The most recent stage of Modern Art Oxford's KALEIDOSCOPE exhibition takes its name from Richard Long's phrase:
"My footsteps make the mark. My legs carry me across the country. It's like a way of measuring the world. I love that connection to my own body. It's me to the world."
The exhibition explores the relationship between body and environment - the role of representation not simply through viewing, but a whole host of sense-experience: touching, listening, walking. Concerned with the effects of digitalisation on our every-day encounter with the world, the exhibition forces a physical confrontation, using the body as both medium and negotiator of the world around us.
The Upper Gallery is spread with a white labyrinthine pattern made from White China Clay and Richard Long's footsteps. Walking a Labyrinth (1971, 2016) - crinkled with skin-shadows - utilises the natural shapes of landscapes and pathways, Long's classic oeuvre.
Mohammed Qasim Ashfaq's SHIFT (2016) is a large wall drawing created through graphite scratched directly on the surface of the wall. Ashfaq, influenced by Islamic art and Modernist aesthetics, works with symmetry and shape. Taking the circle as the purest of geometric forms, SHIFT evokes questions of order and chaos, both restricted to and expanding outside of the piece. The wall itself had to be specially prepared for the drawing, becoming a conceptually-Platonic most 'perfect' version of itself. Unlike, for example, Gustav Metzger's Crystal Light Environment (shown in an earlier KALEIDOSCOPE exhibition), where the cracks and marks of the gallery were highlighted and enhanced by the moving beads of light, Ashfaq's wall is claimed within this search for the ideal, the pure. The result is an august and austere circle that changes (...one could say, shifts…) with the movements of the outside world. As a curator of the exhibition later explains, the natural light in the gallery becomes the third element of the piece, actively changing the manner in which it is perceived. On the day I visit, the weather is bleak. SHIFT is nebul-esque and outer-worldly. And in many ways, this acts to coalesce the entire gallery into a cohesive and liminal landscape, with Hannah Rickard's supevening Thunder (2005, audio installation and typewritten text) playing the role of reconstructed climate. Rickard's piece was made through recording a single clap of thunder and stretching to seven minutes. This sound was then recreated as a musical score, using a flute, trumpet, trombone, cello, viola and violin. This sound was then reduced again to the original eight seconds. The 'thunder' resounds throughout the gallery infrequently. It is, as Rickard states, a kind of 'interrupter', a disembodied reverberation mediating between the super and the natural.
The room is perforated by an absence of human form, laced with ghosts, like the ballroom scene in Anastasia, though rather than a search for Russian aristocracy past, it implores a need for physical response, a reaction to creation. The use of body as medium is conveyed most explicitly in the Piper Gallery. Helen Chadwick's Viral Landscapes (1989) are interspersed with 'painterly marks' made from the cellular tissue of the artist. Marina Abramovic examines the bridging of body and material in starkly different forms. Green Dragon Lying (Boat Emptying Stream Entering) (1988), Black Dragon (1994), and Shoes for Departure (1990) use crystals and minerals as material, inducing a sort of childish yearning to touch, lean, sit, stroke. Shoes for Departure, for example, are a pair of giant amethyst shoes so smooth and shiny it is almost impossible to resist slipping your feet inside, like Alice in Wonderland meets Cinderella's slipper. Cleaning the Mirror I (1995), on the other hand, is a video installation using five separate channels that show Abramovic cleaning a skeleton (foaming with a soap so white it sullies the colour of bone). Though ostensibly acting as a platform for the thin line between life and death, the use of a digital medium is palpable against the rest of the exhibition. Benjamin-esque, we can ask questions of authenticity and indifference. Does the effect of this five-fold representation of death withers in its reproducibility? Does the digital induce detachment as opposed to encounter?
The Piper Gallery, perhaps more so than the other galleries, continues Modern Art Oxford's thread of 'active curation'. Dorothy Cross's pieces (Doorway, Telescope, Buoy, Distil, Scales - 2014), for instance, have been moved from their previous placing in the Upper Gallery, this movement acting to challenge preconceptions of surroundings. In relay with Chadwick and Abramovic, Cross's sculptures play with the natural and manmade, using materials she sources from rural landscapes.
Like each previous stage of KALEIDOSCOPE, It's Me To The World presents a collaboration of old and new, wall and work, artist and audience. There's only one more exhibition left of the year-long project, The Vanished Reality, which begins to transition mid-October - it will be fascinating to see the final conclusions.