I was so glad I made it to the preview of this exhibition last night. Produced by Lisa Denyer and Michael Thorp, Lisa was able to give me a mini-tour of the exhibition explaining how the pieces had been installed and how the space had been a big influence on the work.
The artists had use of the space for a couple of weeks beforehand, so it became more like a residency with much of the work being influenced by being created in, or specifically for the venue.
They used aspects of the architecture to their full advantage. Paintings by Lisa Denyer and Sarah McNulty were perfectly paired with breeze-block walls with left over drill holes and daubed on marks from the raw construction. This was much more interesting than a completely sterile blank space, where any object can hold your attention due to the absence of other stimulus. This made the exhibition feel like one whole installation.
"The exhibition brings together practices which demonstrate a strong interest in materiality, each piece of work provoking the viewer to examine and consider their immediate environment." Society of Island Universes, exhibition information 2014
I enjoyed seeing this style of abstract show, for this kind of work has a home in this landscape. These artists often work everyday in places like this, creating studios in old industrial spaces as an affordable workspace in a city centre rather than pristine, pre-packaged office spaces advertised to the businessman. Life isn't perfect, art isn't perfect but it's all about interacting with the space around you and seeing it's potential. The exhibition then invites us to find a dynamic between them.
Much of the work here had to form in this space as it is a way the artists has found a way to connect to this environment. Jo McGonigal dramatically drapes black acetate from a giant pipe overhead, showing us the materials properties. Sarah McNulty's Writher breaks down a painting into layers. Appearing to be painted directly on the wall it is an assemblage of printed acetate looming behind taut fabric. Rather than politely ignoring a structural pillar Holly Rowan Hesson has bound it with scrolls of colour. These rolled photo-prints are so abstracted they appear like chromatography papers, a science experiment literally breaking down a painting into measures of colour.
Making up part of Painting I this piece of carpet was found by the artist Jo McGonigal in a charity shop. Soaked in the stench of tobacco from it's last home with a heavy smoker, you can really imagine the cumbersome weight increased by the layers of sickly pink gloss she has coated it with, painted in-situ.
The sticky looking gloss has helped set it into the slumping form and the fleshy tone also gives the fabric folds a slightly gruesome edge. Nestled nearby is another painted object, Orange and Purple painted stone by Lisa Denyer 2014.
As Lisa had remarked on, the display of the objects at a similar height does make them look like they are having a conversation. In this part you can see stone assemblages by Lisa Denyer "chatting to" Willow Rowlands Dog Fruit 2014 watched over by Sarah McNulty's Paint II on the facing wall.
Jo McGonigal Painting II adds tension to the space. An empty chair needs to be resisted to either be moved on its casters or sat upon. Nearby a ball of clay in a co-ordinating colour perches precariously on what appears to once have been a piece of corner skirting board, with a wondrous boomerang shape.
This kind of work needs a large space like Unit 4 to have an impact and in Society of Island Universes the artists have created their own world. Only on until Sunday, and right by Piccadilly Station, if you get the chance you should really check it out to experience it for yourself!
Society of Island Universes "explores the ideology behind abstraction".
Currently showing at Unit 4C Piccadilly Place, Manchester Thursday 17th July-Sunday 20th July, 1-6pm.