held at the EICH Gallery, University of Lincoln, City Campus, Hull
The EICH Gallery is situated in converted workshop space adjacent to a 7-storey smoked-glass tower block. The complex was built in the early 1970's to house the city of Hull's Nautical College.
Within the area now occupied by changing exhibitions, sat a huge concrete navigation tank in which would-be captains learned to manoeuver model vessels around the perilous shifting islands of mud which make up the Humber Estuary.
It is now sans tank, and fitted out with blonde wooden floor and the breeze blocks crisp white below the skylights; yet the space still conveys vestiges of an industrial past.
The mapping of gallery onto workshops aligns it with the Modernist tradition of presenting art as a part of the contemporary industrial city.
Importing Joanna Mowbray's large drawings into the EICH Gallery immediately re-worked such resonances. The long rectangular frames sat comfortably against breeze blocks and echoed a scale beyond drawing - more akin to templates or industrial patterns.
At a distance the punctuation of white grounds with rows of discreet darker forms suggested a notation of some kind - patterns to create or capture a process.
Moving closer to the surfaces this effect dissolved into surprising softness. What appeared, at a distance, to be a series of regular formations, transformed into densities and textures often with only the slightest suggestion of boundary or edge.
The texture of the paper acted like a rough terrain upon which the most delicate shadings and fine lines rested. Colour, which was almost lost from afar, re-invested the sequences of irregular shapes with yet another dimension.
This tension set up between two kinds of effect - the engineered exteriors, defining and grouping on the one hand, and the soft shadowy textured interiors, only revealed at close quarters - was quite startling. Like the ambiguous figures of a visual illusion you could not grasp both simultaneously.
The two sculptural groups included in the exhibition 'Pockets' and 'Perimeters' were set as low trays of forms raised some 10 inches off the gallery floor. They, too, shared these dual formal tensions.
Seen grouped, their dark shapes drew attention to the relationships they created between one another. Formal queues, each piece separated by a unique, respectful gap.
Close-to 'Pockets' revealed the textured burnished surface of lead, inscribed with a rich patina of marks. Scratches and indentations previously invisible. The softness of curves and contoured edges playfully contained and released the spaces around them. Again what seemed to be a celebration of precision, melted on closer inspection.
This shifting character of drawn and sculpted forms was subject to a further set of 'temporal' fluctuations. The skylights running roughly E W the length of the gallery filtered the effects of the sun's movement during the course of the day.
So surfaces became tinted, as brightness moved slowly round, tracking and highlighting the planes of the floor and walls and trapping the works in the process. This additional layer of variation moved the pieces even further from their first rather formal appearance and invested them with a tactile and vulnerable presence.
The presentation of Joanna Mowbray's drawings and sculptures within the sparse 'modernist' environment of the EICH Gallery, with its mixture of natural and artificial light, allowed us to concentrate on their singular physical properties. Space and works together created the opportunity for a supportive, collaborative partnership which generated its own special dynamics.
List of works exhibited
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