22 May – 26 June 2021
Following a twelve month plus Covid-related hiatus, Todmorden’s Studio 2 is showing ‘Various Artists’ by Noel Clueit. Actual stuff. Hanging on walls. In real space.
The works on display largely the product of the lockdown period, Clueit has sliced-up record sleeves, often ones purchased with a certain indifference to the music sleeved inside, to re-position the resulting areas into new compositions or arrangements. Imagery is ignored. The factory-crisp coloured lines, synthetically pure washes of colour, the decorative embellishments of the covers; in short the playfully abstract design elements, become building blocks for new abstract configurations.
The Utopian idealism(s) behind early models of international abstraction often had a metaphysical bent but always depended on an effort to bullet-point criteria for formal value judgments.
And, in reality, there’s an accidental cultural immobility that sticks to the products of this kind of game plan; high art as ultra-tasteful balancing acts of shape and colour which can only really breathe successfully in a controlled and antiseptic environment. Elite, if perfectly enjoyable, décor being the real result.
To a point this is both inevitable and not necessarily a completely bad thing. Isolating this type of aesthetic experimentation in galleries may be a safer bet than using them as a literal blueprint for social structures.
And yet, simple molecular fragments of popular taste are equally serviceable for reconstructing effective non-representational compositions. Diagonals, circles, parallel skinny border lines and decorative repetitions, all carefully scalpel cut from 1970s and 80s record sleeves, allow small ‘abstract’ compositions to retain an echo of the material and visual ambience of the printed imagery of the period in which the records were produced.
So Clueit’s domestic scale parodies of historical models of reductive ‘abstraction’ have no interest in the angsty splashings of Pollock, a form of painterly method acting like Brando stomping around a tasteful set; nor in the cool zen of a Newman stripe, a decorative equivalent to Olivier’s aristocratic aloofness. They are tonally closer to Roger Moore’s sarcastically arched eyebrow, an acknowledgement that artist-producer and viewer-consumer are both inside the game. But enjoying it none-the-less.
Here, the endpoint of abstractions formal reduction transfers to popular decorative arrangements on the packaging and promotion of everyday products; the covers of records being a perfect playground for this transcriptive urge. The immediately familiar square motif of a vinyl record, thing as a form, area as bounded and bordered, becomes important.
It is why lines are such an active physical component in Clueit’s works, they echo the boundary line of the rectangle but also control both the pictorial space, dissect it, contradict solidity, but also slow and accelerate the viewer’s pace of address. They take the eye on a looping wander or emphasis the porous, unstable nature of a bounding frame of nothingness.
When playing a vinyl record the affectionately clumsy, slow spiral of the record players needle sweeps towards an empty centre; the tight spiral of the playback groove, duration and movement, repetitions and echoes are all factors in play. Clueit’s works cumulatively operate in a similar way.
Significantly, on knowing the compositions source material it is hard not to begin imaginatively dismantling the matt and shiny areas of supporting printed cardboard and to fit them into an imaginary original image or record sleeve. To reconstitute an originating structure.
The darkness behind the light and bright likeability of these works is the fact that a successful reimagining will not result in a metaphysical blueprint for a better society, it may just congeal into a back-cover from an 80s pop record.
Letters Stolen From The Alphabet.