21 June – 8 September 2019
The Tetley Gallery
Yorkshire Sculpture International is proving to be a fructuous source of artistic investigation, complimented by Index, a fringe festival comprising of surrounding organizations, galleries and spaces - Leeds, Wakefield and their local districts are currently entwined is a pulsing network of creativity and The Tetley Gallery is playing a significant role in this interconnectivity.
The Tetley Gallery is not part of the official Yorkshire Sculpture International programme; it remains on the periphery of the big four galleries but their position in Yorkshire’s art scene should not be underestimated. Established by artists in 2013, the gallery has since developed a curatorial output that ensures some of the most exciting exhibitions in contemporary art, in fact three out of the four current Turner Prize nominees (Helen Cammock, Lawrence Abu Hamdan Tai Shan) have all exhibited at The Tetley Gallery. Proof that it’s influence greatly exceeds that of the city and county border lines, Reaching far out into the British art scene and beyond.
Currently on show is Russian born, London based artist Nika Neelova whose sculptural practice employs salvaged architecture to reveal unknown pasts and unite them with the present. Her work is especially befitting of the Tetley’s art deco architecture, it’s museum like interior is antithetical to archetypal white cube spaces and Neelova uses it to form a discourse between her art forms and their context.
Central to the gallery layout is the Leeds Beckett Atrium; once an area filled with offices it has since been redesigned and repurposed into a large white open space, it is as close to a white cube as the Tetley gets. Neelova fills the space with ‘APART’ (2019), a mixed media installation formed by the actual artefacts and structures that have been reclaimed from this long ago process. Steel frames from insulation cavities trisect the space offering doorways and raised windows for audiences to traverse on foot and survey by eye. Running through the structure on an opposing axis lies a long blackened object, trunk like in form, gnarled and twisted. On closer inspection it transpires that this is parquet flooring; the interlocking wooden blocks of period interiors such as the Tetley itself. In this instance it has been peeled apart from its original surface and rolled up, exposing the belly of the old worn out veneer. There is a lot going on in this piece and it is indicative of much of Neelova’s work. The flooring has dual functions, literally leading one though the space, connecting the audience with the surrounding by means of physical interaction. ‘APART’ also acts as pathway and gateway into a time gone by; time and space are intrinsically linked, one and the same but our experience is a separation of the two. Neelova’s splintered structure acts as a mechanism to initiate a new experience of time and space, as one walks in and amongst the work it forces a ballet of conflation and separation linking one to the physicality of the building and its’ evolution throughout history.
‘APART’ is an apt starting point for the exhibition, it’s a portal into a way of experiencing the gallery, the material links to the surrounds makes one conscious of moving around the exhibition space; oak panelling, cast iron radiators and original plaster coving take on new meaning. One is drawn to the architecture in the same way as one is drawn to the work, making any distinctions between the two dissipate as artefact and context become one and the same.
Other spaces proffer more of Neelova’s work, interspersed throughout the gallery are sculptures from her series entitle ‘Lemniscates’ (2013-2019), there are five in total, each formed from reclaimed wooden banisters. The word lemniscate is a mathematical term for the figure eight or infinity loop, and recurring throughout the exhibition as they do, become a sculptural motif for Neelova concepts. One’s familiarity with the material elicits the urge to reach out and grasp sculptures, glide one’s hand along the forms and they guide you through the spaces they occupy. Their surfaces are untreated, left with the patina of time like sculptural ampules bearing the traces of each and every hand that has relied on their support, bringing you into biological contact with history.
The exhibition also includes Neelova’s ‘Folded Rooms’ (2015-2019). These two pieces are steel frame sculptures constructed to the dimensions of two previous studios from the artists practice. Hinges have been incorporated into the structures allowing them to be contorted and reconfigured spatially. With these works Neelova infuses the gallery space with the history of her own practice, navigating through the pieces one is transported conceptually into the burgeoning years of the artist, where one imagines the inception of these concepts began.
In an act of unification ‘OMEN’, a sound installation by Dylan Spencer-Davidson (2019) plays throughout the gallery. It’s a sporadic wave of deep rumbling, the low foreboding frequencies penetrate every recess of The Tetley Gallery’s warren of rooms. Using sound in such away draws each of the pieces together with a tonal harmony for the show. It is disconcertingly ominous at times but its ambiguity adds even more depth to the proceedings. ‘OMEN’s sound is at once the reverberation of grinding industrial growth and animalistic guttural moans; reinforcing the notion of biological and architectural fusion.
The pairing of Neelova and The Tetley Gallery is a stroke of brilliance, the two fit together perfectly. Sculptures assembled from architectural cast-offs become like appendages to the building which initiate new functions. They breathe life into the space and the space in turn, breathes life into the work. It’s a mobius process, symbolic of architecture as an ongoing act of gestation, never fixed in solidity; physically or conceptually. It is an exhibition which unites space and work, unlike many institutions which create spaces like vacuums, sterile vats to showcase works disconnected from the world. Ideas in these conditions remain immobile, hermetically sealed, incapable of permeating the wider world; The Tetley Gallery and Neelova rely on each other and elevate each other with great effect.
This is the third exhibition Afterview has written in relation to Yorkshire Sculpture International and it further reinforces the success of the festival. With these three experiences there is a palpable sense of an artistic programme designed with the intentions of invigorating an interest in the very best of contemporary sculpture by linking audiences directly with the work. Consider the works in ‘Associated Matter’ (reviewed here) by artists Rhian Cooke, Natalie Finnemore, Rosanne Robertson, Ryoko Akama and Jill McKnight, each of the artists use non-traditional materials, all of which are sourced in Yorkshire, be it in geology, the past, discarded matter, contemporary design, or artist lineages and reforms them into something new. It makes the output of these 5 disparate artist resonate with viewers, bringing with them as they do their familiar ties with the county. The work of Tamar Harpaz and Nobuko Tsuchiya, also featuring in the Yorkshire Sculpture International (and also reviewed here) again sees artists crafting work with site specific materials which draw the viewers into the exhibitions by making them active participants in performance and narrative.
Each of these three exhibitions compliment and inform each other, much like the pairing of artist and gallery in Nika Neelova’s ‘EVER’; they don’t exist in isolation, nor do they vie for prominence, they work together in a harmonious web to illuminate just how important sculpture is and how it can be used to form meaningful human connections.
Photographs : Afterview