FONTANA AMSTRADA - RYAN RENSHAW GALLERY
FEBRUARY 25 - MARCH 14, 2009
Our new installation for Ryan Renshaw gallery will be our first new collaborative work since returning from a three month studio residency in Rome. Our work for this show will directly reference Forum, one of the works we completed during the residency. Forum is informed by fascist era Roman architecture, merged with a sci-fi aesthetic. Our new work for Ryan Renshaw gallery will draw on this recent development in our practice, where we further explore aspects of totalitarian architecture and geometric construction combined with futuristic space age iconography.
Eleanor and James Avery: Our Day Out
by Clare Lewis
The multiple and shifting manifestations of the contemporary ‘landscape’ form a fertile site for the critique of perception and reality in the work of Eleanor and James Avery. Their improbable towers of makeshift props and brazen monuments to the interventions of tourism offer us a parallel environment, constructed from artificial reproductions of natural phenomena. Although the material constituents of these unruly dioramas are familiar - a cable car, a mountain vista, a sightseeing tour or souvenirs, they remain symbols on the periphery of our conventional understanding of those entities. In the crude artifice of these synthetic landscapes we recognise the commodified, passive devices which shape our understanding of the ‘real’, opening up complex questions about the validity of how we experience and consume the natural world.
Icons of tourism such as the cable car, and the detritus of leisure, discovery and the cultivated are, in this work, shown as frozen and inert. Purpose built for improved interactions with nature, the cable car was designed to enable us to see and scale the mountains without the labour and rewards of the climb. The experiences offered by these artefacts are at odds with our tendencies toward second-hand or mediated experience. The unrefined grandeur of the Averys’ installations renders the act of communing with nature estranged and improbable. An iconic garden shed is festooned with a nylon mountain range, tethered only by household goods. The slow shifting nostalgia of a toy cable-car journey is projected inside the natural sanctuary of the shed, collapsing the boundaries between real and imagined. A twee menagerie of souvenirs and mementoes expose the dismembered tools of memory. And in the skeletal cable car, with its Ikea curves flanked by scaffolding, an expectant row of glittering classroom chairs perch gormlessly over an imagined precipice. These installations expose the distortions of our interactions with such structures in the real world, now symbiotically linked to all we deem picturesque.
In the glimmering but desolate surfaces of Our Day Out we see reflected the aspirations of a contemporary neo-baroque. A surface-driven society anaesthetised by hyper-abundance, we are obsessed with owning the images of the experiences we seek. Perhaps the shallow, simulated real has become preferable to the less predictable possibilities of exploration and engagement. Where we should find joy and movement this assemblage presents only stasis and temporality. In this mountainous but colonised vista where one might expect life and the thrill of man’s unwavering command, we find emaciated technologies and reconstituted tourist debris.
What is left of real discovery anyway? Remote frontiers have long since been revealed by technology, science and over population. The challenges of the physical world faced by our forefathers seem well and truly tamed. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our surroundings are compiled of multi-layered fictions which have a reality effect. Have we lost the ability to recognise our world as ‘natural’ unless it is explicitly labelled as such? Tourist routes. Scenic walks. Wildlife reserves. Botanical gardens. Heritage trails. Google Earth. Lonely Planet.
The contemporary fascination with Disneyland as the epicentre of the simulated real, championed by Baudrillard and Eco, seems facile in an environment so explicitly mediated by the sanitary, fictional varieties of nature, history and discovery prevalent in our everyday. The Averys’ day out highlights this juncture, presenting a dystopic view, an apocalyptic fairground, generated entirely from manmade contraptions of dominance and control in nature.
Notions of the uncanny are central to this work; domestic materials are transformed and their realities suspended, but this ‘wonderland’ remains static and unconvincing - a potent reminder of our earthbound condition. The absences in this work are also significant; the seats are empty but expectant, the mountain range hollow, the garden shed crypt-like. Through this alienating emptiness, a more oppressive presence makes itself felt. We become accidental impostors. We were not meant to see this. Sheds and cable cars are private vestibules intended to bring us closer to the sublime. What should encompass personal journeys, the honest travails of the garden, the collected trinkets of a sightseer and the suspended belief of skimming over treetops, contain the perpetually deferred presence of the void. As such we are forced to consider the self, the other, the body and its relationship with the metropolis. Is this a machine for living in, or a playful metaphor for a fundamentally problematic modern condition?
