Box A: Accidents   2014

Kestle Barton, Cornwall

abattoirs, abbeys, abortion, accidents, accountants, acrobats, acupuncture, advertising, aerosol sprays, agriculture, aliens, allergies, allotments, aluminium, angels, animals, anniversaries, anthropology, antiques, aquaria, aqueducts, archaeology, architecture, arms, army, art, astronomy, au pairs, auctions, automators, avalanches, aviation, awards

Dear Reader,

Here are some of the thoughts that brought me to the decisions you can see around you in the gallery at Kestle Barton.

Let’s start with the room. It has an inbuilt duality of time and texture; the ancient cob wall is a distinct feature; the remainder of the gallery is presented as a smooth white space. The retained structural surface of the eighteenth century cob wall refers us to historical time and a rural society, whereas the 'white cube' aesthetic of the remainder of the gallery interior points to mid-twentieth century ideas about the autonomy of the art object and its presentation in an ideal gallery space. Usually the door to the garden is directly opposite the entrance door. This means that you experience all the space to your right on entry as ‘gallery’ and the wall to the left as ‘services’. To prevent this sectioning of the space, I have blocked the usual garden door. Now you are compelled to cross the space, rather than keep cob and ‘white cube’ apart.

 I am always interested in the way textures and technologies reference specific times / tasks / ideologies. The historian George Kubler has described the evolution of objects and man-made environments as the ‘shape of time’. Working with these traces of time I generally put these formal and historical details into a tension, so they can’t be ignored, and I often make this duality dynamic in some way. This is my approach to photographs and how I position them. The materials of the gallery are already playing to my interests. 

To point to the divergent times and histories already present in the gallery I have disrupted the ‘white cube’ area of the gallery space with a corrugated cardboard copy of the cob wall. The cardboard belongs to a consumer culture of packaged goods – which is one part of where we are now and is widely at variance with the medieval values and technologies that created the cob wall, though there is a strong sympathy of colour and texture between them. Doubling recurs in my work – in the gallery you will see photographs reprinted that echo one another, or the work can be split into the two photographs that comprise it. I have extended this splitting/doubling to the space of the gallery.

Copying the dimensions of the cob wall, I have inserted my corrugated cardboard wall at an angle – so the space turns back to itself. I am imagining the room turned; the cob wall and my wall both align with a desire line across the gallery from entry to exit. I keep thinking of the word ‘detournement’ when I think of this new wall. ‘Detournement’ is a term used by the Situationist International in the late ‘50’s to describe an art strategy of re-routing or hijacking a convention.

Another thought coming from the gallery space is scale. Generally I work with images from books by simply detaching the pages. Here I am reprinting the images I find, and I have decided to do this at a large scale, which renders the images accessible in a direct way and also speaks to the architecture of the space. At a grand scale the images fall apart into dots and tonal areas – so they are less as well as more accessible. The print dot / the mode of reproduction is very obvious when it’s blown up, and that really is the materiality of the image. These material qualities are just as important to me as the ‘meaning’ or subject of the image.

The exhibition is titled after a small book I have made – which is a more intimate sort of a container or ‘box’ for thought than the exhibition space. I am thinking of those grey archival boxes made by Secol, which I have searched through so often in various archives, including the Guardian’s. The ‘Box A’ book holds a selection of images (some of which are also on the gallery walls) and text fragments that set up echoes amongst themselves. The spiral-bind allows each image to be separate – to be seen alone without the opposite page implied, like loose photographs in a box.

The extended title of ‘Box A’ is simply a list of all the subjects gathered in Box ‘A’ in the Guardian archive. Some of these subjects seem ancient and academic, others contemporary or frivolous. It’s a slippery group, since any one image could be labeled in any number of ways but just happens to have been placed in, let’s say, ‘accidents’ instead of ‘motorway’ or ‘fire’ or ‘police’ (all of which are actual categories used by the archive).

I kept only ‘accidents’ in the exhibition title because I was thinking of Aristotle’s idea that one might attempt to distinguish between the essence and the ‘accidents’ of a thing. This idea is most often illustrated by reference to a table. A table might be made of many materials, take many forms and sizes, be in many places and times. For Aristotle these are the non-essentials or ‘accidents’ of the object. For an artist, however, the ‘accidents’ are essential. The formal properties of a thing (or to use Kubler’s terms its shape in time) are fundamental. In any circumstance what is deemed essential depends on your point of view, so categorizing, and also a close attention to the materiality and particularity of a thing is key to the word ‘accidents’ as well as its more usual sense of ‘the unintentioned’. In an artist’s studio the big decisions are always intuitive or accidental. I often see connections in the images I have chosen much later, rather than in the moment.

 Abigail Reynolds 2014