Corvi-Mora, London, UK
Richard Aldrich’s ‘Narrative with 5 Characters’ places the grid of the theatre against the space of the gallery. With a clear nod to Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters In Search Of An Author (1921), Aldrich abstracts and reduces theatre’s basic elements - from character and narrative, to stage, set and verse. In the schematic he creates for his new exhibition at Corvi-Mora, sculptural objects and abstract paintings act as representational stand-ins for each of these elements.
Not very much of this is immediately transparent: the show is a puzzle to be solved, its title providing a primary key (though an artist statement offers another road map of sorts). The visitor is presented with a series of small abstract paintings and one decidedly un-abstract painting, outlining what appears to be a handful of dwarves straight out of Snow White. A green puppet dragon, a small concrete letter ‘O’, a paper bag and another trollish figure fill out the gallery space.
The objects demand deciphering; the sculptural objects are relatively easy to identify as four of the title’s five characters, and the dwarf painting quickly asserts itself as the fifth. Each of the ‘characters’ seems to reference an element of stagecraft - puppetry, masks, language and symbols. The remaining abstract paintings are designated by Aldrich as the ‘conceptual architecture’ within which the play takes place: in other words, the theatre space itself.
This is all good fun, and, despite the conceptual underpinnings of the show (which, although each work has been individually titled, seems to make best sense as a single installation), there is something playful in the unexpected images that Aldrich’s premise allows. The plush puppet is a particularly good joke, and, in combination with the collection of gnomes, cuts clearly against the abstraction of the paintings.
That concrete divide, which Aldrich makes between abstraction and narrative, designates the kind of theatre he means - as, perhaps, does the world of dungeons and dragons he evokes. It’s maybe not a world in which abstraction can obliquely lead to narrative, or where the set and the stage can act as a character. But it is one that is evocative enough, and the discord between conceptual art and traditional theatre seems to be where Aldrich situates his installation.
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