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Where did I come from? Thankfully this question, which faces any artist, particularly an emerging one, invariably remains unanswered. Artistic origins for the artist, like biological ones for the prep schooler, are most intoxicating and productive when they are left at least partly open. Perhaps it is in the face of an abundance of possibilities generated in pursuit of these origins that the curators of GOLD CARD 1 and GOLD CARD 2 decided to chose those artists whose work they felt most deserved exposure rather than to construct theme shows.
Matthew Bradley's The Nola Rose Candidate was a sculptural manifestation of the mythical future of a long defunct airline. Initially sceptical that my appreciation might have derived solely from the presence of an attractive woman in an airline hostesses uniform, it soon occurred to me that my pulchritudinous experience was wholly contrived by Bradley. His model's statuesque posture, accented with a furrowed brow, articulated the weight of responsibility that comes in the face of potential air disaster, whilst the staid and reassuring design of her suit consoled our fear of such an occurrence. Her presence was a powerful evocation of the nostalgia which characterised the whole work. Being real yet set within a fiction the woman compelled our belief in the myth that Bradley devised. Our immersion in this myth was completed by the dull glow of an airport sign that recalled the half reality of an early morning arrival the groggy transition from the otherworldly aesthetic of airline travel back into the chaos of the normal world.
This sense of dissolution of 'reality' occurred also in the second show of the series, GOLD CARD 2. Before Stephen Tarr's large geometrically textured monochrome paintings, an awareness that my eyes were open seemed to fade. The paintings refused to acknowledge that one was looking at something. The perfection of their manufacture acted as an analogue for a missing absolute. Viewers were asked to think about how this absolute might feel using Tarr's paintings as a blueprint. I imagined that I could see what the paintings suggested I should see, as opposed to what they were as physical objects. lt felt good.
Sally-Ann Rowland 's The Spare Room was secretive, compelling and yet ultimately defeating. I knew that the work was promising something, but had no clues as to what this entailed. Books which could not be read, draws which could not be opened, lumps formed by objects under a carpet that one could not make out and felt-covered windows opening onto depth less darkness, showed everything and nothing simultaneously. All of these objects made up a room which was given the indefinite description of 'Spare'. I knew before seeing the show that this was a work about secrets, about the reassuring feeling that comes from introspection, the rediscovery of the knowledge that you exist outside of others' comprehension. Such a cogent evocation of the existence of secrets has a mean effect-it toys with one's compulsion to know. it is difficult not to realise that the work, to which we attribute agency by virtue of its active concealment, relies on our belittlement or defeat for its success. In return it offers the pleasure of supposing.
By contrast, Hayley Arjona's work, Poppy, invoked the danger and thrill of a rapid exposure. In Arjona's large, self-portraits, identity was rendered as surface, changeable and always under threat. Her subtle physiological distortion of the protagonist (herself) produced an erotic charge. A seductive mouth gently slipped out of alignment with nose and eyes whilst hands were described with dumb, rubbery forms. In these works, the artist was flexible and amenable in her exposure; constructed as subject to the viewer. Standing before one painting I was unsure as to whether she was masturbating or stemming the flow of blood from a gunshot wound. I suspect that the erotic effect feeds on a relationship between these possibilities. GOLD CARD 1 curator Chris Chapman would accurately describe Arjona's work as cool and new. These essential qualities of the works are dependant, by their nature, upon re-invention: one is curious to know what she will be next.
Michael Wolff's large paintings, collectively entitled Noises, appeared to embody a sensual experience. Initially, as in Tarr's work, they bypassed representation, but after a brief period of observation they began to recall atmospheres that were linked to empirical experience. These recollections were discovered and lost again. Depth appeared and then disappeared. Nothing could be wholly apprehended. The work seemed to actualize the intangible development of a sensation.
What drew my interest to these artists was their quest for ineffable ends: an ineffability that stems from the enduring
belief that sensations and emotions can be expressed but not explained. To return to the analogy with which I began, I can imagine that, as children, these artists' ponderings on the origins of their existence would have been as interesting to their school mates as their art is to me now. Bradley perhaps trusted the stalk theory, Arjona, an advocate for the hypodermic injection, Tarr avoided biological explanation, Wolff probably thought he knew what coming into being felt like, and perhaps Rowland professed to know but refused to tell anyone.