Review: Empty Stage at Malt Cross

This week, the gallery hidden within the inner cloisters of Malt Cross bar is dressed in a subtle and honest form of art. Spread around the small room are nine incredibly different pieces, varying in form, dimension, dynamic and visibility, all of them with a common ground but each has its own identity and interpretation. Quite apparent from what few pieces of text are available in the room is the subject of discovery – upon my arrival I get the feeling that a treasure hunt is in order, as I am effectively given a list of clues to go with my complementary bucks fizz – the list details the nine artists and the titles of their work, in all obscurity and often with little to do with finding each piece, but vitally important when explaining the artist’s intention.

Upon questioning the artists, nine Trent ladies, on such things like the kind of thought that went into their work – I am told that answering these sorts of questions would be cheating. In essence, the exhibition aims to hide art, and hide the artist – and it does so behind all that is ‘domestic’, and naturally belonging in a room such as this. However, to my pleasure, one of the artists does let me in on a little secret. ‘Can you tell it was made by nine girls?’ she asks. Automatically, I assume that she means, ‘can you tell it was made by nine artists’, as supposed to only one – but I am soon corrected. It then becomes quite evident to me that the domestic nature of this room, and its apparent artifice behind every single tiny detail, is wholly intentional and would I not have known otherwise, assumed it all to be the work of a single middle-aged housewife. The room bleeds with the idea that she finds some sort of outlet against her antagonising husband, and hiding her expression inside the small details he would not even notice throughout the day – finding pleasure in a mess half tidied, small figures behind a radiator and false light fittings, to name only a few. As it stands, each piece is separate and should be respected individually but they share a common nature.

Notably in the visual form of the work is the use of certain materials, such as a dining chair dressed with a floral array of upturned needles. I am becoming known at home for my over-active interpretation of things, but perhaps this displays the artist’s want of comfort and her obedience to remain upstanding? Perhaps the common pool of thought for these artists is not such a premature assumption after all?

Following the theme of discovery, it is clear that each piece can be placed in a shifting scale of apparent visibility and inherent honesty. After the disrupted plant is an image made in sellotape on a white wall, ‘He’s the icing on the cake,’ which grants a baking figure a quite disturbing, headless representation. From there the pieces become more obscure and more difficult to identity until finally we reach a bare wall, the art of which exists only in a piece of text displayed quite separately, and given that this piece has a purely conceptual existence, it is the least visual but most blatantly expressed, and therefore the most dishonest.

It’s the word ‘domestic,’ that I find most fitting, as images of the household, and the house maker come to mind, lacking in comfort and harmony. The room would have been bare without the minor details in place, and empty if it weren’t for their audience. So, a bare room comes to life because of its artificial and shy nature. There is evidence of art ‘feeding the fire’ of art, as one piece depicts the cultivation of polystyrene balls, and also hides a projector that casts a silhouette against the opposing wall.

The act of one’s own learning, and his or her personal discovery is the object of pleasure at Empty Stage. The girls have successfully produces a tasteful and consistent experience, full of discovery on many levels of thought. It gave an over-thinker like me lots to get excited about, so I commend the girls with the highest regard.

‘Empty Stage’ is the work of Katee Allen, Holly Jenkenson, Lynsey Marshall, Sophie Myers, Siobhan Page, Kathyrn Pospieszalska, Amy Shaw, Alice Thickett and Laura Williams. Their work will be on display at Malt Cross, St. James’s Street off Market Square until 25th November.

Nick Charity

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