Sunday, 6 September 2015

Sally Madge - How Can I Tell What I Think Till I See What I Say - Customs House, South Shields

It was a week ago that I was stood in the Main Gallery at Customs House listening to Nick Kennedy talk about his latest work. 

It is hard to imagine that the current exhibition, How Can I Tell What I Think Till I See What I Say by Sally Madge was assembled in less than a week. Included in the exhibition was a process-driven wall drawing in which the artist covered the entire wall in charcoal, turning the wall from white to black. This was then washed with cleaning fluid so as to turn the wall an inconsistent light grey. During the installation of the other artworks in the gallery, Sally realised that the wall drawing was too dominant, and therefore decided to use white emulsion paint to cover part of wall. 

The press release reads:

"Not so much an exhibition of drawings, more an installation about drawing. Sally takes her inspiration from a child's picture of a house and asks questions concerning the nature and significance of drawing as activity and event. The installation might be interpreted partly as a personal archive but also a 'design for living', and aims for a playful yet serious approach to the subject.

The title for this exhibition is taken from Aspects of the Novel (1927), a treatise on writing by the English novelist EM Forster – Sally came across it when reading Marion Milner's 1950s classic study of the nature of creativity and the forces which prevent its expression, On Not Being Able To Paint. The quotation has been used as part of a discussion of Milner's ideas about the interplay of inner and outer reality in art and everyday life. 
Taking her inspiration from a child's drawing of a house, her aim is to weave a series of visual narratives through the space of the gallery, and so this is less an exhibition of her drawings or an exercise in drawing virtuosity than an installation about drawing. The intention is to explore the nature and potential of the medium, the way being able to do it or not being able to do it is indicative of received cultural norms and practices (as in "I can't draw a straight line", and the notion of 'genius'), as well as how the defining principles of drawing might be reformulated to fit a range of creative needs and aims.
So, the main gallery becomes the site for an experiment in 'interior design', and the walls are marked, papered and hung with a selection of artist-produced, found and collected drawings. A large, sculptural piece which takes centre stage engages with the child's drawing and references various art historical precedents. 'How To Draw' manuals spanning several decades are laid out for reference, and the small anteroom off the gallery operates as a more intimate and unformulated 'studio' space. The installation might thus be interpreted as part museum, part personal archive and part 'design for living'."

This exhibition is part of:
Exploring the Creative process in Art, Culture and the Everyday

Launched from the end June 2015 to January 2016, drawing? an extensive region-wide programme of exhibitions, events and activities which aims to celebrate, explore and consider the role of drawing in art and design, science, technology and the everyday.
drawing? is curated by Esen Kaya (The Customs House) and Mike Collier (University of Sunderland) in partnership with mima (Teesside University), Newcastle University and Northumbria University. The project is a unique collaboration between some of the North East’s universities, galleries (both public and private), museums, archives, artist-led groups, artists and makers.

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