BY Matt Price in Reviews | 09 SEP 02
Featured in
Issue 69


Norwich Gallery, UK

BY Matt Price in Reviews | 09 SEP 02

'Ivan Morison is disappointed with his crop of Red Flare Cabbages. Suffering from slug attack, poor soil and a shaded position, they never stood a chance. This year Ivan is attempting to grow giant marrows.' So reads one of Morison's information cards, which keep the interested up to date on the progress of his allotment in the genteel surroundings of Westborne Road Leisure Gardens in Edgbaston. En route for Norwich Gallery, therefore, it was not surprising to stumble across Morison standing behind a rather stunning fruit and veg stall, exchanging tips for cooking asparagus with a passing customer. Growing, literally, from his recent exploration of the lexicon of horticulture, Morison's new work has moved away from installation to more site-specific sculptural and performance-based works, first signalled by his primrose project at Transit at the start of the year and most recently at the Ikon Gallery, where he presented footage of himself strolling naked around his allotment looking like a figure in a painting by Puvis de Chavannes, while outside he sold flowers from a stall. In addition to manning his surprisingly lucrative greengrocer's stall, he has also produced a series of patiently but not obsessively rendered drawings on graph paper of these aforementioned failed cabbages, making the root systems appear like indecipherable data and the leaves like flamboyant statistics.

Inside the gallery Andrew Hewitt and Melanie Jordan presented the kind of sturdy, metallic viewing posts you might find at the end of a pier, but in this case they were directed out of the window to the building on the other side of the road. Like a rather lame observatory or the world's dullest peep-show, the viewing posts exuded a sense of existential futility that jarred poetically with the title of the show, 'Outwardbound'. It was slightly disappointing to realize that a series of circular photographic snapshots of Norwich had been pasted on to the exterior of the wall of the art school building for the viewer to focus on. This had an adverse effect on the work, somewhat comparable to putting a pin in a balloon. The intention of Hewitt and Jordan, though, was to trigger interaction, participation and dialogue, and in this they met with a certain degree of success. Students in the buildings on one side of the road started putting up messages in their windows for their friends opposite, leading to fully fledged inter-departmental window dressing and other creative strategies for connecting the students, buildings, gallery and passers-by.

As with the viewing posts, more disillusioned attempts at psychological escape through physical displacement appeared in Ben Sadler's In Search of Ma Bro's Country (2001), for which the artist was photographed in various urban and suburban locations, happily puffing his way through a box of Marlboro reds. A small rucksack on his back, a red Kagool and a pair of shades replace the stetson, lasso and spurs; a white Ford Escort, a car park and reservoir stand in for his trusty steed, the ranch and the Nevada Desert. As his casual manner suggests, Sadler is on home turf, looking at his neighbourhood afresh or at least through the eyes of a tobacco-sponsored flâneur. The territory is both melancholy and humorous, a characteristic feature of Sadler's practice; a previous piece has included the artist confining himself to a postal district and living primitively in a gallery.

Some of Sadler's strategies and aesthetics are shared by Phil Duckworth, whose exhibition at The Gallery in Stratford upon Avon followed three fictitious pipe engineers gone AWOL in the Arctic. Sadler and Duckworth have a collaborative partnership known as Juneau/Projects/, and it was under this name that for this show they presented a video work entitled Walkman/Lake (2001). The monitor, placed on top of a small homemade raft, showed Sadler on the edge of a calm lake putting a cassette into a Walkman, climbing into a dinghy, rowing out and dropping the Walkman into the water. Strained squealing noises replace the Strauss soundtrack as Sadler rows back to shore.

'Outwardbound' was a strangely disjointed exhibition, but perhaps this was its charm. A common thread running through the assembled works was a sense of untroubled dislocation and gently pathetic anomie, tempered by a faint glimmer of hope, the merest hint of optimism and just a vague promise of eventually getting somewhere else and actually doing something productive in the outside world.