The ‘thinking-business’ @ The Royal Standard, Liverpool


Photo: Becky Peach

Collaboration is defined as the action of ‘working with someone to produce something’. The current exhibition, The ‘thinking-business’, at The Royal Standard ponders this matter on multiple levels through the works of Paloma Proudfoot and Rebecca Ounstead. Collaboration is explored as a tool of production and the artists’ respective techniques while focusing on the development of friendships outside of their professional lives.

Unlike the Royal Standard’s signature look of white walls and sparse exhibits the show is warm, tactile and inviting. The peach coloured walls create a womb-like quality, further enhanced by the literal softness of the materials on display. The exhibits rely on the tension created by the differences in their physical characteristics, ranging in weight, texture and finish. Indeed the show is said to ‘straddle opposing forces of pleasure and repulsion, instinct and reason’ and the materials play a key part in this balancing act. Delicately draped fabrics gain prominence against the solid chains on which they are hung. Polished ceramics are displayed on the bare wood of the table, serving as a sort of kinky façade for darker desires. Add to the mixture some matte latex-like leather and chocolate fudge. Et voilà! Sensuality guaranteed.

The 'thinking- business'top

The works are spread evenly around the room with enough space to breathe, starting with some ceramic ‘fingers’ protruding out of the wall, curved suggestively but hung high enough that they gain the innocent potential of becoming coat hangers. For the art-loving mere mortal the fragile pottery inspires the kind of admiration that comes with the confident handling of a traditional technique. More instinctive though, is the panic about breaking them and this is one of The ‘thinking-business’ most memorable features. The audience appeared to be clustered around each other within safe distance of the artworks. The warmth of the space was surprisingly conducive to human contact even if just the vague acknowledgement of each other’s presence.

Perhaps it is the overtly sexual look of the show (who knew ceramic asparagus could be so phallic!) that provided its viewers with a shared understanding from which to begin to make sense of the works. Either way, it is the first time I experienced a gallery interior affecting its inhabitants to the extent of genuinely becoming friendlier to one another.

The collaborative experiment succeeded because it is simply impossible to distinguish between the works of the two artists – there are no hard-edged differences, only a fluid amalgamation of styles. Ounstead’s fleshy fabrics compliment what Proudfoot’s calls her ceramic ‘shells’. Each one displayed on its own plinth, granting them the status of traditionally understood objects of desire.

To an extent, the sensuality of the compositions actually obscures in-depth conceptual analysis. The display promises to break social taboo and its prohibitions, but it is the visual sensations which are the most captivating factor. Despite the calmness the space becomes gradually more invasive, eventually exhausting to be in, like a sauna and you find yourself breathing in deeper and needing to go outside for fresh air. Yet, to quote one of the visitors, I guarantee you’ll leave feeling emotionally ‘delightfully penetrated’.

The ‘thinking-business’ is on display until May 28th.