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Review: Portals to Uncertainty, Road Studios

Portals to Uncertainty
Road Studios
, 16th-23rd June 2017

Words, Kirsten Hawkins

Portals to Uncertainty concentrates on the eerie side of our every day, that doubt you experience when you begin to question the reality of your surroundings. Just like when you type a simple word and you think, “Is it really spelled that way?”

Juxtaposing fear and fascination, the two artists Tomo and Sasha Spyrou have created a formula for confusion of the daily.

In her exhibition booklet, Sasha aka “Another Realm” explains the etymology of the word uncanny, the German unheimlich, which means unhomely. This is reminiscent of the Danish word uhygge: eeriness or discomfort, contrasting with the more recognisable Danish word hygge, which roughly translates to cosiness, homeliness or togetherness.

The artist describes her work as “a collection of ‘found’ characters – creep treasures I came across on my travels, and figures from my childhood, from paintings or TV shows, that weirded me out immensely. They all have a sense of ‘uncanny’ about them, triggering elements of doubt and anxiety, both familiar and unfamiliar, homeliness and unhomeliness.”

The show comprised Sasha’s offerings of 1970s and ‘80s cult references, evoking a nostalgic time of Alice in Wonderland/Ashes to Ashes dreamlike terror.

Starring the Children of the Damned, Worzel Gummidge, Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks and even the Fisherprice telephone, Sasha’s labours of love seem to belong to a toddler’s simplified jigsaw puzzle. Although these are well-crafted wooden tiles with a temptingly tactile resin glaze, no child in their right mind would want to keep these toys in their room at night.

At first glance, the pieces from both artists seem to share only one trait: the majority are mounted on wood.

Yet Tomo’s works also feature mesmerising figures: lonely, lost and outcast. Their faces are twisted in an identity crisis, or a failure to recognise where they belong within the confines of a hierarchical society. Words such as “no fixed abode”, “persons unknown” and “Crown Court” (the gallery’s address, unsure of tis future) float through their brains.

Where Sasha’s characters originate in children’s TV series and soap operas, with the test card girl as a motif throughout, the only familiar face in Tomo’s work is Purple Aki, known locally via the TV news.

Tomo has employed materials that have been disregarded and renovated them; one painted persona adorns a rare padlock, another is displayed on a metal cover, possibly from a lamppost.

“I just like painting on reclaimed materials…. And also, my dad being a joiner, it’s kind of a family trade working with wood so I’m doing it my own way.  So if I’m walking about, quite often I’ll go into derelict places and I might find a nice piece of wood and I’ll just bring it back. For me it’s like alchemy, or adding your own layer or putting stuff on that piece of material that’s already got a story.” (Tomo)

The artists have beautifully presented their work. The themes of uncertainty, discomfort and identity play out in every piece. All that was missing was a Simpsons-style sofa or a park bench set in front of the TV characters to really bring the experience to life.