompts questions concerning the definition of painting. Indeed, the terms representation and abstraction quickly beg qualification, and this starts with
Barry Schwabsky’s introduction for the show, where he prefers the distinction between images and abstraction. This allows for a great deal more than painting as material, while at the same time narrowing the type of representation, but it hardly clarifies the distinction with abstraction. The review of the show by Charles Danby on the Aesthetica blog at one point simply glosses the difference as figurative and abstract pictures, and this is perhaps a more commonly held distinction, although ‘figurative’ here understood, not simply denoting a figure or person, nor metaphorical extension (as in ‘figuratively speaking’), but actually of the literal or concrete object pictured. Where the figurative is now the literal may seem a little confusing, but at least allows us to see that abstraction concerns classes of object (including properties and relations - or predicates, depending upon one’s metaphysical inclinations) and classes of picture using them. Abstraction in pictures may be carried to a very high level, to even a full or final level of self-reference. This is what is generally understood as full abstraction in painting. And abstraction understood on these terms, therefore remains representation, since it still stands for or refers to objects or ideas.

Abstraction understood on these terms, also allows us to see it as a matter of degree. Even to picture a typical terrier or toddler with scrupulous volume, proportion and perspective is to embark upon an insidious path of abstraction, to exchange incident for ideal, in modest degree, to test technique, accordingly. Equally, to fictionalize or fantasize on places or creatures presents an acute pictorial exercise in seeing how practices for materials and technique allow hypothetical or abstracted content; convince us by the sheer power and reach of pictures. Thus, fiction too involves a level of abstraction.

But the full abstractionist is intent upon fundamentals of two-dimensionality, on what signals two-dimensions in three-dimensional materials, in what separates a picture from a mere scheme of two-dimensional relations, or a pattern, or conversely, from notation. Full abstraction aims for the pattern or notation for a picture, or the picture of a pattern or notation. The course of full abstraction throughout the 20th century converges upon minimal requirements of symmetry, by stripe, grid or monochrome, tested against novel support, pigment and application, scale or site. And at each turn, the absolutist is thwarted by the relativity of materials to geometry, the sheer plurality of means. Abstraction largely loses its critical advocates with this dissipation of Minimalism in the 70s. Its steady expansion of motif or pattern, its concessions to overlapping stripes, or to depth, for example, soon accommodate more figurative motifs, inevitably, repeating pictures. But pattern also grows more elaborate or complex in its arrangements for elements, in its repertory of materials and technique. Strictly, this amounts to Maximalism. So that, by the 21st century, abstraction in painting easily accommodates figuration in suitably complex pattern, or in suitably abstract object, but even here differences do not quite fade away.

Some of this range is present in the selection for Fade Away. Complexity to composition is foremost in the work of
Phillip Allen, Andrew Graves, Mali Morris and Syed Shaan, for example. Extended abstraction of object is displayed in the work of Sarah Dwyer, Hannah Knox, Scott O’Rourke, and Jo Wilmot, for example. In other works, figuration allows metaphor through a degree of abstraction or stylization, and distinctive treatment of material and technique, as in work by Lindsay Bull, Zack Thorne, Andy Wicks and Gavin Toye, for example. In yet other works, fiction tests coherence of picture, in examples by Tim Bailey or Benjamin Senior. The results produce a kind of crisis of style, and another route to abstraction.

Where all works converge is not so much around issues of material or technique, as in the routes of pictorial meaning available beyond the confines of realism and accepted genres, along more free-ranging and obscure paths. Painting’s strength is surely in its sensitivity and versatility in finding and making these. The curator’s selection is notable also in omitting other prominent strands to figuration, such as media-sourced genres, pastiche and caricature (the work of
Kaye Donachie is the exception) subtly directing attention away from stock figures and situations to richer, more ambiguous reference, to less certain or celebrated realms.

Finally, the show’s title is perhaps best taken as a directive to critical orthodoxy and its preoccupation with greater institutional agency and technological novelty, to the incurious and complacent. The show demonstrates that even when denied critical attention or greater opportunity, pictures need painting and those blind to the challenge or enslaved to the word are already in gentle retreat.


Cathie Pilkington: Peaceable Kingdom, Marlborough Galleries: 3rd December 2010 – 21st January 2011.

