Brick by Brick: small scale wall works by 24 artists, Foundry Lane Studios, Newcastle upon Tyne, 21 Jan–6 March 2010
Occupying the space of a single wall, Brick by Brick intervenes with the existing architecture of Foundry Lane Studios to create a project which conflates site specific objectives with a unique collaborative concept. By inviting 24 artists to make a wall drawing in the area of an individual brick, Nick Kennedy provides a clear starting point for a project which develops organically as each artist makes his or her mark.
A simple lottery decides which row of bricks the artist will work on, however the artist is free to select a brick from this row. A plenitude of potential relationships ensues. Each impending image influenced, inspired or aggravated by existing aesthetic arrangements, or ameliorated by chance encounters. Accordingly, Brick by Brick seethes with serendipity and forms a rich tapestry of images and interventions by a cross-section of artists active in Newcastle’s equally rich art scene.
Inspired by artists such as Lawrence Weiner and Sol LeWitt, Kennedy revives elements of 60s Conceptualism. Conceived initially as a simple, linguistic construction, Brick by Brick incorporates a steady system of rules, which clarify the work’s underlying principles for both participant and viewer.
‘The Rules’ include short phrases such as, “All works are temporary and will exist only for the duration of the exhibition”, or “Each artist may work using any medium.” Deliberately deadpan, and informational in tone, they provide no clues as to how the work should be received or interpreted. Present at all stages of development and display, they always acknowledge the potentiality of the work, emphasising both the parameters and the unpredictability of the project.
In certain respects, Kennedy’s approach is comparable to LeWitt’s, particularly in cases where the artist provides a set of instructions from which to produce a wall drawing.[i] These drawings could be endlessly reproduced, by any number of people, (non-artists included), without diminishing in ideational quality. In fact, reproduction only served to enforce the idea that appearances were secondary to conceptual value.
What separates Brick by Brick from this particular aspect, however, is that in LeWitt’s case the system itself is the work of art. Any appropriate realisation of his textual instructions evinces the existence of art but does not constitute it. The art is an idea – a syntactic structure which could be realised in any number of locations.
Kennedy, however, has deliberately invited artists whose practice is informed in some way by drawing. In this sense, he instigates a unique and complex collaboration between a variety of artistic approaches. The uniqueness of the project is compounded by its temporal nature.[ii] Designed for intervention, and not reproducibility, Brick by Brick briefly encroaches upon the space of an otherwise ordinary brick wall. Much like Richard Wright’s drawings and frescoes, after the exhibition, Brick by Brick will be painted over.[iii]
Enduring only in memory, documentation or dialogue, it sidesteps the notion of drawing, or art, as a portable, saleable object. Formed by many decisions, made by many artists, brick by brick; individual works are always induced in some way by the project’s parameters and an inherent involvement in the overarching artistic process, as outlined by Kennedy. The simple system of chance which provides a starting point shapes aesthetic arrangements in ways which are uncertain. As LeWitt explains, “For each work of art that becomes physical there are many variations that do not.”
It is useful to consider the creative process which takes place as accumulative. As each artist makes his or her selection of where to work, the overall dynamic of the wall changes. Each new component creates a change in character, which will inevitably influence the way each, new artist responds.
The 24 invited artists provide a healthy variety of work, utilising materials from pencil, paint and paper to playdough, ash and glitter. A certain, yet subtle disparity lies between those who have transformed the brick by intervention and those who have, to a certain extent, transported an already existing artistic approach.
James Hugonin for example, uses the space as a vehicle to transport his idiosyncratic approach to canvas painting, into a new aesthetic arena. Centre of Untitled (XVIII) as at December 2009 is an almost exact reproduction of a small section of one of his large-scale paintings. Hugonin’s canvases are iconic and instantly recognisable, characterised by meticulous motifs of repeated, rectangular forms. Risking inopportune dialogue, Hugonin carries his work into an unknown domain. “I have faith in God, in Mankind” by Anne Vibeke Mou, works in a similar way. Made by transferring a rubbing from St.Cuthbert’s cave in Northumberland into the space of a single brick, her work has a dialogue elsewhere.
In contrast to this, pieces which have perhaps more readily intervened with the space include Alan Smith’s Running Line Constellation and Duncan Newberry’s untitled piece. These works represent a more overtly site specific approach, as they allow original elements of the site, or individual brick, to affect, or dictate their own decisions.
Smith uses the wall’s existing architectural anomalies to make a new brick-sized image. Marking the location of various protuberances and imperfections that interrupt the wall’s surface; nails, rawl plugs and so on, Smith creates an articulate, yet abstract map, perfectly scaled and directly proportionate to the wall on which he works. Adopting the rules of the Golden Section, Running Line Constellation establishes a connection between a whole and its composite parts. Fastidious in his attention to detail, Smith’s systematic approach wholly embraces the site specific parameters of the project.
