M-Exhibition, The Arches, Leeds: Private View, 28th March 2011
On the first Monday of this year’s summer, the rattling iron doors of a disused railway storage space in the heart of Leeds burst open with a horde of infectiously ambitious contemporary artists. I was told that the ‘M’ in M-Exhibition stands for Materiality, Motion and Matter. Of the fifty-three young contributors from the Leeds College of Art, the magnanimous Max Rushton was eager to walk me through the works, and tell me a little about his hopes for the exhibition. ‘Ten percent of what you see is about referencing – the rest is really about what it makes you feel, how it changes you.’
Feeling the trains judder above, feeling the cram of fresh-fitted bodies, feeling the richness of skill and technique saturating the work on display, I cashed in my drinks token (a disused train ticket cheekily stamped with the M logo) and hustled through The Arches. At the entrance of the space, Christiana Bell’s columns of stretched skin-coloured nylon immediately processed the exhibition’s themes as a taut personal history of material and bodily exploration. The tangled, hovering theatricality of Elizabeth Flynn-Dawson’s cassette tape and hairspray sculpture, This is how I remember that you love me, knotted the materials of defunct memory and music into a demented monster that glowered over Grace Erskine-Crum’s Trapped, a ghostly cast of a foetal figure lain under cotton. Emma Mort’s suspended pastel orbs expressed a delicately playful take on human sin, where Christopher Freitag’s Elemental squares drew on a tension between pure, hunking metallic materiality and the force of an artist to forge precision out of messy matter. In a damp corner, John Wright’s melting blue cube of ice had a dripping soundtrack that isolated the processes of the each material with scientific precision, while Lucy Webb’s As cold as ice froze an ocean wave in textured wax and oil paint.
Peering around the corners and crevices of The Arches, there were origami animals creeping up to layered self-portraits, memories real and manufactured arranged on crafty canvas or through a show home of found objects, the molecular was magnified and texture and light challenged each other in a constant exchange of method and matter. An iPod tried to have a conversation with me, malfunctioning at the inevitability of its own desperate monologue.
The exhibition is going to be packed up by the weekend. We can all go on catching commuter trains, posturing in our collective conceptual wastelands, passing by the abandoned spaces in the city centre and thinking ‘hey, wouldn’t it be great if we DID something in there?’ Well, this is what happens if you do something. And, as Max told me in relation to his own savage series of untitled paintings, ‘each piece is a just a chapter’ – next chapter, please!