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Website: Chestnuts Design

Alan Hathaway | No Dark Things

Platform A Gallery,  Middlesbrough, 22 November 2018 – 8 January 2019

A review by Annie O’Donnell

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

‘We have no dark things/Nothing to hide or that/Just some heads and a wish/Something to scream about’ Echo & The Bunnymen (1981)

Through a non-hierarchical process of trial and experimentation, ‘No Dark Things’ skilfully avoids a linear narrative flow around pictorial codes such as scale, colour, manipulation of materials, and indeed means of display in abstraction. Instead, in this, his first solo show at Platform A, Alan Hathaway creates an exhibition where titles and structures work together, building hybrid, rhizomatic relationships between components from daily life, the exhibition space and the surrounding architecture and street furniture of Middlesbrough Railway Station. Hathaway tests each one against the other, weighing them for directness and ambiguity, and emphasises research practices based on making and play. ‘No Dark Things’ resists the idea of complete closure or ‘fetish finish’, and its initial iteration in November was physically extended and ruptured over the exhibition run, until the finissage ’The Remix’ in January.

The work is new, made within the last three months, and the construction is fully revealed, both in the wooden supports and aluminium composite panels of the larger works, and in the discovered or mixed colours of a series of smaller ‘combinations of found or discarded industrial materials that are modified, rescued and recycled’. The economy of means, and apparent simplicity in the repetitions of geometric forms is deceptive however, as more elusive dialogues about the temporary, and the fragmentary occur, touching on utopian concepts of art as a means to confront social and political challenges, and developing Hathaway’s long-term examination of painting as shelter. This all happens through restraint, not bravado, and transformations, tensions, and contradictions are worked through both in place and out of place, ‘falling in-between’ past, present and future imaginings.

No Dark Things (remix) Installation view. photo Jason Hynes, courtesy the artist and Platform A Gallery

The walls and the floor of the gallery are inhabited by ‘flatpack’ works, forming vertical and work-surface picture planes, turning the interstices between the works themselves, and between the works and the walls, into spaces of equal importance. The walls and floor also appear to be almost interchangeable to Hathaway. The elements that hang or lean vertically, resemble stud partitions or screens rather than frames, and the horizontal works are like worksite trolleys or half-completed childhood go-carts (known locally as bogeys). This juxtaposition creates a sense of ‘which way is up?’, where the colourful billboards in the vicinity with promises of things to come, and the ongoing building work in the station, join with the exhibition to create a future nostalgia, a yearning for something that is yet to happen or may never happen.

Hathaway uses several approaches to conjoin title and image in his practice. Those applied to works in ‘No Dark Things’ introduce multiple associations and act as alienating devices. One is common in the Modernist canon, ‘Untitled’ followed by a colour description. The second references song lyrics, here ranging from artists such as The Smiths to Primal Scream, with words that examine everyday life lived out in (extra)ordinary circumstances.

Shoot Speed, Kill Light and Untitled (GLOSS yellowBlack) Photo Ant Chambers, courtesy the artist and Platform A Gallery

Shoot Speed, Kill Light, 2018 (aluminium composite, wood, f-clamps, electrical wire, LED bulb, electrical fittings), is a work that dominates the far wall of the gallery space. The black flex of a single light snakes its way across the floor to illuminate the lower section of the tall black rectangle, as if work is still being carried out on it. Its reflection glows dully in the matt darkness. The opaque protective film covering the aluminium of the work has been partially peeled back, only revealing the material’s gloss surface at the top. The viewer therefore sees herself as incomplete, only visible in this higher section - like a drawing in a game of Exquisite Corpses, or like a woman sawn in half, or vanishing in a stage act’s Disappearing Box. The handles of the six clamps that hold the construction together suggest a potential for turning, to tighten or loosen the connections between materials.  Attachments can be strong, yet temporary.

The discovery that the yellow of the salt bin and the black bollards in the station carpark outside the window are repeated directly in the nearby Untitled (GLOSS yellow/black), 2018 (aluminium composite, protective film, wood) is a reminder of the power found in the proximity of things, breaking and shifting the viewer’s understanding of the tensions between art as life/life as art. The yellow rectangle outside is in landscape, rather than portrait orientation, and the bollards repeat the black stripe running down the right hand edge of the work’s yellow section. Across the gallery, a flatbed trolley again throws back a yellow repetition.

