Elizabeth Ogilvie: A Poetics of Water
At Stephen Lacey Gallery, One Crawford Passage, Ray Street, London EC1 until 20 November
'A Poetics of Water', an installation of the recent work of Elizabeth Ogilvie, highlights some interesting points about the relationship between art and architecture, writes Sarah Jackson. Ogilvie is influenced by architecture, collaborates with architects and, in her site-specific pieces, works closely with the architectural context.
The most obviously 'architectural' aspect is her use of materials. Ogilvie employs a palette familiar to architects - stainless steel, aluminium, perspex and glass - but almost as a backdrop to the main theme of her work, water. This is represented on many levels: literally (several of the pieces include flowing water), by traces and stains (effects which are actually produced by acid etching), and through applied text. Some works incorporate phrases from Gaston Bachelard, and the whole exhibition is surely a homage to his classic book, The Poetics of Space.
The most interesting piece, Into the Oceanic (see right), sits at the back of the gallery under a large rooflight. Long thin perspex strips, regularly and tightly spaced, are suspended over shallow trays of salt water. Activated by fans, the strips sway gently, so that floating words - fragments of a Douglas Dunn poem screenprinted onto the perspex - catch the light, come into focus, and are momentarily revealed. The plane of water below has an even, calm ripple, but it too, like the oscillating poem, is constantly changing; the water is slowly evaporating, the salt beginning to reform as a crystalline crust. Into the Oceanic is a mesmerising, thought-provoking installation.
The success of this piece is due in part to the relationship between it and the surrounding surfaces, and to its contrast with architectural practice. The other works in the exhibition, however - in particular the minimal glass strips which are etched with text - appear too controlled, too fabricated, too much like those samples we have littered around the office. Can art really be specified alongside signage and lifts?
But this is slightly unfair. The exhibition should really be seen as an introduction, a sort of three-dimensional calling card for Ogilvie. These works do not sit well in a gallery situation, they yearn for site specificity. They need their space and they need to be placed.
Sarah Jackson is an architect in London