Carl Freedman Gallery, London 18 July – 24 August

By J.J. Charlesworth

Nathaniel Carey, Stop Making Sense (Father Tongue), 2013, cotton and polyester blend, cotton twill, acrylic, dimensions variable. Courtesy Carl Freedman Gallery, London

£5.34 is not much money, and an odd amount at that. Not like buying a flatscreen for £299, or
a paperback retailing at £6.95. It’s more like the total on a receipt from a hardware store, for some bits you might need if you’re an artist making a sculpture, to be curated into a thoughtful summer group show.

The shop-bought and the hand-wrought
is where sculpture seems to have ended up for the seven (mostly) young London-based artists brought together for £5.34. It’s curated by Jess Flood-Paddock, an artist whose own work makes a virtue of prone forms and underpowered production values, like the cheerful Snacks 15 (all works 2013), a floorbound, oversize coffee-bean lump painted blue and brown, with stuck-on canvas strips. ‘Coffee-bean’ is a hopeless analogy anyway, but Flood-Paddock’s show wants to be about this lack of resolution, between the ordinariness of materials and a distinctly unheroic act of making – a sculpture of fiddling rather than forming or forging, of sidelong hints rather than loud assertions.

It’s low-energy sculpture, barely distinguishing itself from the everyday stuff it’s made of. So Nathaniel Cary’s reproduction of David Byrne’s huge grey suit from the Stop Making Sense tour lies crumpled on the floor, jacket in one corner, trousers in another. It looks amateurishly handmade, not machine-manufactured, full of the absence of an animating human body. That absence of human form is a recurrent gesture: in Cary’s A Tixel Is a Portmanteau, a rickety laundry dryer (made from scratch) on which hang thin gauzes printed with images of hands gesturing at nonexistent touchscreens; in Florian Roithmayr’s customised display banners, one showing a silhouetted figure breathing in an inhaler, the other an upraised index finger on whose tip sits a translucent contact lens;
or in Rupert Ackroyd’s blankly sincere remaking of a Georgian high-back settle, a taupe-painted wooden seat shaped to cosy the occupant against eighteenth-century draughtiness.

It’s not just the absence of bodies that’s
at stake here, but absence as such – things embedded with the trace of other things – but only just. Nicolas Deshayes’s white acetate tabletops retain the vacuum-formed contours of vaguely turdlike forms. Apparently they were shaped from yams, but Deshayes was also thinking of Henry Moore maquettes – again, the nonfunctioning, not-quite-there version of ‘proper’ sculpture. Owen Bullet’s Shaft, meanwhile, is an alternating stack of stone blocks and wooden props, a peculiar invocation of the structures and depths of a mineshaft, inverting such a hidden hollow into a totem pole.

This wavering between the humbly made thing and the thing-absent makes for sculpture that is fugitive and indistinct, a smart move against the overbig, the overshiny and the overpriced. And for that, Fergal Stapleton’s inclusion is key. A generation older and Flood-Paddock’s stablemate at Carl Freedman, Stapleton makes sculptures that retreat rather than proffer: The Dust II and III are small sheets of translucent coloured acrylic in which appears the vague impression of some loose change – ten pence pieces and suchlike. Resting on these sheets are rectangles of worn paper, scribbled on in colours that recall the tones of a battered £5 note. What is not there is, weirdly, what is most present. In an artworld debate yo-yoing frantically between the virtues of the virtual and the material, it’s good to see work that reminds us that sculpture’s materiality is only
a door to things unseen.

This review was first published in the October 2013 issue.