Soft Estate

Poker Smoker Mantle Piece (one of a pair) laser etched stainless steel, 2013The Bluecoat, School Lane
6th December 2013 – 23rd February 2014

Reviewed by jjSchaer

Soft Estate is a collection of work focussing on the often overlooked areas of life where nature and urban development begin to merge together. Showcasing new work from Edward Chell, and featuring a number of other artists, the exhibition ran at the Bluecoat and is one of the most captivating I’ve seen there for a while. The artists involved manage to find something compelling in areas of fly tipping and memorials at the sides of busy roads.

The name for the exhibition comes from our own Highway Agency concerning the areas of habitat on the verges of our motorways. These generally overlooked ‘soft estates’ are often teaming with wildlife, despite their heavily polluted surroundings, and are constantly under threat from ever expanding developments.

There was a number of Chell’s work throughout the gallery – which took form in a wide range of media. The first room was converted into something that would look at home in a natural history museum. There were a number of leaf prints silhouetted onto glass and catalogued by their particular genus, this theme continued throughout the gallery and saw some transferred onto mechanical cylinders. The most prominent piece for me was Chell’s video piece Via Florigium. In one scene the camera focussed on a bunch of flowers taped to a post next to a busy motorway. The film plays for a few minutes and draws you in with the solemnness of the decaying bunch and life continuing hectically behind them.

About the bottom floor were a number of interesting pieces capturing motorway scenes in various styles of painting. Including a series of mad and frantic paintings by Dan Bowman. Each painting a vivid mess bordering on a collage, with bits of barbed wire and wheels spliced in, giving an urban decay feel to the works. There were a series of impressive photos from John Darwell in his 100 Yards series. He captured shots of fly tipping in the countryside, with cones chucked in streams, a rusting cycle trapped in the branches of a tree and shady looking men walking dogs across patchy wastelands.

The often missed top floor contained two odd but quite poignant pieces. The first No Way Out is a photograph of a roundabout with the three main exits leading to Lakeside Shopping Centre. The sarcasm of the piece became more apparent the longer you stared at it. The main room was devoted to an odd projection entitled Hind Land. Over six minutes, it showed a wooden arch in the roof of a building captured in black and white whilst a low beat played in the background. Tedious sounding I know, but the composition of the piece was startling and over time took on an odd 3D feel that drew you in.

I have to say that this has to be my favourite Bluecoat exhibition for some time. There was a dark humour running throughout the pieces that chose to focus on places we often pass but generally disregard, there was also an impressive variety of styles. And it’s free to get in as well.

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