Shifts | Shivers | Overlays Exhibition Review by Claire Scanlon
Claire Scanlon is an Artist based in Lewes, Sussex. As a Senior Lecturer she taught at Goldsmith's College and Northbrook Metropolitan College and recently completed a Research Masters at the University of Brighton. Claire visited Close for the first time, taking in our exhibition of work by Anna Mossman and we're pleased to share her review below:
"Our journey to Close Ltd, a bespoke contemporary art gallery in the heart of the Somerset countryside was quite an adventure in itself. The Satnav directs you to overshoot-left and then right in an attempt to find the elusive spot which appears to be hovering somewhere between locations but is, in actuality, situated in the grounds of the well-signposted and impressive Close House.
This rather baffling circumnavigation turns out to be the perfect prelude to the ‘real life’ experience that awaits you in the exhibition of Anna Mossman’s new body of work- Shivers | Shifts | Overlays, on show until 9th September 2021.
In real life of course you only need to use your eyes to find your way, but Mossman’s new drawings are not so ‘easy on the eye’, despite appearing uniformly abstract in their recti-linear composition. Art historical analogies to the denizens of optical art of the 60’s and 70’s of which Bridget Riley is the most notable exemplar, are immediately tempting. However, while expressly inviting the ‘overlay’ of interpretation in the reception of the work, Mossman’s own account of her practice steers us away from any revivalist notion of the ‘optical’ zeitgeist, towards a more conceptual and biographical narrative.
Her backstory also complicates and up-dates such anachronistic readings by situating her drawing practice in relation to her previous experimental practice in photography, where non-visual sensations such as smell, darkness or emotional affect were explored against the grain of photography’s assumed domain of ‘indexical’ visuality. Post-modern mediation thus providing another interesting turn in the approach route, but does it get us any closer to the experience of the work?
I am, I’ll confess, a fan of this type of work, but my predilection is also premised on an understanding that it is only after a period of adjustment to their ‘opticality’ that such works begin to reward you with their subtleties, and that this ‘adjustment’ is but the first stage of an arc of attention that demands practice. In other words – you, the viewer needs to be prepared to reciprocate the artist’s labour with the labour of attention- you have to work at it.
The first stage, as I’ve mentioned- is in the approach, to prepare the senses- the warm-up if you like. The body is involved here moving left and right, back and forth into position, squaring up to the work. ‘At first sight’ from a mid-range viewing distance, the drawings eschew focus sending the image skittling across the surface in relays. This can be fun but to find focus and avoid the discomfort of vertigo the viewer must get closer (no pun intended). Sideling-up to the surface brings an oblique view which coincides with peripheral vision – scanning the image from this vantage point helps guide the eye around the rigorous architectonics of the drawing. In this position we approximate the position of production and see clearly the material incidents of the manual drawing process. Here is a second stage of attention, where we might wonder at the detail, and consider the discipline, concentration and duration of the production process, paying our respects to the artist’s skill and labour. Stepping back from this appreciative but prosaic mode of attention, and allowing our eyes to relax and attune to the overall rhythmic affect and tonal variation of any one drawing, brings us gradually to the experiential ‘reveal’, the illusion of a so called ‘third space’, hovering between the actuality of the physical drawing and you the ‘receiver’.
The third space phenomenon may be explained by our neuro-visual architecture, a by-product of the foveal structure, stereo vision and the saccadic movement of our eyes encountering the interference pattern generated by the linear repetitions of the design. As an aesthetic experience however, we may be less concerned with the cause than the effect- that of floating in another dimension, which can feel nothing short of miraculous. A practiced navigator of third space can move around in the illusion once it is achieved and may enjoy, momentarily at least, a kind of affective psychedelia.
This third stage of attention like many meditative states is difficult to sustain, and so the arc completes with a return to the presence of the material drawings in space and the reality of the day. As in waking from a dream, it may take a little while to condense the experience into words, and so in addition, to the eponymous shivers, shifts and overlays, I offer, pulse, sequence and undulation. In short- Amazing.
Thanks to Freeny and Sarah for the warm and hospitable welcome, despite our late arrival!"