ELENA BAJO / BILL BALASKAS / SIMONA BRINKMANN / BEN COVE / BLUE CURRY / INEZ DE COO / CLINTON DE MENEZES / RUPERT GRIFFITHS / GRAHAM GUSSIN / SIMON LE RUEZ / TOM LOVELACE / PETER MATTHEWS / MARTHA ROSLER / URI SHAPIRA / KATE TERRY / VESTANDPAGE / JAE YEON CHUNG
Sited within a disused industrial space in Stonehouse, Plymouth, Vessel is a gathering of contemporary artworks showcasing the work of seventeen international artists, which focus on the particulars of their post-industrial location in its physical, socio-cultural and economic contexts. Placed between the logic of the building's architecture and the city's rich history, this is an exhibition that investigated site-specificity and the means to artistic intervention. Acting as footnotes against the backdrop of Plymouth, Vessel reveals itself as a temporal structure in a display in memory of the site and a reflective commentary of the area's historical value and contemporary redevelopment.
Housing works of installation, film, performance, photography and sculpture; it is not the architecture that formed the focus, but the ambiguous authority of the works within it. The understanding of the temporal and dynamic character of Stonehouse's landscape and the expectations of the site itself is paramount to the reception of these works. The commissioning of this derelict space is where the vessel was the ship, the carrier and a container of function and delivery.
Since the Second World War, the decline of industrial production and the successive process of abandonment had rapidly affected the immediate fabric of the surrounding communities. Due for demolition, the remaining industrial structures on George Place can be seen as symbols of a better past and the reminder of an uncertain future, whilst the building's interior shell offers a sense of freedom, providing both an exhibition space and the fragmented evidence of its industrious history. No longer is the area marginal to prosperous trade, or the ruins from bomb damage, but is instead a focus of architectural and social redevelopment. Like the exhibition space itself, it has become a site of interest through layering of artistic placement and construction, hinting at more fundamental questions of human existence and interrelations with changing urban environments.
VESTANDPAGE - ‘A Morphological Journey on the Borders of our Bodies’ is a new performance by VestAndPage (Verena Stenke & Andrea Pagnes) exclusively conceived for VESSEL and inspired by the journey of Ulysses from the perspective of his encounters with a variety of women. Here the journey becomes a process of transfer and transformation, where past and present are carried and reconciled, and the future yet to be determined. Two bodies relate themselves to the flux and continuous shift of spheres and influences within a given container. The elements they use speak about what has been, about a past of which only a vessel, a container of remembrances, is left. The human moves on its constituent fragile limits, the borders of the bodies on which we trace the memory of a past and shape the map of a possible future. Splintering encounters with archetypes of Calypso, Circe, Nausicaa and Penelope are guideline analogies of behavioral patterns between people on the run, men and women in a search to forget, longing for union and something that may finally last. Through this and in this there is poetry, as well as fatigue, exhaustion, despair, liminality, loss of control, then back again to trust and confidence. Ulysses has been stranded at Stonehouse, and the journey continues...
ELENA BAJO - Elena Bajo's work explores the intersection between aesthetics, history, politics and the imaginary, bringing together different methodologies the artist uses in her anarchist practice. The specific piece for VESSEL is a "drifting assemblage", a site-specific performative artwork made in response to the historical-political context of the site, the local industrial activity and the archive of political ideas. The work has been made using an immediate and local resource of materials found in and around the exhibition space. Present is an element of time in 24 pieces+1, marking to the standard western frame of time in 24 hours, but includes one extra hour as a gesture to let chance and contingency act upon our lives but also to suggest degrees of freedom that endorse the order of anarchic systems.
