The Age of the Marvellous (All Visual Arts), One Marylebone

Alyson Shotz - Helix, 2009 (outside entrance to The Age of the Marvellous)

Alyson Shotz - Helix, 2009 (outside entrance to The Age of the Marvellous)

The Age of the Marvellous is the latest showcase from the All Visual Arts collaboration and combines work from new artists as well as those already involved in AVA. It’s a very varied collection and I’m not sure how it all hangs together. The title ‘The Age of the Marvellous’ is reminiscent of the Barnum and Bailey-esque circuses of the late 1800s which tallies well with the close quasi-religious atmosphere on the ground floor and in the crypt but not at all with the light and airy first floor. (According to the website the title was to evoke a modern version of the Wunderkammer – the Cabinet of Curiosities.)

There is also a corresponding discord amongst the artworks – some are indeed marvellous while some are hackneyed and trite. I think if you’re looking to pinpoint where the showcase goes astray the blame is two-fold: firstly, the show’s intention seems to be showcasing the work of Paul Fryer yet none of the standout pieces are actually his; and secondly, seriously – how many more times is it artistically interesting to nail a monkey to a crucifix?

More positively, attending meant discovering the work of Ben Tyers, Hugo Wilson and Maria Novella Del Signore.

Ben Tyers - Breathe, 2009

Ben Tyers - Breathe, 2009

Ben’s piece was a glass container half full of water which rhythmically drained and refilled via some unseen mechanism. The dark surroundings, plain plinth and spotlighting complemented the simplicity of the piece and the title ‘Breathe’ was perfectly apt. It was easy to lose track of time in front of ‘Breathe’ while the gentle, regular hiss of the concealed mechanics concentrated the mind in the same way becoming aware of ones own breathing is encouraged in Yoga and other forms of meditation. Uplifting and refreshing without being urgent or intrusive.

Hugo Wilson’s piece was called ‘Tornado’. It’s best descibed as a miniature twister in a fishtank and I loved it. Similar to Ben Tyers’ piece there are concealed mechanics which create a simple but enthralling effect. From reading a brief bio of the artist in the Evening Standard Magazine on Friday Hugo’s interest lies in creating versions of rare events (like tornadoes) via the theory – a kind of exercise in scientific dominance perhaps? Seeing the manufactured version of one of nature’s most overpowering events was certainly a little odd – like having a pet thundercloud or a tame tidal wave. I’m afraid the photos of this came out terribly.

Maria Novella Del Signore - Quartet, 2009

Maria Novella Del Signore - Quartet, 2009

‘Quartet (Staying still along its way)’ by Maria Novella Del Signore fits well with both Ben Tyers’ and Hugo Wilson’s work. Intermittent pulses of light create freeze-frame pictures of falling water. It had quite a jarring effect  as the brain kept trying to piece together the odd images into what it knew it ought to be seeing – the sound of running water versus the frozen-in-time droplets. What was also strange was, on getting close enough to see where the water was landing at the bottom of the tanks, my mind refused to see a snapshot of a puddle and instead interpreted the image as poured salt. Again there was a disparity between what the eye could cope with, what the brain knew, and what the ear could hear.

The Age of the Marvellous finishes tomorrow – worth checking out if you’re round Great Portland Street/Regents Park.

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