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It can be difficult not to be seduced by the networks of metaphor that surround Nina Canell’s works and work titles; titles that often read like chapters from a book, or like recorded fragments from a conversation relaying a narrative as potentially compelling as it is elusive.
Brief Syllable (Weak) and Brief Syllable (Saturated) were two truncated pieces of cable, one an offcut from a subsea power cable that ran along the coast of Scotland and capable of transmitting high voltages, the other a section of cable that was found in a field in Sweden. Both were suspended/embalmed in small crisp cubes of acrylic that sat on top of slim, meter-high cast concrete ‘plinths’ that in turn made a delicate surface-contrast with the brushed concrete finish of the gallery floor. These physically similar plinth pieces sat at either end of the L-shaped gallery space projecting, along their axes, an imaginary right-angled meeting point toward the entrance of the gallery itself. Such was the texture and the shiny pale-grey colour of the slice of cable in Brief Syllable (Weak) that for a moment one might have been fooled into thinking it a small trout, held, stilled, and abstracted from its school.
The truncated cylindrical form was rehearsed again at the front window of the gallery where Dimensions Withheld comprised two unopened rolls of carpet (one lime-green, the other lilac) lying side by side. The direction of potential flow here was perpendicular to their axes. The area of carpet that might potentially be rolled out to cover a floor area was left to be envisaged by the viewer, and with it any future, random lines of travel that might be traced by people walking across the carpet’s surface. The intended function of the carpets was withheld, not to mention their eponymous dimensions. The bounds of imagined movements on these carpets reflected the sense of boundary in the show, a boundary outlining the mysterious terrain between an object and its viewer, that sometimes cannot be fully shown or told or shared.
Green (Diffused) consisted of a piece of found (lime-green) sock, its material disintegrated and arranged into a small archipelago of lint, held between two small sheets of glass, and framed. To the left of this piece were a series of nails hammered into the gallery wall, at various points, heights, depths and thicknesses (reminiscent of Canell’s Mender (2012)). The nails were magnetised and from some dripped further strings of nails in strange almost haptic arrangements. Near some of the nails were trial holes, testing points, attempts at form, made form.
Throughout the gallery space a strange repetitive ticking sound could be heard emanating from a small radio sitting beside the sink in a discrete kitchenette adjacent to the formal gallery space, thus Two-Winged Pavilion, a mixture of electrostatic recordings of gnats and the Earth’s magnetosphere. In this radio piece the connections between things that are barely there were translated, expanded and made apparent in such a way that it drew the attention of the viewer out beyond the gallery space and the commercial gallery system to larger systems: the man-made, the natural, and the cosmic. The viewer, with this work, was in a sense cast out toward a series of dimensionless, dizzying meta systems.
Conductive copper strand is a material that appears often in Canell’s work, in Attenuate Attenuate thin, warbled, burnished lengths of copper strand were woven into a large unsure net that hung from the back right-hand gallery wall; it was a delicate meditation on material and connection. This, like many of the other objects on show, displayed a type of stillness that was continuously thwarted by the lustrousness of the surface material, that is, the objects quietly came alive as one moved through the gallery space; expressly Days of Inertia, two paving stone pieces (one broken in two, its second part dispersed toward the front of the gallery) whose upper surfaces were coated in a water-resistant film. Under the thin skin of this hydrophobic coating, a small, lightly bulging volume of water was retained, clinging to the top face of the paving slab itself and creating a sort of unearthly, reverse meniscus. These floor-based works in turn reflected and brought into life the fluorescent tube ceiling lights above, ones used to illuminate the gallery space, which in turn evoked the shapes of Canell’s earlier drooping neon-bulb works. The services, pipes, and electrics that course through the Marzona gallery building that were alluded to in this work were more pertinently employed in the gallery basement where, from a foil-insulated water pipe, hung Link Budget, composed of seventy-two horizontal, hand painted, light pastel-coloured neon tubes, arranged in two venetian window-blind-like panels. The tubes flickered asynchronously, compellingly, barely suggesting the enormous, frivolous voltages required in bringing them to life.
Canell’s works consistently evoke a sense of being on the verge of an encounter with something utterly massive, while at the same time also bringing the viewer into the orbit of very small things whose contingencies are utterly massive.
Nina Canell, Brief Syllable (Weak), 2015. High voltage cable, acrylic, concrete, 110 x 17 x 16cm. Courtesy the artist and Daniel Marzona, Berlin.
Nina Canell, Link Budget, 2014. Steel, neon, cable, 60.000 volt, c.145 x 260 x 10cm. Courtesy the artist and Daniel Marzona, Berlin.
Nina Canell, Green (Diffused), 2014. Stray sock, frame, 52 x 40 x 3cm. Courtesy the artist and Daniel Marzona, Berlin.