If you like your arts poncing experience to begin with a lesson in the juxtaposing of contemporary cultures, then you definitely need to spend more time visiting Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre in Cymbran. The small but always well curated centre occupies a 19th Century Victorian manor house resting in a small dip in the landscape, while alongside is a vast entertainment centre with cinema and all the shite detritus that encompasses. There’s some proper looming going on here, with the arts centre dwarfed by the huge side wall of the other. You could read it as a massive metaphor, I guess? Except it doesn’t have to be a metaphor. It’s right there, in front of you. Looming. Art ponces don’t stand a chance.
Anyway, once you’re in the gallery it’s nice, so calm down culture dicks, everything has a place these days, remember?
The current exhibition is of Katharine Morling’s ceramics, which draw you in and demand a certain attention and fascination that you might not expect of black and white works. To be a bit crass, they remind me of the early Paddington Bear animations by Anglo-French (lethal combination) animator and all-round children’s TV hero, Ivor Wood. As you stand before the pieces and even as you tentatively touch them, they seem to flicker from 2 to 3 dimensions. Can I say that they occupy an inter-dimensional flux point? Yes, I’ve had a lot of coffee, I can definitely say that and not be labelled a hippy.
This drawing out into the real world and actually, the aesthetic beauty of the pieces, really off-sets their weightiness. They have gravity to contend with and when you touch them: the ceramic ‘grind’ of the materials reminds you that they are in the space with you and, despite the lightness of appearance, could easily break (don’t worry, I didn’t).
This really comes to light with pieces such as Butterfly Drawers, where the delicacy of the thing represented becomes pinned down in the material used for that representation. juxtaposing the very thing we associate the object with, against the physics of the material. But that’s all art, surely? Maybe, but isn’t the point to be reminded every now and then? There’s not a great deal of weight to the butterflies themselves, but they’d never survive in the wild anyway.
Thematically, Morling’s focus is broad: moving from the domestic of Equipped, to the potential of a political piece like Shifting Diamonds. Sometimes, it feels as though it would be nice to draw out something politically deeper from the works, but that’s just modern critical theory demanding attention. Anyway, isn’t the personal the political? Sometimes the personal can be about the things that fall under the artist’s gaze and not have to be directly about motherhood, or unemployment or… well, other worthy subjects that are often hammered home at the expense of aesthetics. If that gaze is actually taking in the world around the artist and refracting it back to us, albeit with a playfulness, that’s something worth spending time with, isn’t it? Sometimes an elephant is just an elephant, except when it’s cast in ceramic and carrying a panda bear.
post script: This review was about juxtapositions. Just in case I haven’t laboured that point to death enough.
The exhibition runs from 29th November 2014 – 17th January 2015 at Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre