Laura Aldridge

California wow!
Tramway, Glasgow
29/1/ – 22/3/2015 *solo

California wow!
Tramway, Glasgow
29/1/ – 22/3/2015 *solo

Laura Aldridge presents a new installation for Tramway’s main gallery which reflects on her engagement with the relationship between art, craft and performance. Drawing together sculpture, textile, print and ceramics, Aldridge’s exhibition for Tramway ‘California Wow!’ sets up a vivid and tactile environment inhabited by a variety of large ‘display-scapes’ through which the viewer is invited to interact with the exhibition in various ways. The installation also acts a backdrop for dialogue about craft and contemporary art, creative processes, material experimentation and collaboration with many of the works in the exhibition being realised in partnership with Aldridge’s friends and peers.

Aldridge creates performative environments or in her words ‘expanded collages’ in which she sets up a playful assemblage of materials, processes and textures that harbour sensory associations. These installations often situate the body in a myriad of ways; through the viewer’s physical interactions with the environment and through a constant sense of tactile engagement. This is evoked both by the evidence of hand made processes and ultimately the bodily responses her works provoke.

Entering Tramway we see a series of large ‘display scapes’ staggered around the gallery which take their starting point from the Spanish Pavilion from the Triennial di Milano of 1951. The pavilion was an immersive environment in which the curators set up a dialogue between craft and contemporary art through an inventive and tactile display system. Initially informed by the artists’ desire to create a solution to presenting several bodies of work Aldridge has expanded this theme, likening the ‘display scapes’ to a series of mini exhibitions through which her conversations between materials, works and collaborators become apparent.

The exhibition includes a number of fabric and ceramic works, reflecting Aldridge’s interest in materials which explore the emotional qualities of texture and touch. Clay and fabric are soft malleable materials that often behave in unpredictable ways allowing the material to direct the outcome. In Aldridge’s words ‘ I’m into things that allow me to retain a certain amount of openness in a work, that allow it to continue to change and evolve’. They are also materials which imply a proximity or relationship to the human form both through the act of making, but also through their relationship to everyday rituals and objects such as eating, dressing and sleeping. Through these physical associations, the human body is implied throughout the exhibition which features a number of backdrops and vessels within which suggested bodies are contained, or the viewers own body becomes an active agent. Large wooden forms which seem to be props for the body or vantage points, evoking both the act of looking whilst simultaneously implicating our own bodies as an intrinsic part of the installation. Aldridge describe these as ‘holes for a viewer to plug into’, a concept that permeates the exhibition, with each work being somehow activated by our bodies and interactions.

Images and materials populating the space, ranging from soft cushions, a large carpeted wall, cactus like spines made from old nails to images of pine cones, a piece of rope or a photograph of a man’s hairy chest, imply different forms of tactile gratification. The viewer is confronted with the impulse to touch and feel everywhere, yet there is also a sense that this desire is never pushed to completion – we are more often presented with representations of objects, textures and gestures as opposed to the real thing. Thus our response to these works is an emotional response as much as a physical one, we are suspended somewhere between a sensory impulse of wanting to touch/ feel and simultaneously be felt by material and texture. It is at this intersection that Aldridge positions her works, exploring the notion of the body experienced as both object and subject. The sensory environments she creates directly imply

our own bodies as agents within them, equally receptive to touch and sensation. The series of photographs shown along Tramways large brick wall have existed in various forms and been re-enacted using different models over several years. Thus the actions shown have been repeatedly performed for the camera, the gesture itself is always the same, always suspended somewhere between a photograph and a performance. In Aldridge’s words ‘I want them to make the viewer think about a really particular moment of feeling – like pushing your fingers into your mouth, and how the inside can feel bigger than it really is, or tearing paper, or striking something, blowing something, looking through something. I don’t really think of them as photos – they aren’t performances either, they lie somewhere in-between.’

