Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Jonathan Anderson - Dark Star

Jonathan Anderson - Dark Star - seen here

There's a colossus inhabiting the Mission Gallery in Swansea...I dropped in today to see Jonathan Anderson's first solo exhibition, Dark Star.

Anderson works with coal dust - along with a few other materials such as soil, concrete and sand; but coal dust has become a trademark material. This sculpture is huge, it fills the main space in the gallery from floor to ceiling and the coal-dust coated arms of the structure allow you just enough room to circle it. This is a brave departure from the works he has been engaged with, which are typically small and simply made drawings and sculptures.

Visually, the exhibition catalogue, with an essay by artist Anthony Shapland (g39), is a document about process and materials, the business of making. The concepts of the work involve a kind of Taoist balance between the material and the profound. Anderson proposes that his works operate like a kind of mandala, a meditative device. The essay suggests that Dark Star represents a departure from the consideration of the matter of the earth to the contemplation of things of the stars and space. The primal role of carbon in the universe, the multifarious ideas that carbon symbolises for us.

Infact, I found the experience of the exhibition is quite psychologically charged and physically palpable. The structure is arguably quite aggressive, it dominates this gallery-that-was-a-chapel with its physical presence. It is quite sinister, malevolent even - and the chapel interior is necessarily implicated in the reading of the piece. My immediate awareness was with the spikes of the work encroaching into my space, it could be construed as 'menacing', except we (the viewers) have chosen to approach the work in its confinement; so perhaps, in that respect, it becomes defended, like a spiny creature. Sculpturally, I was reminded a little of Louise Bourgeois' giant spiders - the way in which they inhabit and occupy space, but this work is resolutely masculine, the gesture is much more direct.

The apse of the chapel space is left empty - just one glittery limb extending a little across the threshold. But Anderson has chosen to concrete over the windows. It increases the claustrophobia and adds to the theatre of the piece - but it is a statement in itself. It talks about shutting off, making still, stepping out of sequential time, death. It is also a purposefully wilful and almost perverse thing to do to church windows. 
Anderson is a contrary artist and his work is marked by duality. Dark Star is both sardonically dark and touchingly vulnerable, theatrical and pragmatic. 

The Mission Gallery, Swansea
The exhibition continues until 6 November.

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