Ours is a multimedia exhibit featured at the Collective Gallery. Drawing inspiration from ‘A Birdcage’ by Beatrice Whistler, Grace Johnston utilises three artistic mediums to curate this exhibition: text, painting and photographs.
Whistler’s drawing is not present in this exhibition, but its distance from the gallery ultimately contributes to the impact of Johnston’s vision. The exhibition is small but what it lacks in size it makes up for in depth.
Johnson’s commentary on pronouns, observation and ownership is strengthened by the fact that viewers cannot actually visualise the foundation from which the collection is built. This allows viewers to craft and interpret the unattainable birdcage together. In this way, the birdcage, a common cliché for oppression, gives power and identity to viewers.
The first piece visible in the gallery is a bookshelf containing copies of Sophie Collins’ A Whistle in the Gloom. Sophie Collins’ text primarily considers Pauline Reage’s 1954 erotic novel, Story of O. Collin’s discusses the sexual pursuits/exploitation of the eponymous character, “O.”
Carol Rhode’s painting ‘Forest’ (1999) is the next visible piece. This densely textured and coloured painting is the most visually captivating piece in the collection, and requires appreciation from multiple angles. Whilst striking, this piece feels aesthetically out of place with the other works present. The exhibition is tied up with three uncredited photographs of Beatrice Whistler’s property. They each depict Whistler’s garden from a different perspective.
A level of dichotomy between each medium is intentional, but the exhibit as a whole remains disjointed. This is partially remedied, however, by the gallery space itself. The small, intimate space allows each piece to function as a distinct window to the same view.
The name “O” in Story of O, is aptly named to fit any symbolic interpretation conceivable (zero, body orifices, rings, etc.) but it also demonstrates one of the biggest flaws in the exhibition.
Overall, the exhibition appears unfocused and self-indulgent. The artistic process used to create Ours is fascinating, but the final product lacks physical appeal due to its obsession with the symbolic. It becomes difficult to appreciate the pieces individually, as each is forced into an aggrandised metaphor.
Grace Johnston, though brimming with good ideas, simply attempted to accomplish too much in a five-piece collection. And, in the end, this came at the expense of much needed aesthetic-value.
Until 26th March 2017
Photo courtesy of Collective Gallery