Sunday, March 03, 2013

quick reviews: the penthouse nq open house #1

Friday night was the first Open House event at The Penthouse NQ.

This featured the work of artists in residence Natalie Finnemore who created work in response to the pool in the entrance area of the building, and Gary Fisher, who ought to be familiar to readers of this blog, and who has been keeping a blog through his residency. There were also works from Debbie Sharp, Roseanne Robertson, a sound piece from Sandra Bouguerch, and a sound installation from Coryn Smethurst.

And at the end of the night sound performances from Gary and Roseanne.


Phew. So, the first thing you encountered on entering the building was Natalie Finnemore's large, but subtle, intervention in the pool area. I was aware it was there, so was prepared to notice it, others I suspect may have missed it. Essentially she used architectural features to create a huge wooden V rising from the pond, and painted a pink that contrasted well with the pool's blue tiles.

From there with the lift out of order it was a spiral climb upstairs to the fifth floor and The Penthouse itself. And then to the corridor where Coryn's installation is.

The installation consists of the amplified sounds of chopping and cutting played back. Sometimes the sounds are barely there, little more than scratching, perhaps from only one of the end speakers (of five in total). At other times the noise in incredible, and comes from several speakers at the same time. And then there are long intervals.

This is a very careful and intelligent work that explores the qualities of the sounds. It is impossible to tell from the sounds exactly what is being cut, or what is doing the cutting. And while that might be nice information to have, it's also interesting to have the sounds without context, and to try to make sense of them as they are.

In a sense you have to listen to them as you would music. You read rhythm, volume, pitch, timbre in an effort to understand them.

As far as I know Coryn's installation is there for a week or two, and one, some or more of the studio spaces open for a few days. I'd recommend a visit if you're in town and have the time. But make sure they know you're coming - email thepenthousenq at gmail dot com or tweet @thepenthousenq to arrange a time.

Having lingered there a while, and if you visit, do linger, it's well worth your time, you come to the studio spaces.

In the first Roseanne had an installation that played with notions of smell and memory, with notions of masculinity and femininity, with texture, and with impermanence. In the centre was a long lightbox with a rusted razor, a chopping knife with its blade pulling apart and a saw on top, all of which had their handles substituted or smothered with shaving foam.

The same shaving foam overfilled suspended mooncups, the upper part of a light fitting, and formed a large blob in the centre of the floor.

There was an interesting difference of scales. The most striking initial impression was the smell, whereas the physical objects (for me at any rate) were more compelling close to, in small details.

The next studio was where Gary had been working, and was partly set up for his performance. As you entered, the right hand wall mainly featured sketches and notes he'd made during his residency. The wall behind you carried record sleeve designs he created, and closer to the ground a reel to reel tape player turning a large loop of tape that ran to the corner with the left wall, and a little way along that wall, before turning round the neck of a bottle and heading back. A bottle also kept the outgoing and returning portions of the tape in the corner.

Fragmentary, corroded, and ghostly sounds muttered from the player, with the occasional burst of louder sound.

The objects arranged for the performance were three cymbals and a series of contact mics. It was an interesting contrast to the rest of the works on show, being more clearly art as process, as an ongoing interrogation of space and materials.

The third studio contained probably my favourite among the works on the night, Debbie Sharp's moored. In the window on the right of the studio was a large, deep square of earth, with growing heather and moorland plants still in situ. In the window to the right of the studio a short film played on a loop. I especially liked the sounds - mainly of wind buffeting the video camera's microphone.

In the film Debbie set off walking across Yorkshire moorland carrying a spade on what was evidently a cold and windy day. At a certain point she stopped and cut, then removed her large square of moorland. This was then placed in a binbag and dragged back across the moor.

This sequence obviously raised a (quite likely intentional) resonance, especially with the exhibition being in Manchester. It's hard to see someone dragging something heavy across moorland and not think, albeit fleetingly, of the Moors Murderers.

But that's not in any way to suggest that that's what the installation is about. Clearly the intent is something quite other. More to do with the juxtaposition of moor and city, nature and the built environment. Questions again of fragility, permanence and impermanence.

And where you are reminded of bodies buried in moorland I found myself thinking also of bodies found in peat bogs after centuries. But this doesn't begin to touch on how fascinating the work is.

Finally outside the studios, in the sound library, you could listen to Sandra Bouguerch's sound piece. In some ways it was a combination of concepts from both Coryn's and Gary's work - though evidently arrived at entirely independently of either.

Though I didn't spend enough time listening to it, what I heard mainly consisted of the sounds of a pencil making marks. It is easier than Coryn's installation to listen to as music, the sounds being more regular, rhythmic and with a greater tempo.


To end the evening there were sound performances from Gary and Roseanne, I'm not sure whether Roseanne's performance was recorded, but a section of Gary's can be viewed here.

Gary improvised with a series of what you might call 'small sounds', amplified taps and scrapes on the cymbals. It was more stripped back than he often is, with no tapes, effects pedals, or other sound sources/instruments used.

It was an interesting examination of how limited resources can lead to larger, compelling, explorations of the sonic potential of objects.

Roseanne's performance was closer to what you might recognise as music. It was also considerably louder. An interaction of voice, objects and noise-makers. It was considerably more sophisticated, weaving elements around each other, and developing themes, than I might have expected.

So that's a brief snapshot of the night. Visit The Penthouse for yourself, check out the artists, and 'like' The Penthouse on Facebook for news of opportunities and future events. Seriously - if you care about art support grassroots and artist-led projects like this, see what emerging talent can produce. You won't regret it.

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