'Collapse' at Arthouse 1, London

Exhibition: Collapse

Artists: David MacDiarmid and Kate Palmer

Gallery: Arthouse 1, London

Dates: 27 February - 24 March 2018

Website (for images): www.arthouse1.co.uk


Review by Jillian Knipe


Collapse at Arthouse1 brings together an exhibition of synergies and opposites from artists Kate Palmer and David MacDiarmid. At first glance it is a show of her paintings and his sculptures, united in their efforts to present collapsing as a subjective idea where fragmentation and incompletion make way for new potential. Give it some time and one plus one begins to make three. The two artists together create a third presence in the room and the show opens up to a rich setting for stories.

For me, it is an installation of a foggy landscape where curious artefacts exist in the clearings. Kate provides the trees, David the objects. Walking around the gallery is like coming across a series of puzzling scenes and wondering what happened or what might happen. The mysteriousness is intended as David talks about making 'things that relate to multiple things at once' so that they are all 'semi-familiar'. While Kate describes a sense of creating something 'momentarily visible before it recedes again'. So it is no coincidence that each crossover of work posits an act in a bigger story of building up and falling apart.

Kate's paintings are made by the 'application of multiple layers of paint and other materials in order to reveal something about the relationship between mark and absence'. Tape is adhered to and peeled off the surface in a repetition of adding and taking away as part of a rhythmic process where one mark is determined by the previous one and anticipates the next.  The result is mainly large monochrome canvases reminiscent of wintery mountain landscapes at low visibility. In fact, some of the works originated in a recent residency in the Alps.

The conditions seem harsh, with titles referring to precarious snowboarding techniques and disturbances of the snow's veneer. Slices, scratches and smudges across the canvas surface recall damaged film at the end of a reel and imply an intense technique to locate the image. Though ultimately, the location is vague. The artist lends us her experience by laying out four piles of prints on a table. Visitors are able to move pages around, reconfiguring the layout, mirroring Kate's experimentation with where to start, how to develop and how to know, if at all, when the work is finished.  Although what does "finished" mean anyway?

The humble beginnings of David's sculptures are in the possibilities of everyday materials. He explains that they are sourced from a medley of treasure chest destinations including ‘builders' yards, salvage yards, skips or car boot sales' and he pushes the limits of retrieved objects to discover what else they might become. They often turn out to resemble elements in readiness to make something else altogether. Take Foreign Bodies for instance; made of foam, wood and brass fixings it appears to have been plonked in the room temporarily, in readiness for another use. A huge, lumpen blanket with large porthole eyelets, it mimics a hybrid between a natural form washed up on the shoreline and a man-made production material. It's a lump in your throat idea considering the connection between the title and the fate of desperate immigrants over the past few years.

Flow has a similar sense of incompletion. Modelled from a continuous cast of an open gutter, practicalities meant taking the moulded pieces out in parts. These parts are now edged in gold and it is unclear whether this reveals their insides or acts to bracket them as finished pieces. As David describes, the paper pulp meeting the shiny metal is a collision of two material worlds where 'the discarded collides with the social and cultural perceptions of "solid gold" and all that that implies'. It's as if the Japanese Kintsugi practice has begun and been left incomplete. So they remain content with their fractured state.

Over and over, these works subsist in their own precariousness. A stitched paper column leans feebly against the wall. Another, in plaster, is flat topped as if it is a support stand for something else. Although it is so spindly, it's barely able to support itself. A boxed stand has no base in which to place anything safely. A small, mirrored polygon is swamped by a toppled over, zig zagged sheeting. And there are wood turnings that might be dislocated parts of something else, like unemployed doorknobs. All the pieces seem to need a little help.

While the makings of both artists present their own version of permanently momentary, it is their coming together to create a new presence which is the real magic of this show. It's conceivable to think about David's work as exploring what is possible, alongside Kate's work exploring where is possible. Shown together, it's as if David's objects provide a weight to Kate's barely-there landscapes, grounding them, managing their "floatiness" and fixing them for a moment in place and time. Conversely, Kate's paintings appear to support David's sculptures to rest comfortably, to give them a proper place in the world. And in doing so, to make sense of their semi-formed state. Importantly though, this is only one viewpoint. The cross-pollination setting of Collapse challenges artworks being complete and considered in isolation, allowing them to exist in a continual state of reconfiguration and reinterpretation.


Jillian Knipe is an Australian artist and curator based in London who writes regularly for This is Tomorrow and Wall Street International.