The curatorial and editorial project for systems, non-
Cluster | Anna Fairchild, Sian-
Supported by The Broadway Gallery and Letchworth Culture Project, Letchworth, 21 Oct – 20 Nov 2021
An essay by Cherry Smyth
“even now there are places where a thought might grow…” (1)
All the work in ‘Cluster’ has been produced post-
In Derek Mahon’s quintessential 20th century poem, A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford,
thousands of mushrooms cram to the keyhole of an abandoned shed awaiting some kind
of liberation: “we too had lives to lead”, they cry. This scene is evoked on seeing
Anna Fairchild’s provocative sculptures in which fungi-
Fairchild compares the two systems to rational decision-
Anna Fairchild, Mycelium Blooms, 2021, Jesmonite, biro and spray paint. Photo courtesy Andrew Moller
Twisters (2021), seems to want to rise, winged, from plasterer’s debris on the ground,
salvaging new meaning and a certain dignity of reinvention. Just as a forest’s health
is determined by the numbers of fungal species it hosts, here, the sculptures insist
on an uncompromising presence of continued life. As in Mahon’s poem, the fungi have
“Grown beyond nature now…/They lift frail heads in gravity and good faith”. While
Fairchild’s practice explores different aesthetic modes of thinking and making, it
also points to dialogues around organic-
Foreground; Twisters, 2021, Anna Fairchild, background; Muster (Stripes) 2021, Sian-
The scrunched and bunched form has female associations and conjures the bustle, that large, sexualised bolus of late 19th Century women’s dress. Amy Sillman, in her extraordinary collection of essays, Faux Pas, calls protest:
“the linkage of process and form, a call to arms against ‘success’ and a commitment
to craft and the handmade….embodied work, like managing the weight and density of
a painting or struggling with its edges. And this struggle is a metaphor for working
against collapse, for art as a kind of non-
This is a mobile, moody, vulnerable, performed resistance to the imperative cool of traditional stripe paintings. By animating and by crushing the flatness, she genders the stripe, bestowing it with curves and complications, refuting its alleged objectivity. Arlington House, finished in 1964, overlooking Margate, proves the perfect backdrop for Mooney’s performance and photographs, which create her own value system in conversation with fashion, fashion photography, 60s’ futurism, abstraction and modernist architectural utopias. The playful and at times triumphant tone recalls the work of John Bock and Lucy and Jorge Orta, who use clothing as props in a wider discourse about philosophy and legacies of art history. What does it do to parade one’s art, to make the interior so exterior? To fight for the emergence of a space that can be both? I only wish I could have spotted Mooney from a passing train or while parking, to witness the sudden unruly delight of a living, moving critique of the building’s frame. A painting on a saluting woman on stilts!
Edgelessness is also a theme in Lucy Renton’s work where painting’s boundaries, conventionally constituted by a frame, are tested, extended and undermined. Renton is drawn to thresholds – openings we dress or try to minimise, closures we elaborate through decoration. Her wry and meticulous practice teases out an aspirational fondness for bright patterns that hide physical and emotional woes: think plastic tablecloths covered in sunflowers or baskets of fruit, hiding a scorched Formica table. Juliette, 2021, is a diptych, consisting of two vertical paintings hung from rivets struck into raw canvas. It suggests ‘the continent’, a place of endless summer where the illusion of depth belies the surface. The candy stripes and trompe l’oeil suggest an aesthetic of artifice that we don’t necessarily like but which governs us, places and comforts us.
©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock All rights reserved.
Lucy Renton, Juliette, 2021. Acrylic on canvas. Photo courtesy Andrew Moller.
Renton has a fondness for highlighting the connections between class and taste, here
underlining the tension between the carefree beach life and the imitation grandeur
of the cut-
As artist Magalie Guerin wonders, can there be a ‘visual rhythm from a point of sound as opposed to a point of view’? (3) The horizontal, pleated canvas of brightly coloured circles and blobs is held to the wall by upholstery tacks, offering an improvement or device for disguising something unsightly beneath. Renton is fascinated by the point where fixtures, furnishings and fittings meet fine art, if they can, and asking why shouldn’t they. The works pronounce the word ‘display’, like a roll of fabric unfurled on a counter, or samples in a shop’s curtain department hung in a cacophony of colour, texture and design. They present painting as sample, a sample of art history, of looking, of pleasure, of choosing, of curating a look, of the hierarchy of taste. Art needs us to complete it, just as samples need a home. We are housed by Renton’s work, invited to an interior we half recognise, are half ashamed of, but have somehow ingested.
The paintings evoke a certain room, with its coating of form, then blunt that evocation,
snubbing you after pulling you in. Look at Fritz: here I was seeing a Japanese scroll-
These paintings are proposals for rooms, for moods, for a whole that can never exist. Their function is to make us think about function – how etiquette enables discretion, how disclosure can quickly be absorbed by the right shade of blushing pink.
Each of the three artists engage thoroughly and distinctively with making materials
move – through casting and pouring, tailoring and ruching, and/or pleating and folding.
Each employs paint, whether acrylic, household paint or spray paint, to reinvigorate
(1) Derek Mahon, ‘A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford’ from New Collected Poems (Loughcrew: Gallery Press, 2011)
(2) Amy Sillman, Faux Pas: Selected Writings and Drawings (Paris: After 8 Books) p.89
(3) Magalie Guerin, Notes on (Chicago: The Green Lantern Press, 2019) p.87
Dr Cherry Smyth is an art writer and poet. She writes regularly for Art Monthly.
For further information see www.cherrysmyth.com