Anna Parkina’s ‘Nests’ was one of the more aptly named exhibitions I’ve seen in some time. It was a small, messy thing that looked just inviting enough to land inside, but you wouldn’t have wanted to stay there for long.
That’s not to say it was hosted in a tiny space built of twigs – the project room at Gladstone might perch on the second floor of the gallery, but it’s certainly big enough. No, that pronouncement has much more to do with this young Moscow-born, Paris-and-California-educated artist’s Rorschach-like collages assembled from rough-hewn layers, which pile on to one another forming a scrappy home for light, flighty ideas. And there are a few pictures of birds.
In Breakfast on Coals 1 (2009), tea pots appear in the negative spaces between black and white photocopied pictures of hands set high on a window frame, stalagmite-looking cut outs and a colourful fowl snipped from a guide book and set sideways. Though the source materials sound eclectic enough to be considered cryptic, in practice they come off as conventional: Parkina’s larger point seems to be that collage can total parts to more than their sum. This is not news, nor is it a particularly engrossing argument when executed with hastily snipped shapes principally connected by their decorative qualities.
Even when Parkina’s image selection reaches for hefty concrete objects, like the Soviet-era mega-blocks in Note at the Entrance (2009), what results isn’t much heavier than a twig. In that work, an ornate security gate, a face, its silhouette, green leaves and the aforementioned buildings stack in some imperceptible order. There’s no foreground, no middle distance and no depth – even the meaning of the referents falls away, leaving little more than the sense that you're looking at something about looking at something. It's an exercise in flatness that succeeds to a fault: a bland victory.
Pendulum on the Fourth Floor (2009) brought a very handsome shade of blue and a much-needed feeling of movement to the exhibition. A photocopied and cropped image of an outstretched arm is repeated around a central point like the second hand on a clock; it ticks across the face of another housing mega-block accompanied by newspaper text, white space and coloured paper. There’s a promising, cinematic dynamism in this composition that feels ready to take off and spin from the page but alone, it can’t quite gain the momentum it needs to escape the nests.