For a brief moment between the lockdowns, East London came alive for the opening of PUBLIC Gallery’s most recent exhibition, Assembly Points, featuring new works by artists Bridget Mullen, Laurence Owen, and Vanessa da Silva. Perhaps without being able to name the sensation, there was a mood of both celebration and transience; as the (socially-distanced) crowd amassed up and down Middlesex St. in Spitalfields to wait for entry, viewers knew to take advantage of the chance for revelry, certain of its all-too-swift departure.
Fortunately, their excitement was not misplaced: taking up all three floors of PUBLIC’s mastodonic space, Assembly Points delivered both as an artistic and practical success. On the gallery’s ground floor, Laurence Owen’s multimedia wall sculptures twist and turn, or as PUBLIC’s press release reads, “collapse between past and present.” While a temporal maneuvering is at hand – PUBLIC themselves do not miss the likening to futurist aesthetics paired with Owen’s retro-esque shapes, particularly in Z (2020) or 18.11.20 (2020) – much the same collapse could be said of space. Hung on a wall, ostensibly to be appraised as one would a mounted painting, Owen's work teases the prospect of space and dimensionality while necessarily denying it. If one wanted to explore the spaces his sculptures offer, the crevices between his shapes’ slithers, they are met with dead ends and closed entries. Illustrating this most clearly is Owen’s imposing, cubical piece 18.11.20 (2020): placed as if an opening to a portal, the sculpture’s empty middle reveals only what lies behind it – a blank white wall.
Heading upstairs, Brooklyn-based artist Bridget Mullen’s paintings prove a natural pairing to Owen’s work. Frenetic scenes featuring vaguely humanoid (but most certainly anthropocenic) objects create a stimulating unease comparable to that of the floor below: while one does not get the sense that these objects are of the body, they remain bodily nonetheless, leaving the viewer searching for some further visual reference to provide clarity. Much as Owen offers space before collapsing it, Mullen’s work offers the body as subject while destroying the connective tissue that brings “humanness” to flesh. However, whereas Owen’s work offers no particular prognosis, there is a panic to Mullen’s contribution that is both alluring and terrifying – the world is both ablaze and dehumanized, and one must ask if they – and humanity writ large – will live to rise from the ashes.
Finally, heading down to the basement, one meets Vanessa da Silva’s sculptures, lying at “the intersection between the human body and nature.” While one can understand the connection to the other works with regard to their form, da Silva’s work is perhaps the most discordant of the three artists' on display, striking in its ivory emptiness, and perhaps the most serene. Displayed on panes of glass, thus creating a kind of floating effect for the sculptures, the frenzy of the other two artists is abandoned in favor of an affecting quietude – the forms, reminiscent of nature, are almost soothing to the eye with their subtle, arboreal twists. While unlike the rest of the works, da Silva’s sculptures counterbalance the rest of the exhibition, providing a moment to breathe after both Owen and Mullen, which, when viewed at once, leave one’s sensorial capacity at a minimum. There did not appear to be a prescribed order, but da Silva’s work proved an effective final note.
Yet, this discussion of solely the artists neglects the curatorial success at hand. Curating a cohesive show is a difficult enough task, but to do so over three floors is an exceptional feat. Despite the separation of artists – admittedly, necessarily outlining and limiting the terms of curation – it was clear that this was all of one show, intended to be viewed together, at once. While the current lockdown has stymied PUBLIC’s forthcoming program until at least the latest regulations lift, this show thoroughly demonstrates the gallerists’ mettle: one would be wise to keep an eye out for what’s to come.
Assembly Points is available for view in VR through PUBLIC Gallery’s website. Their next exhibition, how to be an artist, a solo exhibition by Phillip Gerald, is due to open February 8th.