For the first fig-futures project in Plymouth, Suzanne Treister presented ‘Survivor (F)’, a thematic exhibition that considers futuristic ideas of human and artificial intelligence that manifest into alchemical form. It is a sci-fi fantasy where particular words, phrases and motifs recur throughout the exhibition, jumping between works and across an array of media including watercolours and drawings, prints, paintings and videos.
The imagery is psychedelic, folding the graphics and ideas of 1960s counterculture into an interplanetary futuristic universe millions of years after the death of the internet. Treister uses the language and iconography of mysticism and emerging technologies to imagine a future that looks and sounds both familiar and unimaginable.
For Week Two, Eva Grubinger presented ‘Entitlement’, an exhibition of two sculptures originally created in 2015 for fig-2 at the ICA Studio in London. Like much of Grubinger’s work, Untitled (Fender) and Untitled (Scorpions) make reference to maritime culture. The gallery is dominated by a 7 metre long inflatable rubber fender used to protect large vessels such as container ships, ferries and submarines from collision damage. These fenders are buffers that absorb the shocks when international trade makes physical contact with the sovereign nation state. In contrast to this enormous object, Untitled (Scorpions) is a small bottle suspended from the ceiling by chains.
While alluding to the Victorian ship-in-a-bottle tradition, nostalgia is replaced by macabre fascination: numerous scorpions pickled in alcohol glow under a UV light, sending a message with a sting in the tail. With Brexit imminent but unresolved, ‘Entitlement’ points towards Britain’s fractured self-image as ruler of the waves, and Plymouth’s strategic role in that history. Britain’s colonial past folds into the prevailing rhetoric that we are an international ‘trading nation’, in spite of the reality that families, cities, and the whole nation are paralysed by irreconcilable tensions about our identity and values.
For Week Three, Charlotte Moth showed a two-part exhibition at KARST and Plymouth’s Pannier Market for her fig-futures exhibition. Moth’s work often focuses on modernist architecture and for fig-futures she has created a new installation about Plymouth’s post-war reconstruction architecture, focusing on the iconic market building, as well as the Church of the Ascension, Crownhill and Colin Campbell Court.
The artist’s own photographs and research into archives in Plymouth will be combined with images of two other structures, reflecting the utopian modernist dreams of how spiritual, commercial, and residential architecture each had a role in transforming society. At KARST, Moth presents a film about the town hall in Marl, Germany, built in the 1960s, with uncanny similarities to Plymouth’s own Civic Centre and Council House, both in the use of materials and the desire to construct a new kind of civic architecture for a new post-war society.
For the final fig-futures exhibition at KARST and of the fig-futures programme, Conventions is an exploration of the sensory points of communal spaces, the uses and behaviours that they engender. Laura Eldret’s new work suggests that spaces such as community halls or conference centres are both tactile and social, involving a deep awareness of others: in such spaces, chairs are for many bottoms to sit on, cups are for many hands to hold, and carpets for numerous feet to walk across.
Conventions reflects on commonalities between social groups, suggesting shapes, abstract forms and patterns of activities to hold these unities. Consisting of a floor-based installation of carpeting, a draped bench, chairs, a tea trolley and prototype cast concrete cups, the work invites visitors to tune into the haptic qualities of the spaces in which social interactions take place. In an era in which the values and ecologies of communal spaces are in flux, Conventions sets out to create an ad-hoc and temporary place of gathering. The space is intended to be conducive to communal collective activity, with the elixir of tea freely available. In lieu of the space being fully used in this way, it is also populated with a number of earlier works by Eldret. These pieces are all the product of Eldret’s prior engagements with specific social groups, while re-presented here they become new imaginary users of the space.
Three earlier works by Eldret are included in Conventions. Pro (2017) is a banner work made to celebrate the hairdressing trade (and the hairdressers in her family: her mother, aunts and cousins). 07427397776 (2017–18) is a banner from a series of works installed in sites across Croydon, which Eldret describes as akin to portraits ‘of the people, not for the people’. Receipt of Exchange (TVs and Bells) (2015) is from a body of work made in Mexico that reflects on the history of textiles in forging trans-regional connections and engages with the use of design motifs as a tool for cultural branding, mimesis and affect. This rug depicts a series of bells and TV screens, reflecting on a gathering that Eldret encountered on the Day of the Dead.
Conventions continues Eldret’s manipulation of the forms and materials that shape our ways of gathering together, and the diversity of haptic sensory perceptions within communal spaces. She is interested in the complexities of how and why groups of people gather and the individual’s role within that, as well as the agency of art in acts of sociability. In particular, Conventions builds upon Eldret’s increasing interest in the physicality and materiality of social interactions. What are common traits of communal spaces? How do we as individuals locate ourselves within a communal setting? What are the haptic and multi-sensory desires that we collectively share (touch, feel, smell, sound, voice, as well as sight)?
In Spring 2019, KARST, in partnership with The Box, Plymouth, will present an energetic programme of four exhibitions, each lasting for only one week (5-30 March 2019). KARST is the final gallery to host fig-futures’ UK wide tour, where 16 shows have and will place across the UK in 16 weeks, following fig-2, where 50 exhibitions were staged in 50 weeks at the ICA, London, in 2015.