Saturday 24 January 2015
Sometimes the dead-speak of an art exhibition's publicity material just doesn't radiate the tactile joy and boundary-pushing behind its maker's intentions.
Take artist Laura Aldridge who, when we meet in the chilly environs of Glasgow's Tramway 2 on a Monday morning, is running her hands over a giant brown fluffy 'display-scape'.
What's that, I hear you mutter... a display-scape? Yes, it's a new art-term on me too. When I saw it written on Tramway's website before I met Aldridge, I could feel my virtual brow furrowing.
But fear not, dear reader. Aldridge's display-scapes are a simple concept. They are structures from which you can look out and look in, if you so desire. It all stems from her on-going preoccupation with the ways in which people look - and try to connect in an often visually-confusing modern world. Her work is a mix of sculpture, craft, photography, ceramics, printmaking, collage and word-play.
Not quite art and not quite craft, it lies somewhere in the middle. For this major new solo exhibition, she has created several display-scapes, including a specially-constructed pink pavillion, some large smiley sun faces inspired by car air fresheners, and a wall of quite delicately beautiful ceramic bricks made in collaboration with her friend, Alistair Dearie.
The exhibition is called California wow! The title stems from a reaction to a picture the Glasgow-based artist posted on social media a few years ago when she was on an exchange programme at the California Institute for the Arts (CalArts).
"Someone wrote, 'California wow!' under a picture of me," she explains. "And it stayed with me; this idea of being overwhelmed by something, which is also very funny. There was also something in the phrase about the push and pull of being an outsider which appealed to me, so I stored it away for future use!"
The brown fluffy display-scape which we are both running our hands over is essentially a very large rectangular panel covered with fluffy, fleecy cheap rugs all seamlessly attached to form one big brown box. At least, that is what it seems. On the rear side, it is just a blank 'canvas'.
"People keep telling me that small children will be running their noses over it," Aldridge says. "It may have trails of snot over it soon - and that's fine! The last thing I want is people being told not to touch exhibits. I hate to hear and see that in an exhibition.
"This display-scape is basically a pavilion covered in carpet. When I was envisaging this show in Tramway, which is such a huge space, I loved the idea of things being nestled into the surface of the work. I also had this feeling I'd like to see really soft fabric against the hard edges of this former industrial space."
The brown fluffy display-scape has an 'opposite number' on the other side of the gallery. The same size, it is painted white and is studded with star-like rusty nail sculptures made by her friend, artist, Bobby Niven.
Aldridge, who was born in Frimley, Surrey and attended Wimbledon School of Art in London, has been based in Glasgow for almost a decade. She came to Scotland to study for an MFA at Glasgow School of Art and has remained in the city. She is based at Grey Wolf Studios in the north of Glasgow, and last year was one of the artists featured in the prestigious GENERATION programme of exhibitions and events which celebrated the last 25 years of contemporary art in Scotland.
For GENERATION, she made new work which went off on a voyage of its own around Scotland in The Travelling Gallery. She still has work made for GENERATION on display in the grounds of Modern One (the old Dean Gallery) at The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art as part of The Bothy Project. This temporary structure created by artist, Bobby Niven, and architect, Iain MacLeod, is currently the venue for a programme of talks, performances, events and screenings. In April, it will be transplanted to Assynt in the Highlands, where it will become a permanent feature of the landscape. Aldridge's ceramics and textiles which furnish it internally will travel northwards too.
Aldridge was first offered this opportunity to mount a major solo exhibition of her work in Tramway in 2013. In between moments of high excitement and fear ('there have been moments when I've had the dry-heave just thinking about it,' she confesses candidly) her ideas began to coalesce.
Aldridge is fascinated by the process of how artworks and groups of objects occupy a space and how people react to them. She is also keen on collaboration with fellow artists, makers and friends.
"This interests me because everyone thinks differently from me," she says. "It's also a way to stay connected with people."
Her installation in the 10,882 square meter Tramway 2 space is anchored by a large pink room, THE PINK ROOM, which Aldridge has engineered in collaboration with The Bothy Project's Iain MacLeod. This 'room' presents the viewer with the puzzle of which way to look. Inside or outside? Safe in this livid pink structure, we can sit as viewers and study Aldridge's sculptural works; giant smiley sun faces and all.
The fact we are in a former tram shed only serves to emphasise the transitory nature of all art. And all life. Aldridge is searching to pin down a complex shadow of connectivity in all these tactile and seemingly playful works. It opens on Friday. Pack tissues in case you feel like running your face over the brown fluffy display-scape...
Laura Aldridge: California wow! Tramway 2, Tramway, 25 Albert Drive, Glasgow (0845 330 3501, www.tramway.org) from January 30-March 22