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Matière: The Meaning of Materials in Contemporary Art (2016):

Conrad Atkinson, Irene Barberis, G.W. Bot, Grant Clifford, Richard Demarco, Charlotte Hodes, Marian Leven, Janet McKenzie, Will Maclean, Christiana Spens, Mariota Spens, Arthur Watson, Susan Winton.

Curated by Janet McKenzie, co-editor, Studio International, 2000-2013.

Cobalt Contemporary Gallery Pittenweem, Scotland.

Matière explored the manner in which artists infuse associative and subjective meaning into their work through a wide-ranging use of materials including wax, earth, wood ash, fabric, sequins, sewn lines and found objects. Joseph Beuys, who has influenced a number of the artists in Matière chose fat because it was ‘a material that was very basic to life and not associated with art’. In solid to liquid form, according to changes in temperature, it came to symbolise spiritual transcendence. Felt was important to Beuys for its ability to absorb whatever it came into contact with. It was an insulator and symbol of warmth. Like fat, the use of felt was one of Beuys’s personal signatures. Beuys used iron, whose cold strength he associated with masculinity, war and Mars as opposed to copper, a conductor of electricity and one of the softest metals, which he associated with Venus and femininity. Gold conjured associations to magic, alchemy and transformation. Honey and beeswax were regarded as spiritual substances, but also represented political harmony. Beuys admired the social organisation of bees, like a ‘socialist organism’ that functioned ‘in a humane warm way through principles of co-operation and brotherhood’.

Matiere catalogue cover image.jpg

Matiere catalogue cover 

The work exhibited here is not limited to a single genealogy of conceptual art; rather it ranges from the homage to Joseph Beuys that was printed onto felt by Conrad Atkinson in 1988 (on loan to the Matière exhibition) to the influence of ritual indigenous cultures - Australian Aboriginal art in the case of G.W. Bot; to the use of wood ash as a primal means of conveying the unknown aspects of life and of impending death in Janet McKenzie’s work to the exploratory landscape and sea paintings of Susan Winton that use plaster, wire and mesh fabric to interrogate the relationship of the artist to the land.

Grant Clifford’s built up paintings are sculptural in the manner in which wax, earth and wood allude to his intellectual and emotional journey as a Jungian psychotherapist. Richard Demarco contributes his first-hand friendship with Joseph Beuys who he invited to Scotland - in conversation and with a portrait of Beuys on Rannoch Moor - at the same time as the momentous contribution of Beuys is being assessed this year at the National Galleries of Scotland (July – October 2016) and as the major exhibition “Beuys, Kantor and Demarco” is showing in Warsaw before travelling to Berlin and Paris. The work of Arthur Watson, one of Scotland’s most significant conceptual artists and President of the Royal Scottish Academy, reveals his constant interrogation of materials with text and found natural objects. Will Maclean’s work combines narratives, perspectives and characters across time and place to create relationships within his constructed spaces.  He fuses disparate sources and materials with a fluidity of articulation. Materials are richly symbolic in all of Maclean’s work and he enjoys the actual making in many different forms, paying homage to the generations of Scots who worked with their hands and lived and survived testing circumstances.

Reflecting the pivotal role of feminism in Post Modernism, from the 1970s Charlotte Hodes, Professor of Fine Art at the London College of Fashion, shows one of her exquisitely created paper cuts that have taken their cue the seminal 19th-century publication The Grammar of Ornament (1856) by the architect and designer Owen Jones to investigate the relationship between the female form in painting and the decorative arts. Acting as a platform from which to interrogate both 21st-century design and feminism, Hodes dismantles idea and form by using collage and paper cut techniques to disrupt images, thus creating multifarious new directions and possibilities. Irene Barberis uses numerous materials from the post modern industrial society from multi luminescent filaments and yarns as woven and drawn lines; inflated fluorescent plastic forms, filled with artist’s breath, and laser cut plastic pieces. Marian Leven comes from a long line of weavers historically and she herself trained as a weaver. Her work has developed in part as a response to the feminist movement and the reappraisal of craftwork that was often (though not always) done by women.

Christiana Spens, author of artist books The Socialite Manifesto and The Drone Age is showing her collaged paintings that employ tape and sequins: “Her work is poised between fashion, agitprop, satire and religious iconography. It is designed to startle and to question. We absolve ourselves, not just through the scapegoating of ‘the other’ but also through the medium of mass media. Images are proliferated until they are reduced to the abstract”. Mariota Spens, a recent graduate from the Ruskin, Oxford, uses canvas stretched over branches, found materials to allude to the ephemeral and fragile nature of human life.

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Matiere Times review

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