Pilkington’s small figurines in striking tableaux belong to a broad trend in sculpture that adopts stock characters drawn from cartoons and fairy tales and applies them to unlikely situations, unusual materials. The trend arises along two paths, firstly, emphatic fabrication or commission on the part of the artist, and secondly, ready-made figures, casually adjusted or arranged, often featuring severe wear, damage or distress. The fabrication route commences with Jeff Koon’s Rabbit (1986) and continues through the Manga and Anime-inspired merchandising of Takashi Murakami, easily crossing into painting, and shared there with artists such as Yoshitomo Nara and Liu Ye. The ready-made route commences with the installations of dolls and teddy bears by Mike Kelley, from around 1986; is later followed by the elaborate tableaux of Jake and Dinos Chapman, using a variety of toy figurines, and continued, to some extent, with the clay-animations of Nathalie Djürberg, and the large, cloth figures of Californian artist Elizabeth Higgins O’Connor, amongst many others. While neither of the latter adopts ready-made figures, Djürberg’s loosely modelled clay or Plasticine figures offer similar worn or battered contours to familiar stereotypes, while Higgins O’Connor’s towering doll-like figures are assembled from rag or discarded fabrics, often broadly painted or stained.

Both routes favour anthropomorphised and mythic animals as remote tokens or metaphors for a person – usually set quotidian tasks. These are a staple of cartoons and fairytales and allow key traits to be abstracted or stylised, personified in a distant but engaging manner, for the young or innocent. Sculpture turns to these, in the closing decades of the 20th century and continues to re-direct such basic roles, invest their ideals with new and unexpected attributes. And the effect is frequently comic. Figures may exhibit surprising formal or abstract qualities of material (as in a Koons or Murakami, for example) point to underlying affinities with other objects and construction. While ready-made figures may display pathos of degradation, often taken as ‘abject’ remains to some faded pretence. And adjustments to materials and setting may, of course, be variously combined within the trend.

Pilkington’s approach adopts ready-made elements, freely assembled along with modelling and carving (mostly in Jesmonite), painting and other finishes. There is less a sense of re-positioning familiar figures than of carefree bricolage, roughshod compliance or a proximal proxy. Her figures are make-do or ad hoc, rather than abject or slickly industrial and while they occasionally run to predictable reversals of innocence in sexual tableaux, such as
Threesome (2009) and Flopsy (2009), they usually share uneasy relations with other figures, often contrast role and material, scale and posture. In a work such as Snow White (2010) the sleeping figure is actually dwarfed by the supposed dwarfs, offers delicate finish to limbs, gown and hair for the girl while surrounding figures remain crude cartoons or strange beasts, coarse, yet stooped with concern. The implied split between male and female, the brute terms of one against the exquisite helplessness of the other, becomes an audit of sculptural and artistic resources.

A recurring theme is infant dependence or maternity, as in
Motherlode (2007), Surrogate (2007), Punch (2009) Charity (2009) and The Foundling (2010). Again, a distinct split in sympathies is often accompanied by stark contrasts in materials and handling. In Surrogate (2007) the monkey clings to a mother figure, despite a change of species, and possibly mother being no more than a crude effigy. While in The Foundling (2010) it is the parent that clings to a resisting infant, although parent is a bear and infant human. The bear is treated in a heavy, black gloss, almost disguising its fur coat, the naked infant picked out in naturalistic shading. Degree of stylisation is not just an opportunity for comic simplification or detachment, but also underlines a derivation in materials, points to source as a parallel to family ties. In Mother (2010) a lamb prods its presumed mother, rendered as no more than a blanket, partly stitched and stuffed, lying prone and indifferent. Yet, whether the lamb has ‘made’ its mother, if only in play, or conversely, the mother, an enormous lamb, or whether mother or lamb is simply a coarser cut from the same fabric, remains moot, where figures share diverse means, fictive ends. All the same, a poignant gulf separates mother and off-spring. Other works such as Fallen Greatness (2010) and Blank (2010) take up the theme of derivation with a single figure, its surroundings and literal support.

Contrasts between style and materials are central in related themes of instruction or co-operation, as in
The Value of The Paw (2010), Epiphany (2010), The Snowball (2010), Horsey, Horsey (2010) and Help is on its way (2010). Here style and roles are again layered, figures put together as if wearing masks, or as if heads or limbs, not quite fitting for roles, not quite candid. The works have an insouciant charm, but a subtle, troubling core. Finally, the artist’s role as ardent maker is also mocked, in Potter Pig (2010) and Babs (2010). Both assign childish farmyard persona to the industrious maker. To judge from the array of biomorphic forms at the feet of Babs, the allusion would seem to be to Barbara Hepworth, at her most prolific. The show also includes a pastiche of Degas’ Little Dancer of Fourteen, but these nods remain incidental to her project; the easy asides of an artist finding herself with so much to do, reconciling all her creatures in a small but deft ‘Peaceable Kingdom’.