Despite its small size, Modern Art Oxford is an incredibly versatile gallery. After Fly Me To the Moon, a retrospective on Austrian artist Kiki Kogelnik (22 August – 18 October), the gallery is now hosting Anne Hardy: FIELD (7 November – 10 January). While Fly Me to The Moon showcased paintings, drawings and a few sculptures, the current exhibition has re-shaped the gallery completely. Visitors walk through open spaces, wooden structures, and carpeted rooms, in an exhibition centred around the idea of spatiality.
The first work encountered is Pacific Palisades faded into remote vision (2014/15), which at first sight looks like a collage made of different materials, but it soon turns out to be a photo on vinyl. The print, of large dimensions (335 x 240 x 200 cm), reproduces an assemblage of pieces of papers and staples, and was created in the artist’s studio with the purpose of being photographed. The work introduces us to Hardy’s fascination with creating illusions and constructing ‘new worlds’.
Anne Hardy, ‘Pacific Palisades faded into remote vision’ (2014/15) © Anne Hardy, Maureen Paley, London and Modern Art Oxford. Image credit Angus Mill
The second section of the exhibition, A scoop with a shelter (2015), is framed by process carpet which covers both walls and floor; it creates a ‘field’ (hence the exhibition’s title) within which the visitor is ‘contained’. At the centre, a wooden structure dominates the space. From the outside, the installation looks like a small shed, rather casually executed, with beams roughly joined and an overall irregular shape. The whole structure rests upon a number of small piles of plaster and concrete. Upon close inspection, it is actually rather impressive how this big construction can be successfully propped up on such precarious foundations.
Anne Hardy, ‘Pitch Black, a smooth echo / A scoop with a shelter’, Exterior view (2015) © Anne Hardy, Maureen Paley, London and Modern Art Oxford, 2015. Image credit Angus Mill
After exploring the exterior, which recalls a construction site, visitors have the chance to get into the installation, entering a more intimate space. The first thing that stroke me as I got in was the Ikea-like smell. As humorous as this may seem, in some way it matches the intention of the artist, which is to engage different senses at the same time. Inside the structure, an audio record (Pitch Black, a Smooth Echo) mixes sounds from Hardy’s own making process of the installation with poetic phrases in free verses (‘Light bright with loose associations’). The experience is all the more immersive thanks to the play on light and shadow: the artificial illumination provided by two dim light bulbs is complemented by natural light coming in from fissures and holes. The irregular interior of the structure creates a mysterious and magical atmosphere, but at the same time a protected and meditative space.
After a series of photograms capturing more ‘lost and found’ materials from the sweeping of Hardy’s studio floor, the visitor enters the last room of the exhibition, the Piper Gallery, in my opinion the most fascinating. The gallery is covered in yellow carpet on both floor and walls. The visitors, once they have taken off their shoes, are free to wander around, to experience the work. The concept behind the installation recalls A scoop with a shelter, but with a difference: here too we have a space to enter, but boundaries leave room to openness. In a way, art has invaded the whole room. Scattered across the gallery are scraps of ‘lost’ objects and rough materials, which help to make sense of the installation’s title, Punctuated Remains (2015). The ‘lost’ items include smooth translucent glass, dark plastic bottles, sleek black film, white thin strings, colourful pins. The variety of materials allows a wide spectrum of colours and textures, giving the space a distinctive vivacity. The chromatic variation contrasts with the neutral tones of the previous installation, and raises the status of the scraps to noble pieces of artificiality. The room has its own order, which, as Hardy says, ‘whilst nonsensical has its own logic’.
Once again, the installation is complemented by an audio component (An Abandonment was accountable for the accumulation of acid after dark), coming from directional speakers. The words are also ‘lost’, and were gathered by the artist over the years when searching for titles for her works. The fact that they are played in an open space, however, runs the risk of not giving them the right importance: the visitors only appreciates scraps of them, when they happen to be close enough to one of the speaker. While this may be intentional, as we are invited to move around the space, the content of the room is quite enough to grab one’s attention, so that having to listen to words seemed almost superfluous.
Anne Hardy, ‘huaooogh phhhhhhhhhhh phossshhhhh, mmmin hmn, wuahhgrrrrhmmmhhh, Punctuated Remains’ (2015) © Anne Hardy, Maureen Paley, London and Modern Art Oxford, 2015. Image credit Angus Mill
Simple, but on a large scale, Anne Hardy: FIELD invites the viewers to reflect on the idea of space and artificiality, on places and the process of their making. It is a fascinating exhibition which, in a few key pieces, constructs concrete fields for the visitor to see, walk through, and even listen to. By physically creating ‘new worlds’ that play with different materials, colours, and textures, Hardy makes us rethink the way we commonly experience space in our daily routine. As one exits Modern Art Oxford, the world looks almost dull and characterless. But that is what art is supposed to gives us, after all: a spark of magic and new insights into the monotonousness of everyday life.