Duncan Newberry’s engagement with the project is equally thorough, and even more specific. By considering only the 220 x 75mm area of his brick, Untitled is a concentrated, closed scrutiny of surface. By sanding back the painted brick, repeatedly and laboriously, Newberry disinters its original surface. Reminiscent of an architectural excavation, the work becomes precious when coated with layers and layers of shiny, shellac varnish. Exposing a grey area between invention and intervention, this piece is visually deceptive. Whilst appearing to be painterly, Untitled is in fact also conceptually complex, in that it simultaneously removes and reveals an existing architectural facet.
Like many of the artists involved, Newberry’s immediate consideration is with surface. Rachael Clewlow, for example works in a way which inverts Newberry’s approach, by building a new, autonomous plane on which to work. Perhaps a natural reaction for a painter obsessed with pictorial precision, Clewlow perfects an uneven surface, to create a scaled, painted representation of the wall and the artwork it now contains. That the artists’ work is almost evenly spread across the wall, could suggest a craving for artistic autonomy over interaction.
Artists appear to respond to the space rather than to each other. Dialogues between works appear indirect, and almost incidental, however this proves more interesting than problematic. In theory, artists could have consciously clustered together in corners, or aligned themselves in columns. Nevertheless, the positioning of other artists’ work, will always affect individual ideas in ways which are unobvious or subconscious; and in turn, the artist may have to compromise on elements such a surface, quality of light or unanticipated, posterior dialogues between works, depending on who ‘got in first.’
At the same time, artists submit their work to become part of an overall image, a matrix of kinds, which may or may not prove sympathetic to individual artistic intentions. The visual interplay between Ant Macari and Bridget Kennedy’s work provides an interesting example of this, particularly as both artists use text.
Macari’s extreme re-evaluation of the space sees him remove his brick entirely, wrap it and replace it as if it were thrown through a window. The words “YOU’RE GONNA GET IT!” are loud and conspicuous. This punchy, provocative polysemy wrestles with Kennedy’s placatory use of text in Engineered Instant, which quietly encapsulates the conceptual connotations of the project. A subtle, yet conscientious consideration of Brick by Brick’s contextual and temporal conditions; Kennedy depicts the word ‘momento’ in ash salvaged from her fireplace. The word refers to the process of making temporary, or momentary, works of art. By using to ash as a medium, Kennedy highlights the transient nature of the project; its fragility and innate disposability.
However, there is a friction between their contributions which is flagrant. A fraught, uneasy rapport ensues. They clash. They confuse. They converse loudly beside Clewlow’s uniform portrayal of the wall, whose conceptual consistency is somewhat disrupted by an extemporary, tangled dialogue. By titling his piece Caveat, Macari compounds this confusion. The word ‘caveat’ can be interpreted as a simple warning, suggestive of imminent danger, or as a more complex allusion to its use in legal terminology. In law, a caveat is a formal notice requesting the court or officer to refrain from taking some specified action without giving prior notice to the person lodging the caveat; or more simply put, a specific injunction to stop legal proceedings.
Macari’s apparent play on words is at once auspicious and ironic; it challenges the procedural aspects of the project, to which Caveat is invariably bound. A vain attempt at self preservation, or a pawky acceptance of the project’s parameters, Macari’s caveat is inherently impossible, and therefore ironic. Tergiversating between potential meanings,Caveat is intrepid and immediate; an intelligent attempt at confronting the problems of collaboration and site specificity.
By nature, Brick by Brick admits the potential problems of artistic collaboration, however, where some aesthetic relationships are conflicting, others prove considerably complementary. Richard Talbot and Iris Priest’s artworks, for example, become entwined in an interesting symbiosis. Both artists chose to accentuate a similar, architectural feature; a wooden support, which adds a rigid three-dimensional quality to their bricks. Talbot’s rigorous sculptural reconfiguration is robust; a curious complement to Priest’s more effeminate, decorative intervention. There is a discernable duality between their pieces which seems fitting to their positioning at the base of the wall. They add structure, support and a slight, hint of symmetry to a sometimes cacophonous, conversation of imagery.
But perhaps the most interesting relationships are the ones which exist within the artworks themselves; the works which allow the wall’s amorphous architecture to intervene with imagery or artistic intent. In Tumult, Liam Murray allows image and incident to interplay in a scratchy, seascape sketch. Hard, graphite pencil lines cut through the surface of the painted brick, to create a cracked, crust of splintered white emulsion. He accepts this seemingly, accidental intervention, in the same way that he allows a small, patch of bubbled paint to accentuate a bulge of charcoal clouds.
Murray is responsive to the material quality of the surface, in the same way that Andrew Wilson allows a single, drip of white paint to interact with the garish, green playdough of his bulbous relief sculpture Peas. The wall provides an unexpectedly, sinuous surface for those who chose to work with it as opposed to on it. In turn, these works become site specific by means of execution, by allowing accidents to happen.
[i] An example of LeWitt’s textual instructions from which to produce a wall drawing: Lines not short, not straight, crossing and touching, drawn at random using four colors, uniformly dispersed with maximum density, covering the entire surface of the wall (1971),
[ii] The works featured in Brick by Brick will last only as long as the two month exhibition period.
[iii] This year’s Turner Prize winner Richard Wright creates site specific drawings and frescoes which intervene with specific spaces, often only for the duration of an exhibition, after which they are painted over.