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Review: Open 2: Pieces of You at Open Eye Gallery

Open 2: Pieces of You
Open Eye Gallery. Friday 15 April – Sunday 5 June 2016.

Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith, photographs courtesy the artists and gallery.

Open Eye Gallery hold photography as their primary cause for concern and that’s ingrained thoroughly in their identity. So my main purpose with this article is to explain just how six recent graduates have sort of blown me off kilter today. If you think you know photography, this exhibition will make you spin on your heels and look again, with a combination of curatorial play and introverted enquiry.

Anybody familiar with the gallery will be struck immediately when they step through the front door, by the playful way Peter Watkins has elected to reframe his experience of the gallery – and I say his experience for good reason. I don’t think skeletal walls are a particularly new thing, and tend to be an aesthetic choice more than anything (take the example of Art Santa Monica in Barcelona, who have been using that curatorial style regularly for at least eight years now – a style in every part for its visuals, often without concern for the content of the exhibition). But for this photographic artist, it allows him to be more playful in the construction of his own space. For the casual visitor, it looks interesting, but doesn’t necessarily add to the individual works, but as an artist, it has allowed him to weave his way around the space, creating new lines of questioning with regards to how he frames his personal family history.

Slightly less noticeable, though still eye catching, are the two new pipes running through Gallery 2. While they’re not strictly part of the exhibition, they note a significant contribution from the photography giant Ilford towards the show. And maybe a strong reason to head towards Open Eye on a day when Phoebe Kiely will be in residence, leading demonstrations and workshops on dark-room production.

The boundary between photography and sculpture is blurred further with collaborative work by Stephen Iles and sculptor Nicola Dale. The collaborators draw on both of their specialist skill sets (Iles: photography; Dale: sculpture) using the blurry definition of the word ‘Frame’ to produce photographs as sculptural forms. The initial hit is the angular approach to the questions, which revs up interest and creates connections between each piece. The only question begged with this work is why they didn’t bring Peter Watkins into it, with his approach to framing physical specimens as a ‘photograph’.

Sam Hutchinson, who occupies the top floor of the gallery, reworks his skills towards what seems to be an exaggeration of pictures in every form, taking the television screen as a frame to be dissected. You’ll recognise the crystal (of maze fame) but what this artist is attempting is to use the imperfections everyone has experienced when trying to take a quick picture of the TV, and turned them into a comment on experience. Using the depth, height and layering of his images to highlight our experience of the TV game show, he achieves a dizzying mash-up of photography and installation.

Both Thom Isom, and Pauline Rowe have responded directly to the work in the exhibition, creating their own kinds of spaces as a result. Rowe, currently on PhD placement with Open Eye has the terrifying task of translating the exhibition into three creative writing workshops, which promise to be an incredible introduction to the innumerable themes of this exhibition. Isom on the other hand has been invited by the gallery to produce what is described as a ‘tactile publication’. And while tactile is my least favourite of all art words, its use here might actually be oddly appropriate, referring to how this publication will be something the public can engage with however they like; rather than something to simply leaf through at their leisure.

Open 2: Pieces of You dispels preconceptions of photography in a massive way. Don’t make the same mistake I did by looking at the flyer and expecting heavily photoshopped images of out of the ordinary things. This exhibition stands tall amongst all manner of creative genres, playing with creative writing, process based learning and even turning the lens back on photography as a subject and considering what it is to frame an image. The exhibition runs until June 5th, with various workshops and events gracing the space until then.

I Used To Think You Were Normal © Sam Hutchinson, 2015/16
I Used To Think You Were Normal © Sam Hutchinson, 2015/16
© Stephen Iles and Nicola Dale, 2016
© Stephen Iles and Nicola Dale, 2016
The Unforgetting © Peter Watkins, 2015
The Unforgetting © Peter Watkins, 2015