The large pink pavilion Seemingly (viewing) (2015), a collaboration with Architect Iain MacLeod, also plays into this strategy of duality; when inside it we are voyeurs looking out on to the exhibition, but we are simultaneously contained and held within it, becoming part of the work to those looking in from the outside. A transformation occurs when we enter the exhibition is bathed in an acid pink hue, becoming something otherly and hyper-real. Aldridge likens this to a filter and the tendency to use digital filters on instagram or our iPhones to alter the mood of an image at whim, a symptom of today’s culture of instant visual gratification. In this case Aldridge applies a filter to the entire exhibition space, treating all her works with the same vivid, uniform wash of colour, highlighting the experience of looking. The colour pink making the action of viewing apparent and deliberate. Aldridge’s idea for the pavilion was also sparked by a transparent, pink mask created by a participant in one of her sensory workshops for Artlink. The series of wall mounted studio photos feature the artist herself modelling the mask, gazing directly out at us and through its pink visor. Thus, the pink room itself could be seen as a re-enactment of this image on a much larger scale. The artist is opening the experience out and allowing us to see through her eyes, giving us access to the process and ideas behind the work.

This feeling of being poised between states of ‘in’ or ‘out’ is further emphasized by the two large ‘display-scapes’ at either end of the space which purposefully have nothing behind them, representing an area back stage, outside of the exhibition space. The exhibition doesn’t happen behind these walls and the viewer has to cross the invisible boundary to experience it, creating a heightened awareness that they are in the show as an active participant or performer. This heightened sense of theatricality and performance is further emphasized by dramatic lighting which transforms the large banner into a scenic backdrop, waiting for the action to commence. This contributes to the feeling that the exhibition is a shifting environment which constructs itself around us as we move through it, a plasticity which is reinforced by the artist’s playful approach to scale and space. Everyday objects are enlarged, flat things become three dimensional and vice versa. Furthermore Aldridge constantly shifts the axis of the space; beds and objects suggesting domestic spaces or familiar relationships to the body are hung in the two dimensional plane with heavy shag pile carpet lining one of the display walls.

Aldridge deliberately unhinges things from their everyday reality, images are presented as physical objects, often using scale to set up a landscapes or backdrops through which the viewer is invited to move, entering into a tactile field of imagery. Often printed on light silk or transparent materials her banners move subtly so that the images become shifting forms. As she states ‘Nothing is fixed, everything is fluid’. The banners for example are both a flat surface and an object, both two and three dimensional. An ongoing aspect of Aldridge’s practice, the banners were born from a need for an ongoing, formal framework fir the artist to kick out from: ‘They are a place for me to hang ideas and thoughts – a way to communicate without words. I began working with fabric because it gave me a lot of freedom and I like the fact that the word material is used to describe both a textile, a substance from which a thing is made, and also a group of ideas.’ Staggered across one side of Tramway’s cavernous gallery they appear like banners moving across the space in a precession. Alhena Katshoff sums the banners up in her text on Aldridge’s previous exhibition, ‘Earth Minutes’:

“Aldridge’s freestanding and wall mounted sculptures are reminiscent of upright bodies with arms widespread. They bring to mind images of people carrying protest banners or perhaps wearing sandwich boards, large flags on a windless day or laundered clothes draped over a line… When light comes through the porous material it illuminates the ‘moves’ that the artist has made – cutting out sections of cloth to create pockets of translucency or sewing together layers for increased opacity. This mode of assemblage is prevalent throughout Aldridge’s work and extends to her use of images, which she prints directly onto the fabric. Using a combination of found images and her own photographs, Aldridge mutates fingers, stone pots, plants, pear trees and faces into hyper-real flotsam of home/studio life.”

The largest banner Purposeful abstraction, 1, 2, 3, 4 (2015) grew out of the back drop for a BMPT conference (a Paris-based late modern art group formed in the mid-1960s by painters Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, Michel Parmentier, and Niele Toroni). ‘I liked the idea that there can be multiple voices within a work, they obviously had four voices, but I feel like I have many – I’ve never felt committed to a particular material or way of working, and I really believe that art is a free space for understanding and misunderstanding and making something from the conversation that happens around that – so these four banners represent this process.’

The legacy of the images Aldridge uses in her banners and other works is often everyday sources which Aldridge removes from their original scale, context and comfort zone. By expanding or enlarging everyday images and objects, she forces the viewer to reconfigure themselves and make sense of them in new ways.

The large suns hanging around the space are enlarged images of car air fresheners made using enamel paint on metal titled, Be a Nose! (2014). Aldridge was drawn to one of these small objects and decided to enlarge it as a means to play around with its internal logic. ‘They have an odd familiarity as things, so many people have them and since making the works, friends send me images of them different places – there is a sense of this recognition of a form that comes from everybody’.

