Neil Clements

Neil Clements

Work from Bad History.

“There are bubbling-under theatrics in this solo exhibition by Neil Clements. A recording of a grandiose synthetic organ refrain plays on a loop, aurally filling the warehouse gallery space as it circles the pitched ceiling, whistling into the decayed holes in the roof and reverberating in the invasive foliage growing through the gallery’s partially rotted walls. In the subtly disturbing context of the sound piece and venue, the Scottish artist’s installation feels akin to a dystopic cathedral of the future, in which three 1.5-metre-cubed steel sculptures, each raised on breezeblocks and with a spray-painted colour gradient applied to the surface’s utilitarian patterning, come across as venerated idols.

In many ways this reverence could be seen as a specifically masculine one suggested by the historical machismo of Minimalism and Clements’s specific use of building hardware: the sculptures are made from industrial treadboard sheets (commonly used in nonslip flooring) and paint applied via automobile body spray. Accompanying all this is a small framed photograph on the far wall, past a short step up to a permanent raised area in the depths of the building. This altarpiece depicts the space prior to the show’s installation, in which the since-removed words ‘bad history’ were painted (in the sort of typography that was used in mid-twentieth century science-fiction films to denote the future) on the same wall where the snap now hangs.

It is an evocative site-specific setup. One that moves the cube sculptures on from their formal lineage to 1960s ‘finish fetish’ and imbues them, beyond materiality, with a myriad of literary reference points. It’s a further use of a strategy employed previously by Clements in a series of electric guitar-shaped matt painted canvases, which similarly paired the stark essentialist quality of Minimalism with some kind of greater signifier. In that case the nihilism of metal music and here, in the context of Bad History, the cultism of religion and transcendence. The strange, alienating cubes are literally elevated, and the placement of the photographic work suggests that one should genuflect before it. The treadboard material has been usurped, stripped of its utility, dehumanised; this, combined with the derelict state of the gallery space (soon to be demolished, along with the adjoining Woodmill studios, to make way for a housing development), disquietingly imply human vulnerability in relation to the material object. Clements seems to be bringing the fetishisation of things to its logical conclusion, placing them as the subject of almost religious veneration, questioning what might happen when the balance of power between object and humanity is irretrievably destabilised. The soundwork, confidently blaring out one moment, abruptly stops before automatically replaying itself, suggesting that human, and specifically male, devolution of power to technology – allowing it to regulate modern existence, whether via computers, in the robotic production lines of car plants or in the prosaic protective qualities of the industrially produced treadboard – is misplaced at best, and dangerous at worst. ” – Oliver Basciano for Art Review.

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