This is a hokey, unstable mock-up of a series of empty societal vessels. The viewer is presented with a lifeless, staged and alienating space, one which replicates the passive gaze of domestic cyborgs. Our day out refers continually to a topography of geological muteness, a postcard universe of forgotten certainties. We inhabit a technologically saturated, intensely capitalistic environment in which ‘progress’ has gained unprecedented momentum. We live in a state of perpetual renewal where forgetful cities are reinvented and reconstituted daily. Our post-industrial civilisation has made porous the boundaries between human and machine, natural and synthetic, lived experience and artificial reality. As a result, we are experiencing a paradigm shift into a state of limbo where we are forced to question the blind optimism of technological advancement and to reconsider the potential consequences of our journey.
Natural order may no longer be taken for granted. As such, there is a rising sense of nostalgia for a time when we could safely look forward, when the notion of progress contained hope and not menace. When cable cars made monumental terrain accessible, when inventions were of human folly and were not as monstrous as today’s potential for hyper-abundance and mass destruction.
The Averys’ constructed tropes engender the ambivalent relationship we have with the built environment. The explicit impermanence of their processes and post-urban materials make no apologies for their tacky or home-spun demeanour. It is in fact these devices which speak most freely of the state of things. We are after all living in an age where ‘all that remains to give us a sense of being alive are the techniques of hallucination.’ Suffice to say, this day out really requires no day tripper – this is an imagined terrain where we can fill in the gaps ourselves. And let’s face it, things are always more promising in the brochure.
 Cubitt, Sean, ‘Fountains and Grottos’ in Site, Space, Intervention, Ed. Erika Suderburg, University of Minnesota Press, 2000.
 Vidler, Anthony, ‘Constructing the Void: From Pascal to Freud’ in Warped Space: Art, Architecture and Anxiety in Modern Culture, MIT Press, 2002.
Using the example of Pascal’s l’horreur du vide Vidler reflects on the collective phobia of the ‘eternal silence of the infinite void’, both psychological and empirical, drawing on the relations between spacial experience and psychological enquiry.
 Vidler, Anthony, The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the modern unhomely, MIT Press, 1992.
A product of late capitalist technology and the ‘spacio-mental reconstruction of cyberspace’, Vidler refers to Donna Haraway’s ‘Domestic Cyborg’ a seamless metamorphosis of man with machine offering a non threatening symbiosis of the ‘scientific with the social’ p.148
 Baudrillard, Jean, ‘Necrospective around Martin Heidegger’ in Screened Out, Verso, London 2002.
Clare Lewis is Curatorial Assistant at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia and is Director and Co-founder of Terminus Projects, a site-specific public arts organisation
texts © copyright Clare Lewis and Lucy Byatt 2005
More beautiful than any city could ever be
by Lucy Byatt
It was over two years ago now that Eleanor and James Avery came to Spike Island to talk through the possibility of spending some time here as part of the international residency programme. Space is something we have plenty of, but it is important too that artists recognise that the sort of time in the studio that we can offer is what they need at the time they are offered it. The Averys and I kept in touch and eventually they arrived to spend three months working here as part of Our Day Out in the summer of 2005.
Spike Island is a hybrid; part studio complex, part public gallery, part hierarchical institution, part artist run. This hybridity may confuse a little but it is something that is vital in the endeavour to sustain a dynamic and ever changing environment.
As a result the relationship with the audience is often ambiguous; the expectation is to find a consistent programme emerging from a single curatorial perspective nicely tied in a bow. This expectation is confounded as the work that emerges from the residency programme can only be described as ‘being caught’ by the curatorial team, rather than planned.
Consistency does exist though, in the artist’s continual reinvention and transformation of what is an extremely robust series of interior spaces. The once purpose built 1960’s tea packing factory of Spike Island is built from cast concrete and no matter how many temporary and semi permanent interventions are made there still remains a feeling that this reliable building is being squatted. The floors are drilled and patched and the walls and ceilings bear the signs of many past solutions and interpretations. These rough surfaces make a gesture to the white cube, but they always invite reinvention and un-precious opportunity.
