Chichester's Material World

Published on Culture 24

Contemporary Eye: Material Matters, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, until September 2009

The courtyard of Pallant House Gallery is a place of contrasts. The red brickwork of the historic townhouse lies opposite the cool exterior of a modern exhibition space. It’s a stone’s throw from Chichester town centre, and today the birdsong is intense.

Something Going On Above My Head is a musical arrangement of 2,000 birds taken from archives all around the world. Columbian artist Oswaldo Maciá installed his sound sculpture in the loggia so that it connects with the garden. The sycamores look suddenly exotic.

Contemporary Eye: Material Matters is all about the challenges of collecting and exhibiting pieces like this. The ten artists here work in light, chalk stone, wool and even cake. It’s a show which asks what it means to own works that change with their time or setting.

Two pieces look especially at home in the wood-panelled bedrooms of the house. Langlands & Bell have designed a black and white carpet based on photos of a government building in Rio de Janeiro. The Ministry (Health and Education) is a dizzying, op-art creation which looks as if you could fall through it.

Elsewhere a folding billboard screens a four-poster bed. A Gucci poster has been mounted on MDF board and holes cut where the model and headline should be. Posters / Screen, Body and Text Removed by the late Angus Fairhurst is neither furniture nor advertising, but an objet d’art with dreamlike properties.

The gallery’s more modern rooms are better for showing projections. Cohesion by Charles Sandison fills a long wall with short text that coalesces to make figures, then dissolves. Only three words are used – “you”, “me” and “us” – but behind the shifting forms is a complex, impersonal piece of software. It’s mesmerising.

Curator Frances Guy says she is keen to promote collecting for the wider public. “There are ways you can spend your money, and you can buy an artwork which might not cost you too much now but that might increase in value,” she argues. For those who can afford artwork like this, their display and conservation are both major considerations. The rest of us can but dream.

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