The title is taken from the 1959 comedy horror film ‘A Bucket of Blood’ by Roger Corman, depicting a young creative who struggles for validation within his artistic community. He is aided by the accidental killing of his neighbours’ pet cat and the consequent use of clay to hide the body and the evidence. An accidental criminal, embraced as artistic visionary, the film narrativises and nourishes Aldridge’s interest in the importance of chance, and the social dynamics of art-making. On another level, they are sunshine’s, a trope for happiness and joyfulness, but also they are all slightly different in character, they have faces and attitudes. They seem to be casting a sideways glance towards the exhibition or a knowing look to the side. Aldridge describes this look as recalling the moment when people remember details, ‘their eyes move up and to the left if they are right-handed. I like that this gesture could be a signifier for this.’

References to sunshine, colour, and more overtly California, are informed by Aldridge’s time spent there whilst studying at Cal Arts. Her time there and indeed notions of sunshine seem to inform her different approaches to colour, often using it in super saturated hues or vivid swathes so works appear illuminated or animated by light. She also incorporates pastels or colours that look bleached out by the sun, implying that the work has been physically touched or its state altered by its environment over time. Colour in Aldridge’s work is also bound up in process and the tactile experimentations with material – everywhere we look, it is died into concrete or fabric, or baked or glazed on to surfaces. The artist incorporates a number of different techniques and physical processes into the creation of colour, constructing landscapes of imagery that conjure up the sensuality of hand made process, but also the effects of time and external factors such as heat and light on the physical nature of an artwork.

Whilst in California in 2012, Aldridge saw the seminal exhibition ‘Californian Design 1930 – 1965. Living in a modern way” – at LACMA in LA. This exhibition dramatically influenced Aldridge’s thinking about her approach to the Tramway exhibition and her work in general ‘I knew that after many discussions with friends about the Tramway show, that I wanted to incorporate all the aspects of my creative life within it, through collaboration and through materials.’

The dialogue between art and craft is an overarching theme of Aldridge’s practice and informs many of the collaborations in ‘California! Wow!’. Aldridge is committed to experimenting with new materials and developing her practice as an open conversation with her pier group of artists, curators and makers. Honouring intuition, her casual yet ritualistic approach to making offers a valuable contribution to new dialogues recalibrating craft and conceptualism.

‘I’ve been thinking a lot about how I collaborate – I’m usually the facilitator, approaching people and asking a specific person, for specific reasons – mainly knowing that the exchange I will have with that person will nourish my work and my approaches to making. Sometimes it’s to make me slow down, to approach things from the side, sometimes it’s technical, but it ends up being all kinds of surprises. We bring ourselves to the point of collaborating and make offerings to each other. I think that’s what I like about collaborating, the surprises and the offerings, the giving and the sharing. You don’t ever really have that sense when you work on your own.’

In this sense Aldridge sees herself as an active agent within the work, as opposed to being strictly a studio based practice she is engaging with collaborators and actively producing. In ‘California wow!’ There are several notable collaborations and the ‘display scapes’ are used as a visual mode to display these. This is perhaps most apparent on Display-scape no. 1: Enjoy reading this with your body (and you know, once you’ve learned it, you know it) (2015) towards the back of the space. Bobby Niven has made a series nails sculptures that form a cactus like backdrop to several of Aldridge’s own works and two silk banners titled Taking back our bodies (refund please), a series of text based prints on silk is an ongoing collaboration with the Director of the arts organisation Studio Voltaire, Joe Scotland. The two friends composed the text based works from an amalgamation of a series of letters written between themselves, with subjects ranging from Joe Spence, to self-love and photo-therapy.

Display-scape no.2: BRICKwork – A misleading, whole new way to do things (or so they say). (2015), the ceramic brick mural we encounter on entering the space grew out of a collaboration with the ceramic artist Alistair Dearie who uses the brick form within his work. For the exhibition Aldridge approached him to make something on a much larger scale not knowing if it would work. There are 434 bricks, all individually hand made in press moulds, glazed and kiln fired. Stacked edge to edge instead of face down the work is entirely at odds with how a brick structure would be constructed, making the normally hidden surface of the brick visible. By doing this the artists embrace the holes as an aesthetic design feature rather than a function.