By Grace Morales
Fragments is a newly opened exhibition at TESTT Space in Durham, a spin-off of Empty Shop HQ. The artists, a collective that goes by the name of The Big Nothing, are a mixture of five current and former students of Teesside University and are based in Middlesbrough. They follow a set of guidelines in order to curate exhibitions in which each piece of work is aesthetically linked and complements the others, as well as using the exhibition space to the advantage of the artwork.
On arrival I was quite thrown by the alternative and imaginative installations, but I was able to talk to three of the five collaborators, Stephen Irving, Gemma Tierney and KA Bird, who were all able to give me an insight into their own pieces and how they work together as a unit.
Stephen outlined the exhibition and explained how he attempts to disrupt something in order to cultivate and create an artistic response. He described his installation as addressing the subject matter of protest. He uses blank protest signs as a background to project a manipulated black and white video of a young African-American woman on her way to a Civil Rights march.
Her demeanour is calm, despite the seriousness of the situation in what may end up being a turbulent protest. Stephen layers shapes and colours on top of his edited frames in order to explore the effect of adding a fragmentation to the innocent, peaceful woman; perhaps foreshadowing the protest. Stephen simply wants to find aesthetic qualities through destruction, whilst playing with various dimensions such as the added element of tiles on the ground. As a result “accidental reflections” are created on the walls surrounding the exhibition. The tiles are reduced to a mere artistic tool in order to create the reflections on the wall, which in turn becomes the art.
Needless to say the title, Fragments, encapsulates the exhibition perfectly.
Since none of the installations have titles or explanations next to them, each piece is really open to the viewers’ interpretation allowing the exhibition to become interactive and thought provoking. What struck me was the artists’ desire to engage with their immediate surroundings and remain connected to where they are from.
Gemma, for example, explores housing near Teesside University that is being knocked down despite the regional (and national) housing crisis, while also marvelling at the aesthetic qualities these half-destroyed houses have, referring to them as “unconventional beauty”. I felt that this idea of “unconventional beauty” was certainly emulated in KA’s work too.
KA uses a Japanese computer program to manipulate and warp shapes and figures until she arrives at a point where she is pleased with the outcome. Transferred onto vinyl and plastered onto the wall, the final product has an aesthetically pleasing quality of ordered disorder.
It is clear that the North East has a lot to offer in terms of creativity, and small yet exciting exhibitions like Fragments establish a rich artistic culture with very inventive and individual pieces. The range of mediums used – video, sound, sculpture, installation and print – show the variety The Big Nothing presents the viewer with. Needless to say the title, Fragments, encapsulates the exhibition perfectly.
Fragments will be at the TESTT Space until the 10th of March. You can find out more here.
Featured Image: KA Bird via Facebook