SIMONA BRINKMANN - Fort Worth is an ongoing sculptural installation project, which began in 2007. The work consists of a pile of leather-covered sandbags, arranged to form one or more temporary fortifications, or obstructions, in the exhibition space. Every time the piece is shown, the layout of the sandbag walls changes and more sandbags are added. As the work expands in its slow but quasi-monstrous and inexorable way, the layout of defensive positions alters in response to the layout of host sites. For Vessel, Fort Worth considers the relationship between solid and makeshift/fragmented architecture and highlights the destabilizing potential inherent in the impermanent character of built environments. Alongside considerations about architecture in flux, the work also deals with the contemporary fetishisation of catastrophe in relation to ideas of war, disaster and trade. In this respect, it is particularly apt for Fort Worth to be exhibited in a disused industrial building in Plymouth - a port city which once played a key role in the Westward expansion of British commerce, which was subjected to heavy bombardments during WW2 and whose geographical proximity to water is likely to resonate strongly, perhaps even somewhat sinisterly, with the piece.
BILL BALASKAS - The work’s title is a reference to the influential and multifaceted work of the French philosopher Guy Debord. More than forty years after Debord first associated the accumulation of capital with the production of images, the image of capitalism itself looks today more fractured and battered than ever in recent times. But, can the current global economic crisis truly transform the way in which we view our capitalist production system and its most concealed means in the form of the spectacle? Can we avoid falling into a vicious circle of “imprisonment” to a false image, like the one experienced by the railway worker of the video? In other words, do we live in an age after (i.e. afterwards) the “society of the spectacle,” or do we, actually, live after (i.e. according to) the “society of the spectacle?” The ambiguity of the word seems to synopsize the very ambiguity of our lives and choices amid these turbulent times. The industrious past of George Place and the whole area, the building’s future demolition and the highly symbolic, historical nature of railway construction (i.e. the main activity featured in the video), altogether offer a unique conceptual framework within to physically present “After the Society of the Spectacle”.
During Vessel, Plymouth is hosting an influx of contemporary art, not only as an observation of the city's cultural progression but also of its potential to revert back to active and successful design. Each artist has a particular input into the overall visual description of the site and, for this brief moment, will be accommodating the space with a variety of presentations including fortifications, detritus reconfigurations, conversations of architecture, scenes of war, pillar inscriptions and the journeys of Ulysses. Unbound by the confines of art markets and clinical white spaces, the works are all significant to the site and act as a temporal state for personal reflection and contemplation. The exhibition addresses the thought processes and shifting concepts of postmodernist values in contemporary art, and suggests a particular method of site-specific study into the impending condition of developing urban infrastructure.
BLUE CURRY - Curry’s seductive practice assigns a fantastical exoticism to commonplace post-industrial ephemera. He uses idiosyncratic combinations of materials to create minimalist installations and objects that float ambiguously between the ethnographic find, the souvenir and the contemporary art form. Curry’s simple and precise juxtapositions consider the fetish for the exotic, the tropical and the primitive buried deep within Western culture, and how these fantasies still inform our perceptions. ‘Untitled 2010’ addresses a production of leisure that many non-industrial or post industrial economies depend on to survive. Tourism, the seaside town and the sort of kitsch that relates, exists in this work and references Plymouth’s post industrial experience. The use of a cement mixer renders its capacities for production practically impotent. Now stirring the mortar of an industry which, though lucrative, lacks permanence or real substance of the heavy industry and commerce once central to the area.
JAE YEON CHUNG - Legend has it that the words Nec Plus Ultra were inscribed on the Pillars of Hercules, warning sailors to ‘go no further’. Jae's work explores the obscure future of this building - with the building becoming a tomb and the pillars as gravestones. An ornamental fence around the pillar suggests a futile attempt to preserve the building by transforming the aspect of the pillar from functional to aesthetic by reverting to ancient architectural practice. The text connects us to Plymouth’s past of new world adventure and discovery, thereby collapsing notions of present, past and future into one another. Chung is interested in how familiar objects and language can be translated into personal and individual experiences. Her work is often text-based and is situated in public places. It usually begins when the passer-by registers something different in their environment. Chung aims to explore how art can be taken directly to the public in order to provoke spontaneous emotional responses and to encourage audiences to experience their own moments of authenticity.