Shapeâ€™s Shortlist 7 exhibition shows work by the 2014 Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary winner Carmen Papalia, currently in residency at the Victoria & Albert Museum, plus the other shortlisted artists: Laila Cassim, Omeima Mudawi-Rowlings and Peter Matthews. Review by Colin Hambrook
Papalia’s participatory projects notably Long Cane (2012) and Mobility Device explore notions of accessibility in public places. Having seen the youtube videos I was immediately drawn to Papalia being followed by a marching band like a visually impaired god wielding an awesome power as the brass band alters tempo and style according to the terrain Papalia encounters.
There is a juxtaposition of humour and intent to the work that conveys a message about his visibility in the built environment as someone with a sight-impairment.
The relationship of Performance Artist to the white gallery space is usually in the form of video or installation. Seeing the remains of Papalia’s site specific performance Hug Sit Feel in the Shape gallery it feels a little like visiting an exhibition after the artwork has done a bunk. What is left are trace elements of the work.
Part of the structure of the gallery and a large stool are wrapped in swathes of bubble wrap, foam and plastic; reams of green bubble wrap descend from rolls attached to the wall. And two large cardboard boxes filled with s-shaped packing foam sit on top of each other in a corner.
There is that thing with visual art practice, that it needs to be unravelled to be fully comprehended. Without the language or the context to understand the intention for the work it becomes something of a riddle. There is perhaps, a reference to Christo’s large-scale wrapping of the landscape.
Or it could be that the work is about protection; wrapping the artwork in order to make it safe for transportation. Transferring that meaning to the ‘disabled artist’ it could be to do with the way that disabled people are wrapped in expectations of fragility and uselessness?
Papalia’s blog on the Shape website talks about his bumping into things, so it could be a reference to ‘accessibility’ being about wrapping things up so as not to get hurt in the process of moving around.
The remaining three artists in the Shortlist 7 exhibition present artworks that convey a more immediate relationship to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Laila Cassim’s hand-printed wallpapers, Omeima Mudawi-Rowlings etchings and silks and Peter Matthews video-works have a textural quality; a sense of craft and of place. They could all conceivably be part of a collection within the V&A.
I particularly liked the ethereal quality of Mudawi-Rowlings work. My Two Worlds is a box with two layers of printed silk set at a distance. There is an immediate sense of describing living in two cultures at the same time; whether the artist is talking about cultures of race or disability. The image could represent a spine on its side or something more emblematic.
Whatever the answer part of the fun of experiencing visual arts exhibitions is working out your own response to the work and discovering what it says to you.
Shortlist 7 is on show until 30 May at Shape Gallery, Westfield Stratford. Opening hours: Wednesday - Saturday, 10am - 6pm. Please click on this link for more information about Shape exhibitions.