‘New Light’ Plymouth   2013

Kenneth Noland’s vivid hard-edge paintings are inherently optimistic as visions for the future. ‘New Light’ is a work by the artist and also a recent collage by Abigail Reynolds, composed of an image of the painting, resembling a chevron traffic sign, laid over a black and white photograph of a road worker; its brightly coloured arrows point towards his pickaxe. Positioned unaccompanied by the window of the gallery, the piece shares a vista with Drake’s Circus shopping centre – awarded shortly after its opening in 2006, the 'Carbuncle Cup for crimes against architecture' – and the absurd juxtaposition of images in Reynolds small work seems to be reminding us of the unwitting confidence behind the city’s planning. 

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'A New Light' collage
Reynolds’ practice seems to stem from a fascination with vintage images from books and archives, which to her trained eye, contain signs for ensuing narratives. Leaning against the wall a pair of seemingly innocuous prints likens 1950s wooden panelling from the Guildhall in Plymouth to Tudor panelling at a Hampshire manor house. Although both share comparable vertical pleating, the modernist interior is sparse and therefore egalitarian, with none of the superfluous aristocratic ornamentation of the latter. Reynolds extends the motif in her own version of panelling; ruffs of corrugated cardboard attached around the adjacent gallery pillar. Her own interior-design agenda is ironic perhaps, or suggests pragmatism as a vogue in this time of austerity; recycling as a both a necessity and a social display. 

Although factually attentive, Reynolds’ work is by no means dogmatic. Curiously, when analysing her artistic process, it seems she activates her works through a primarily visual enquiry. Her collages each consist of two book images, which have been chosen so that when positioned together their formal shapes align and intricately splice. A picture of Waterloo Bridge for example, is cut open and unfolded in three vertical strips, to reveal an historic street scene of crowds gathered after the 1949 devaluation of the stock-exchange; yet the only prescribed connection between the images is their shared lines of perspective. It seems therefore that the artist’s primary vehicle for presenting various histories, whether architectural, political, social, or cultural, is the aesthetic coincidences found between them, allowing their own narratives to cultivate thereafter. Her collages would not be believable if made using Photoshop, because the limitless potential for technological manipulation would remove any possibility of numinous synchronicity, not to mention the aesthetic quality of antique books. It is as though the artist dowses for these connections; a kaleidoscopic means for hindsight offering ominous, more candid possibilities for a future.

For a film projected at night-time on to the gallery window, a choreographed routine depicts performers rotating and manoeuvring pleated cardboard panels. Unlike Reynolds’s surrounding work - which connects disparate historic moments, passé techniques, old-fashioned materials, and faded ideologies - it is uncertain whether the piece has any rooted narratives. But the use of this particular form of cardboard - the artist’s hallmark perhaps - chimes with the modified column; it also resonates with the most unmissable feature of Drake’s Circus shopping centre, the colossal leaning, overlapping beige panels which screen part of the building. Whereas Reynolds’ retrospection is subtly suffused with a contemporary attitude, the façade of Drake’s Circus – showcasing a post-modern medley of contrasting architectural styles and forms – converses ostentatiously and appears caught in its time; perhaps the city planners should have looked back, before pushing forward.

Abigail Reynolds: ‘New Light’. Review by Simon Bayliss