26 October 2012

Tim Noble & Sue Webster: Nihilistic Optimistic @ Blain|Southern



Blain|Southern Gallery presents the solo exhibition of artist duo Tim Noble and Sue Webster. Since the first day of its opening, Noble & Webster’s show has undoubtedly become the talk of the town and a very popular feature for online bloggers. But for those interested in finding out more about the show by the artists themselves, you are in for a treat!

The exhibition comprises of six large scale sculptures, five of which are shadow works. The biggest of all (‘My Beautiful Mistake’ 2012), dominating the gallery’s reception area, is an assemblage of dangerously balancing everyday life objects such as books and chairs. The main space is a dark environment occupied by five intricate pieces constructed with stepladders, fragments of discarded wood and broken tools forming human shadows when illuminated from the front and right angle.  Excess material and tools are dispersed around the immediate area of the sculptures giving a more private and behind the scenes art studio feel.

For those not familiar with the identity of the artists, the shadows might simply appear to be those of a man and a woman. They are in fact the artists’ very own self-portraits in a process of exploring not only the complications of a relationship but also its conclusive development.  The viewer walks between two individual portraits of Sue Webster (‘Nasty Pieces of Work’ 2008-9 &‘The Individual’ 2012) and two of Tim Noble (‘Self-Imposed Misery’ 2010 & ‘Youngman’ 2012); some shadows are depicted fully fabricated and others appear incomplete. We only see two fully assembled figures in the work that displays both artists (‘Wild Mood Swings’ 2009-10) seated back to back. The title of the show ‘Nihilistic Optimistic’ is suggestive of the two oppositional forces presented in Noble & Webster’s works. At first glance, the abstract and deconstructed status of the sculptures proper is thought to speak for a nihilistic idiosyncrasy, which with the illumination of a projector is deciphered into a built image, an optimistic result. However, it seems that the artists’ assessment of their very own human relationship calls for a more in depth exploration.

In this dual autobiographical exhibition, each of the two characters appears to act [in]dependently. But as they comprise of the same material they encompass a commonality, a mutual life, a reference to a long term relationship. The portrayal of semi-complete individual shadows may resemble incomplete hypostases not only throughout a long term relationship, but also during initial stages of separation. The presence of the diptych of organically assembled shadows facing opposite directions (‘Wild Mood Swings’ 2009-10) is a strong declaration of an exodus; a realisation of an ended situation. And despite the physical separation, the lasting spiritual connection infuses life with optimism. The Noble & Webster show is a voyage through the final phase of a relationship and despite its palpable autobiographical nature it touches common grounds with the viewer, who is also encouraged to pick and choose from the nihilistic or optimistic side of life. 



Sue Webster talked to REVma -/+ about the exhibition:

REVma -/+: Your works balance between construction and destruction and, as the exhibition title suggests, between nihilism and optimism. Do you ever feel that in certain sculptures one of these elements overpowers or even overshadows the other, and what is your response to that?
S.W.: Our life as in our working relationship is always in the balance, if Tim is feeling slightly optimistic I naturally feel the weight of that and tend to equal the void by feeling slightly negative so I guess we are always searching for our equilibrium

REVma -/+: The final product of your work seems extremely intricate. What is the design process of assembling your sculptures and do you tend to work in the darkness in order to achieve the desired result?
S.W.: it's like magic - we start with a pile of trash and see what manifests itself - the materials do the talking - but ultimately I tend to think that there are three elements that make up each work. Firstly, the most obvious, is the seemingly random assemblage of objects, second is the shadow cast from this that transforms the abstract into the representational, the third element being the weight achieved by the choice of materials used that lends conceptual meaning to the work. Our artistic practice is as simple as one thing intuitively following the other, above all it's largely an attempt to take what is at hand and make of it what we can, to search amongst the chaos of everyday life for ways in which to understand and invent.

REVma -/+: How tempted are you (if ever) to  supplement your visual vocabulary with the use of audio and motion?
S.W.: We were recently asked to make a record, and so we took the title of the current exhibition ‘Nihilistic Optimistic’ and sat in the studio and repeated each word to one another over and over and over again until breaking point.  It became like an argument between the two of us, where one became the feeling and nature of the word, I was NIHILISTIC and found myself uttering in a most aggressive way through gritted teeth, whereas Tim was ever the OPTIMIST his voice raising like an angel above the clouds . A newspaper reviewed that it was the most monotonous record ever made, which I took as a compliment, it's always a goal to try to achieve something that has never been done before.

REVma -/+: Your works consist of innumerable components, when do you know that a sculpture has reached a state of completion?
S.W.: With the current body of works we decided to leave some of the sculptures unfinished so that the shadows were in a state of collapse,  it goes against the grain of how we usually are programmed to work , which was an interesting exercise in itself, after many years of producing our shadow sculptures I can assume that the audience understands this way of working - and so for instance in the sculpture 'Nasty Pieces of Work' my figure stands proud and complete but the portrait of Tim was only of his sculpted arm left hanging. Tim has the most amazingly sculpted arms and when I finished recreating it I felt that it immediately took on his persona - this was the ultimate way of portraying his image- that WAS the finished portrait and I was happy to leave it at that.

image 1: Installation view showing (clockwise) ‘The Individual’ 2012, ‘Youngman’ 2012, ‘Nasty Pieces of Work’ 2008-9, ‘Self-Imposed Misery’ 2010
image 2 (clockwise):  ‘The Individual’ 2012, ‘Youngman’ 2012
image 3: ‘Nasty Pieces of Work’ 2008-9
image 4: ‘Wild Mood Swings’ 2009-10
all images courtesy of the artist and Blain|Southern  /  photographer: Peter Mallet

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