The current display at Jennie Syson’s gallery features three site-specific works by Liam Aitken, with accompanying soundscape and repository project consisting of a series of documentaries. This is Aitken’s first solo exhibition, after recently winning the SYSON prize at the Open exhibition at Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery, for a sculptural work entitled ‘Totem’. Interface takes this piece as a starting point in its exploration of dialogue and exchange as something which does not occur in isolation but is in fact an essential part of being and experiencing. Aitken’s work reflects this through ‘experiment in colour, composition and the act of seeing’. Vivid, tessellating patterns and colour combinations are built on, repeated and contrasted to achieve visual effects that ‘[make] a point of the act of looking’.
Each piece has been created with a different surface and structure to frame the act of looking and engaging in different ways; for example, to contrast the didactic and dictating solid, monochrome arrangement of ‘Wall’, Aitken created the transparent ‘Window’ with its unpredictably changeable light effects and filtered colour. This choice itself represents an exchange or dialogue between the deliberating artist, the complementary works and, later, the observing audience.
The sculptural nature of the pieces requires the viewer to engage physically, by walking into (‘Wall’), around (‘Stack’) and inside/outside (‘Window’ – here, being inside or outside the piece really depends on the light levels within and without the room, and maybe your own feelings on the matter). The impact of ‘Window’ in particular relies on the time of day and the weather, which can’t be controlled; therefore, considering the piece as it is in that particular moment make us meaningfully engage with physical, natural variables that we’d more often experience passively and without special thought.
The exhibition encouraged me to think outside of my usual I’m-at-an-art-gallery framework; I felt refreshed by it, and I’m looking forward to returning and watching some of the documentaries Aitken and Syson have selected in the next few weeks. They can be viewed in the gallery’s Reading Room (also worth checking out for a great little library of factual and fictional books relating to exhibitions past and present) and online here; alternatively, keep an eye out on SYSON’s Twitter page for screenings at its own secret cinema. You can also hear Aitken and Syson discuss the project on a walkthrough tour of the exhibition on Saturday 5 April 2–3pm.