Thursday, 20 May 2010


Review of 'The Quality of Being Nothing'
by Susie Cochrane
this review can also be seen here a-n magazine review

Empty shops are a sign of the times, an unpleasant reminder of the recession and often leaving a hole in what was once a lively high street. But in Derby, a gutted office has been transformed – into a place of growing excitement, creative activity and the subject of public intrigue.
For three weeks, young graduate artists Chie Hosaka and Anna Mawby have been in the process of transforming a bleak, grey-carpeted space through a collaborative residency for Synapse Festival. In the last few days before the closing event, 67 Wardwick is no longer a sad reminder of its previous purpose, but an artists studio alive with ideas. Beginning with only a stack of A3 white paper with which to work, discussion began between the two around the premise of what it is to 'be nothing'. As one might expect, philosophical ideas began to develop and then to sprawl onto paper, and then onto the walls. Sculptures, printed line drawings and trailing, thoughtful reams of text have created an entirely paper-based body of work that now frames the space. Directed by white arrows through a mass of small, delicate works, it seems that the amalgamation of everything that has been created is entirely intended. A sense of the oppressive nature of the initial empty space is visible in the handwritten words 'blankness', 'alone' and of course, 'nothingness'. But through this, something else began to emerge.
Having never met before, Hosaka and Mawby were two artists with shared interests already existent in their individual practices. Their common fascination with human vulnerability is seen reverberating around the room, not least through the frequently appearing image of a solitary figure, sometimes engulfed by and other times wandering into the vast expanse of white from which he has been cut. Through this figure and other representations that encroach upon the rapidly disappearing floor space, Hosaka and Mawby explore what it is to be faced with nothing, and the point at which that miraculous change occurs when nothing transforms into something.
Embarking on this ambitious project must have been a daunting prospect. Having acquired the unconventional venue through the Empty Shops Project run by Derby County Council, an air of expectation would have been induced not least by the entirely transparent way in which their work would be on display. The shop is glass-fronted, on a busy central street, and open to anyone. This might be what makes 'The Quality of Being Nothing' so exciting, as it is artwork not only subject to daily feedback from the public but it also removes the distinction between studio and gallery. There is none of the polished, finalised and removed atmosphere of work that has been refined in private.
What has been created embodies the discursive and open nature of the premise. Two-dimensional paper has also moved into three-dimensions in the form of boxes, tunnels and tiny hidden interiors. Building out from their raised working area at the back of the shop, it seems ideas that began entrenched in a negative, even dystopian perspective (writing 'we hardly exist in this world'), grow into something more hopeful. The recurring phrase 'nothing is everything' acts as a release from the fear of nothingness; it suggests a state of acceptance, freedom, a universal accord. In conversation with Chie Hosaka it became clear that the collaboration itself dictated the manner in which the artwork developed. The artists would spark ideas from each others creations, making for a dynamic and pragmatic creative process. None of what has been produced throughout the three weeks has been planned as such; the sheer dynamism of the project and of the artists has built up to a body of work in which certain themes are nevertheless discernible.
As Hosaka admits, her obsession with ladders has become an integral part of the exhibition. Leading lonely figures away from their static positions, or trailing wistfully upwards to previously unchartered ceiling panels, the countless rungs point towards a sense of mobility. They suggest a purgatorial place of being, where, similarly to the work of the artists themselves, choice and decision will prove the only means of progression. Also frequently appearing are peculiar multi-legged organisms, running across pages or stepping nervously ahead – perhaps due to the lack of distinguishing facial features in their morphed bulbous heads. What perhaps first came to mind on viewing these oddly assimilated figures was the bizarre yet highly intelligent 'Nowhere Man' of The Beatles animated film Yellow Submarine (1968). Rambling incessantly in rhyme and churning out philosophies, artwork and musical compositions in the Sea of Nothing, his globular form would certainly not be out of place in the intelligible visual discussions played out here.
'The Quality of Being Nothing' has brought together a number of exciting and diverse elements. The venue, the artists and the concept driving the work make for a unique exhibition. There is no easy conclusion here, as how can one conclude what is essentially an ongoing discussion around a state no individual can truly claim to have experienced first hand. This is no place for finality, for definitive answers – it is a courageous step into a complex and rich area of thought. The closing event will demand a certain curation of the shop space, and it is possible that this will bring the exhibition into yet another curious, fleeting phase. This feels like the start of something exciting, and perhaps most appealingly, I just couldn't say what.

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