Sculptors investigate an arts institution
Atelier van Lieshout, Francoise Quardon, Jorge Pardo and Langlands & Bell At the Henry Moore Institute, 74 The Headrow, Leeds until 16 August (as part of artranspennine 98)
One reason why Penelope Curtis' selection of artists at the Henry Moore Institute for artranspennine is interesting is that, for the most part, they have made pieces which connect with the specific context of the institute and its galleries as a place to exhibit, research and discuss sculptural practice - as well as offering new strategies for living and working. 'Sculpture' is now part of an open cross-disciplinary approach to art-making, and its scope is broad.
Inside Atelier van Lieshout's three-storey environment constructed of light wood, the public can drink coffee, read books, watch videos and absorb information about the history and activities of the institute and the atelier. As with this co-operative of architects and designers' ambiguous yet functional mobile homes shown in Sculpture: Projects in Munster last year, it is difficult not to engage with the cubby-house-for-adults feel of the installation, nor to be stimulated by its spatial solutions.
Entering Francoise Quardon's The Day Before I Die, the visitor passes through a curtain of suspended crockery - the plates crash dangerously with each passage - to find a dimly-lit gallery, whose walls have been papered with patterns and text. Two straight-back chairs, bearing enigmatic glass objects, are centrally placed in front of paired video monitors built into one of the walls; they show faintly recognisable, yet ungraspable, images. The accompanying soundtrack of hinted phrases imbues the piece with a highly personal intensity and poetic absorption, in stark contrast to the more open enquiry of the other works in the show.
Jorge Pardo's untitled installation in the institute's smallest exhibition space changes daily, when a different object from either the Leeds City Art Gallery or the institute's collection and archives is placed in a display case. To date, sculptures, models, drawings, books and documents have been selected in turn by the curator, librarian or archivist. A brief history of each item and the reasons for its selection is communicated by internal e-mail to the colleague charged with the selection of the next exhibit. Abstract works on paper by Pardo himself feature on the walls of the gallery to correspond to the different objects presented.
The public can follow this narrative in the immediacy of the gallery space, sitting at a specially designed table to read folders of descriptions or to access the general story on the Internet. It is an intelligent and fascinating installation, which takes curatorial process as a working tool to explore and reveal those areas between the public face of the museum and its collection.
Langlands & Bell's integration of a sculptural environment with a working model for seminars and conferences also makes transparent the activities of the institute, while reflecting on the social articulation of space. Eclipse comprises bench seating made from white lacquered wood and steel modules, which form a 10m-long ellipse for discussion and exchange, or can be reconfigured as concentric rows for viewing/listening. The lines are characteristically clean and cool, the materials sophisticated, and there is something in the sweeping perspective of the elliptical form, visible from any position, which gives its apparent function a deeper significance.
A temporary installation whose relation to the site is both specific and elastic, Eclipse also draws on the ways in which architectural and designed spaces inform and define our interactions as individuals and as part of a group; its oval configuration - the compression of a circle in perspective - evoking momentum and exchange. Eclipse marks a shift from an objective and archaeological treatment in Langlands & Bell's previous sculptures to a more subjective approach, which physically implicates the public in giving meaning to the work. The crisp-lined aesthetic is much the same as the artists' earlier wall-based objects and installations, as is the use of geometric forms and shapes as a source of metaphor. But their earlier presentation of the patterns and traces of architecture and design as ideological signs has given way to new spaces of possibility - this time proposed by the artists themselves.
Suzanne Cotter is an exhibition curator and writer