The N.W.R.A.  Photo Ant Chambers, courtesy the artist and Platform A Gallery

‘The North will rise again/Not in 10,000 years’ The N.W.R.A. The Fall (1980)

Looking through the gallery’s glass doors into the entrance space, a visitor might believe the  installation is still underway, as while Hathaway considered and rejected showing the resulting debris from the exhibition, the position of the work The N.W.R.A., 2018 (acrylic paint, MDF, wood, f-clamps, metal brackets) is ‘casual formal’. It is leaning against the wall, and its collage of elements – the metal brackets at the joints, the empty spaces where colour might be expected to be, and the repeated clamps along the nearside, propose that this is in the process of being made – made by someone thinking performatively and reflexively, perhaps pausing before remaking, again and again. Hathaway’s use of the Modernist grid as both ‘escapist structure and ideological device’ is strongly stated here. The N.W.R.A. has a square yellow section balanced, as if ready for flight, at the top left edge of a larger wooden frame with cross braces. The colour also fuses into a line from the Fall song, directly relevant to the industrial past of Middlesbrough, home of Platform A: ‘The West German government brought over large yellow trains on Teesside docks’. The current port is now a rare example of commercial success in uncertain times.

Of the smaller wall hung works, Untitled (MATT white), 2018 (aluminium composite, plywood) is particularly intriguing. The aluminium panel is divided in half vertically, and a small groove in this split suggests it could be, or had been, forcibly prised open. It is a quiet work, yet full of disquiet. Viewed frontally, the work’s material and colour is reminiscent of a domestic cupboard or medicine cabinet, from the side, it re-forms itself into a painting. Meanwhile on the gallery’s floor, Untitled (GLOSS green/yellow/blue), 2018 (aluminium composite, birch ply and castors), waits - three trolleys that cluster around a wall support like horses outside a saloon. They share the properties of the wall based works but flatness is further emphasised, as they lie so close to the concrete, re-forming the perimeters of the picture plane, and bonding them with memories of the wheeled suitcases of the travellers on the station. They are not monochromes like David Batchelor’s trolleys, but their aluminium surfaces do seem to make colour independent, unleashing potential to send it skimming across the floor. They are playful, sharing that characteristic with the practice of Robert Rauschenberg during his long touring collaboration with Cage and Cunningham, when transportability was built into his work’s theatrical impact.

No Dark Things (remix) Installation View photo Jason Hynes, courtesy the artist and Platform A Gallery

‘The Remix’

‘This is not a composition. It is a place where things are, as on a table or on a town seen from the air: any one of them could be removed and another come into its place through circumstances analogous to birth and death, travel, housecleaning, or cluttering.’ John Cage ‘On Rauschenberg, Artist, and his Work’ (1961)

The prospect of ‘No Dark Things’ morphing into something completely different by the end of the run was a tantalising one. Re-encounters with works in different places in the gallery brought unexpected pleasures and posed unexpected questions. Is that work the same as it was earlier or not? Was that colour there or there? Elements were totally reorganised by dismantling and reassembling: they were contracted or expanded, scaled up, or remained as they were. The walls became largely deserted apart from the repeated panels of You are sleeping. You do not want to believe. which became re-energized, and the large aluminium rectangle of Shoot Speed, Kill Light actually did vanish, together with the memory of a disappearing woman. The nearby strings of lights from Untitled (MATT green/GLOSS blue) remained. Were they fewer in number? The yellow square of The N.W.R.A. did fly off, more wooden supports arrived, then Untitled (GLOSS yellow and black) appeared in its place, leaving its colour counterparts in the carpark. The three flatbed trolleys of Untitled (GLOSS green/yellow/blue) multiplied until they almost filled the gallery floor, a team of hard-edge paintings, each carrying reiterations of bright colour in horizontal planes.

‘No Dark Things’ and ‘The Remix’ could be experienced as independent exhibitions within a single location, and it was not essential to view both, in order to take away a desire to re-examine the transitory nature of daily life. However, Hathaway speaks an authentic artistic language of disturbances and interruptions that is best experienced in this time-based format, where new beginnings are threatened, promised and carried out. These tactics for change will continue as the structures move to future sites.

You are sleeping, you do not want to believe. Installation view, photo Jason Hynes, courtesy the artist and Platform A Gallery

Untitled (GLOSS yellowBlack). Photo Jason Hynes, courtesy the artist and Platform A Gallery

No Dark Things (remix) Installation view. Photo Jason Hynes, courtesy the artist and Platform A Gallery