Surface Gallery – NTU Festival 2017


NTU Festival is a collaborative exhibition with Nottingham Trent University Fine Art students and Surface Gallery. The festival has run annually for six years, the 2017 theme being ‘The Faraway Nearby’. In this year’s venture, Fine Art students explore the opposing discourses of ‘distance and closeness, separateness and togetherness’[1] in four week-long exhibitions.

The third week, which ran from the 22nd to the 25th of March, broadcasted two spaces: the first of which featured the works of Holly Shaw, Julia Shearer, Hannah Parikh, Maya Fitzherbert and Micky Dickson under the title ‘Façade’. This exhibition juxtaposed reality and utopia through its combined use of installation and projection.

Seven installations which represented illusions of paradise filled the space: beach scenes with sand covering areas of the floor, leafy plants and palm trees and a central pool of water. Yet interestingly, these utopian installations were interrupted with technology in the form of clunky televisions playing repetitive videos of seascapes and ‘ShutterStock’ images of sand lay on the floor alongside electric heaters, which collectively provided a satirical edge to the supposedly idealistic experiences. The accompanying audio created a sense of tackiness in the space, playing what one can only imagine was the product of searching ‘tropical music’, which resulted in conjuring a mental image of a cartoonistic underwater scene. Manufactured lighting and colours were utilised to detract from the ‘perfect’ experience of relaxation, bringing the spectator back to earth and provoking a reflection of our society’s use of technology: If you went to relax at the beach but didn’t post a photo of you relaxing at the beach, were you really relaxing at the beach? Technology’s interruption of these seemingly romantic and visionary settings led to a personal reflection of how much of our lives, and specifically nature, is interrupted and distracted by the rise in technology and social media.

Alongside this exhibition was the work of Madeleine Negus and Carla Lavin under the title ‘Nature and Anthropocene’. As explained on Surface Gallery’s website, this joint sculptural installation explored the concepts of ‘human interaction with the natural world around us’, combining ‘rudimentary media’ with ‘technology based work’ as a reflection of this.

The exhibition involved unglazed ceramic pots that had been thrown to adopt the appearance of bulging organic forms. Many of the pieces had been smashed and collected on the floor in areas of rubble. The terracotta piles appeared amongst an array of items including an unbalanced flat screen television playing a sound piece, a screen on the wall playing a moving image sequence, pieces of the sculptures in a jaunty pile and a wooden bench on which there were three sets of cordless headphones. The video playing in the space was a clip showing clay being thrown and made into the pieces that were presented in the space. The footage was layered over a video of rustling leaves, the audio on the headphones matching the subject matter in the video. This deemed the exhibition a wholly immersive experience, especially if one were to visit the room alone. The multi-sensory experience created by the combination of organic ceramics, moving image and sound enhanced the connection to the natural world and also highlighted the different practices of the two artists, creating a sense of balance whilst also emphasizing the necessity of both elements in nature.

Although little supplementary information was provided in either space, the A5 leaflet advertising ‘Façade’ with its four sentences and the question ‘//Will you let yourself be interrupted in paradise?//’ was the only material needed to convey the necessary information to the audience. The exhibition and its title were successful in reflecting the juxtaposition between true uninterrupted paradise and our actual reality that is constantly punctured by technology. One can only appreciate that the messages conveyed in ‘Façade’ were on a similar level to those of ‘Nature and Anthropocene’, which therefore encouraged the audience to continue thinking in a similar context as they progressed to the second exhibition space. The experience aimed ‘to illustrate the fusion between two fundamental components of our modern day world and how they co-exist’[2] and did so successfully. In line with the theme of juxtaposition which ran through ‘Façade’ with its amalgamation of relaxation and the interruption of technology, both spaces worked cooperatively to provoke in the audience an inward reflection of how the seemingly ‘opposite’ can become harmonious.





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