Routes @ Waterhouse & Dodd

Routes is a collection of contemporary Middle Eastern and Arab art. Two of the artists featured were Nja Mahdaoui and Monir Farmanfarmaian. Both their work was worth going to see. But then I was pretty sure I’d be impressed before I went as you may have seen them recently mentioned on my blog.
Located in Cork Street (just off of Saville Row), the gallery itself was quite small and the work was displayed and split over the ground floor and basement. I had no idea that Cork Street was a sort of hub for galleries. But it seems that 26 Cork St was one of the smaller ones. The problem with this is that a lot of the work on display was quite large, and I don’t think it was set out in the best way possible.

Nja Mahdaoui

Nja Mahdaoui

There were members of staff seated at their computers in various corners of the rooms and at times I had to look over the top of their heads to see a particular painting. I found this off-putting.
In one corner there was a very large mirror mosaic by Monir Farmanfarmaian that I wanted to look at quite closely and also wanted to take pictures of, but it had a collection of very unflattering white rubbish bags in front of it (the type that the dustmen collect from the large bins outside your home). Not to mention the pile of brown torn paper and bubble wrap. Ok I understand that if they were expecting a VIP guest then they probably would have done things differently.

I’d even noticed that in the image shown on the front of the exhibition leaflet the gallery space was very clean, open and spacious with no clutter and no unhanged artworks leaning against the sides of the walls. It looked so different I had to look closer to determine if it was the same gallery! My point is that the staff and owners should attempt to keep the space in a certain way and they should always be prepared for the odd visitor on a weekday afternoon who will expect to see the work in a proper manner.

In the end I asked the gentleman (who was eating his lunch at his computer desk amongst the paintings in the basement) to remove the trash bags so that I could take a decent photo. I took a photo of the offending bags too just to illustrate my point. I mean you just don’t expect this from a gallery that has such great work within, especially as it is the centre of a thriving area of London.

Anyway back to the work. I’m still really glad I went to see this collection. There were quite a few pieces that I found very inspiring. On close inspection it was also clear that even though the work is very striking on first impression, they are not perfect in the conventional sense of every line and every dot being in its rightful place. Ok there is the chance that the artist did not intend for the work to be perfect in such a way. The surfaces were lumpy in places and the lines were not quite straight or the paint didn’t quite meet the edge of the border, etc. I don’t see these as negative factors at all, but rather like elements that come about through the process of producing the work and making them what they are in the end. So the work is perfect in the end because it becomes what it is made with and from. (Does that make sense?).

To me the imperfections are a sign that humans can only strive for perfection and hope to come close to it but can never achieve it – as only God is perfect and only He can create something which is perfect (personal view based on faith here of course).

Another thing is that these imperfections make me feel a lot better about my own work. For some reason it reassures me that even though my own work isn’t perfect it’s still possible to reach a standard that is very close to perfection? Once again it is something that should be strived for as it brings out the best in what you try to achieve. So I’ll just keep going and try and produce better work every time I do something new.

Ok I have strayed from the pieces on show again – right so there were these ‘Paper Plates’ by Hamra Abbas that were made from little strips of paper with the words ‘please get served’ or ‘get served please’ printed onto them. It was a bit difficult to tell due to the way the strips overlap (zoom in on those images for a good look). Each strip was placed according to a geometric Islamic pattern and so they formed gaps were there were no strips but in the shape of stars, squares, triangles, etc. This looked great.

I think I have figured out how it might have been achieved too. Ok it’s not a very sophisticated method and would be my cheap, a little messy but workable approach. It must have been a bit like papier-mâché. The strips must have been wet with slightly sticky gluey water on one side and were stuck onto real plates with the design already laid out on there. Once all the strips were stuck down in place they must then have been allowed to dry on the plate. Then, once completely dried all the strips would be stuck together as they were overlapped at points and create an interlaced effect. Being all stuck together in the dry state makes it easier to peel the whole thing off leaving a paper plate in the shape of the original plate to which the strips were stuck. Tadaaa!

I have a couple images (all taken with my handy mobile) in the gallery so do take a look. I liked the original way in which patterns were formed here. The artist was thinking outside the box – made something that is simple yet different and with lovely aesthetic effect. I really liked it!

There were also two mirror mosaics by Monir Farmanfarmaian. One was in the shape of a triangle and the other a sort of rhombus? (Please leave a comment if you recognise the shape and let me know if I am wrong). The mirror pieces are all very small and there are whole sections that are made from squares placed together in a way that create a 3d effect. The small squares begin to look like piles of stacked cubes able to catch the light – some parts being shaded and others illuminated. There is then the contrast of the other mirror pieces that are bigger, longer, angular and slightly curved – allowing for spiral effects and shell like formations. This one was also much neater looking for some reason.

I prefer the rhombus shaped one (the one that had the bags in front and near it). Not only does the triangle seem to be at odds with its surroundings in this case but I also don’t like the shade of orangey paint or tint used for the coloured parts (see close up). However, what I think would look really good was if there were two triangle mosaics – one as it is in the picture and the other a few inches away and flipped upside down. I’m not quite sure why in my head it looks better and seems to put the oddness to rightness, but it does.

Mirror mosaic by Monir Farmanfarmaian

There were also a few other works I really liked. I’ve realised I’m really picky about what I like. I can’t help it and although I knew I had a certain taste, it now has emerged that unless it is smart, aesthetically pleasing or emotionally compelling yet still strikes a chord in my brain where the light for positive impressions is turned on, then I will just dismiss it (be it art work, clothes or anything where taste is at question). And even though I think I’m open minded enough to give everything a chance, I’m still a bit snobby about what should and should not be classed as ‘art’. Ok this could potentially turn into a giant can of worms. Hmm I wonder if I should even share that kind of thing with everyone? Well it might provoke someone to leave a comment so – lets leave it in for now.

I think I’ve made this post more than long enough. I might not have covered everything I wanted but I think I got the important stuff in. Have a look at the site for the exhibition for more information on the artists and better quality images of their work: http://www.artroutes.com/DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=1

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