Gavin Hudson reviews Erosive: an Exhibition of Landscape and Urban Erosion in the Tramshed on Chesterfield Road.
It might be the Pete Mckee effect, but art spaces in Sheffield are currently burgeoning and thriving. Whatever the cause, this week saw the opening of a new gallery and exhibition in the upstairs room of The Tramshed on Chesterfield Road. In keeping with the community ethos of the bar downstairs, Erosive is a chance to discover new works by local artists you may or may not be familiar with. And, like downstairs, the gallery has a make-do and mend feel (the building was restored after being gutted by fire) that is unassuming and doesn’t distract from the work on display.
There are six artists represented in the exhibition: Roger Baker, Michael Day, Lee Pearse, Neil Webb, Neil Woodall and Ron Wright. As a set, the works are linked by references to: cinema; in particular sci-fi and horror, decay and a strong sense of time and narrative (difficult to achieve with still images).
Michael Day’s Emplacement (2014) gives a glimpse of a picnic table whose beauty spot is mostly hidden by a dirt bank and winter-stripped trees. It creates a growing sense of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The picnic table, which should be a site of communion and pleasure, destabilises into a site of threat and tangles with memories of campsite slashers. Is that Crystal Lake hidden behind the hill?
This sense of peril also threads through the pieces by Ron Wright and Lee Pearse. Wright presents us with two vertical triptychs of stills from his forthcoming film The Blast that are awash with post-apocalyptic acidic colours. The ‘unnaturalness’ and high contrast suggests that whatever disaster has occurred was at once devastating (people do not feature in any of the works here) and man-made. The exhibition notes later tell me that the images are of a ‘chemical beach’ in the North East and this teaser certainly whets my appetite for the full 10 minute film in 2016, which, I am sure, will make more effective use of its unique location than David Fincher’s Alien 3.
Pearse also gets up close and personal with landscapes to create a sense of alienation from nature. His close encounters suggest a terror whose source we cannot quite fathom. Our experiences filling the benign stills with menacing and imagined futures. I felt small against the ‘death star’ rock that dominates and obscures the free space in Same Time Tomorrow (2015). Likewise, Take Two Twice A Day (2015) reconfigures a cloud as an ominous steam in a harsh and unremitting terrain.
Aliens, Star Wars and Mad Max (Thunderdome) are also present in Roger Baker’s Listening Towers (2015). Shyly tucked away in the corner of the gallery, this print of a now defunct listening tower in Berlin seems more futuristic than a relic of the past. Time has been captured by the camera shutter; but whose time? And when? This subtle disorientation haunted me into an uncanny valley that kept drawing me back to that corner of the gallery and Baker’s initially quiet image.
The two non-photographic artists, Neil Woodall and Neil Webb, bring a different tack to the same themes. Woodall’s aquatint etching ‘Sunlight Hadden’ (2012) interplays a dark and brooding sea with quivering patches of bright light on the surface. An ambiguously grey sky offers no guess as to which emotion the image should evoke, leaving a troubling balance between hope and loss that is incredibly moving.
Finally, Webb’s delicate pencil sketches, could be mistaken for H. R. Giger’s production designs for Ridley Scott’s Alien. The choice of medium perfectly captures the fragility of the subject matter. Just as these WWII defence posts were strong, so they, like the pencil used to draw them are subject to erosion and erasure if unloved and unwanted. Like everything else shown in the exhibition these once solid structures, now spun in thin strands of graphite are under threat from forces beyond their control.
Erosive is a strong first exhibition for a new gallery. If I had one criticism, it’s that I want more of each artist and that’s not really a criticism at all. The Tramshed is a welcome addition to Sheffield’s gallery scene and with the promise of a new exhibition each month, I look forward to picking one of the venues various craft beers and viewing the next.
Erosive is at The Tramshed, 51 Chesterfield Road, S8 0RL until 29th November.
The gallery is open 4-7 pm. Tuesday – Sunday.
Check out more of Gavin Hudson on twitter @hudson_writes.