Confronting the convention of what one expects to find beyond the threshold of a contemporary art space requires us to offer reassurance in other ways and the busy social, far from hushed environment is a useful strategy. Perhaps here there is an aspect of community centre – of meeting and social hub.
Quite apart from the public spaces, this is a building where artists and others are working, and these spaces are simply not publicly available.
Our Day Out in it’s manifestation at Spike Island came as a surprise. The studio, just off the main gallery, remained with roller shutter down for many weeks. The Averys came and went through the busy office, and like many artists coming from overseas, they spent much time attempting to comprehend as quickly as they could, this city. In particular they seemed interested in the area immediately local to the building. Though English, their many years in Australia may have dissolved the detail, yet the soaking up of this rampant gentrification must have come more easily than for those artists coming from outside Europe. All Europeans can read this language of change in the city as quickly as the flash of a bill board caught in peripheral vision.
The south western end of ‘Bristol’s Historic Harbourside’ is the last of the watery city centre to be given this treatment. Here we are amongst the heritage endeavours and new apartments that squash the unpalatable to the edges of the city. Spike Island, like many such cultural buildings, turns a blind eye in order to survive, and in doing so becomes implicit – in fact a catalytic player within the process.
I walked across the threshold of the Averys' studio to find the blue tent – not the sort that you pack in to your back pack and go walking with, but one that would offer greater comfort in the outdoors, one that I, at 5’5”, can stand in – it is a tent that has the promise of a real room. The interior, however, is made impenetrable, it is crammed with scaffold props standing upright, balancing the weight that is heaped above it.
The blue tent is held up by its aluminium structure and held down by its guy ropes, whilst the role of the props is to hold up the city that has been assembled in tantalising miniature on the roof – if indeed tents can be described as having a roof. The confusion of dependencies is like a disorderly spider’s web, and caught within this disorder is the model city.
The popularity of the miniature is unquestionable, it reminds us of Alice and Lilliput, of model trains and dolls houses. Above all, if we are larger than ‘it’ we feel we can achieve a useful purchase, an overview where we can be controller of all we survey.
In 1929 Bekonscot model village was created by Roland Callingham. This model village covers over an acre of land in the rolling landscape of middle England:-
………….miniature landscape of farms and fields, castles and churches, woods, lakes and rolling hills. Walking around, you’ll tower over the tiny population enjoying the fun of the fair, beaches, zoo and tramway, or lazily watching the cricket on the village green. Each village is linked by one of Britain's largest public model rail ways.
The marketing blurb goes on to tempt you to visit by saying that it is a village that has stood still since the 1930’s
‘The miniature, linked to nostalgic versions of childhood and history, presents a diminutive, and thereby manipulatable, version of experience, a version that is domesticated and protected from contamination’.
Certainly the nostalgia of the model village and the increasing museumisation of Bristol’s Harbourside is a gesture in keeping our minds on the purity of the past and off the deviation of the present. This is a place of escape. Yet not far away are the show flats. Assembled at the edges and with their backs to the building site, their intention is to entice the buyers, or should I say investors. On entering we are impressed by the clean modernity, the promise of sweeping views across the river, the spacious rooms……… but hang on – here miniaturisation is used again to useful effect. The furniture has all been craftily crafted at a scale less than the norm. Whilst each chair and sofa, each bed and sideboard looks just like the ones in Habitat, they are made smaller to create a greater sense of spaciousness. Is this clever or just capitalism again?
The Averys' use of the miniature and the hand made reveals something else and that is the fragility of the structure upon which everything is balanced. As the structure pings and crumbles it is propped and tied. I am reminded of Venice, the city that is one above all others whose rising tides and rotting foundations are only revealed to those in the know. Above the water and on view the city is celebrated and experienced as more beautiful than any city could ever be.
 From www.bekonscot.org.uk Beconscot Model Village
 From On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection by Susan Stewart (page 69)
Lucy Byatt is Director of Spike Island, Bristol, UK