Earlier this month Cornerhouse Digital Reporter Jake Sturgess explored the work in our current exhibition Contour States and got an insight from the artist herself…
The first thing Samantha Donnelly made clear during our tour was that the exhibition openly insists on its viewers personal interaction with it, allowing the individual complete power over its subject. The installations inhabit a world where meaning and value is deliberately not prescribed but lies instead in the subjectivity of the onlooker. This might seem like a typical defence of the more obscure contemporary art; to respond to questions such as ‘what does it mean’ with liberal responses like ‘whatever you want it to’, but Donnelly instead talked through the intricate compilations of found and crafted materials with an exactitude that really brought the pieces to life.
The works seem to be occupied by deliberately trite polar opposites, an obsession of the western world. Light and dark, hot and cold, dead and alive, cheap and expensive seem to jostle for position throughout the exhibition, but on a level above this there seems to be one key duality which precedes the others: concepts of the real and false. Personally this reminded me of the deceitfulness of the media image, and how far reality can be removed what is represented. Everything displayed seemed to contradict its own integrity at closer inspection, constantly reminding me that substance, validity and tangibility are not concepts valued highly in contemporary society.
References to great works of literature and art continue to undermine the frailty and falseness of the plastic mass-produced tat peppered throughout the exhibits. A conceptual Outlining Venus is a sterling example of this, Donnelly re-reads the masterpiece’s ideals of the feminine form and translates them into a void hacked wildly into grey polystyrene, which stands swaying precariously among the shapes and images of the exhibition.
After the tour finished I was sure that Contour States met its directive of subjectivity. Talking with others from the tour I heard all manner of interpretation. One man saw ‘a drag builder’ in one piece, and a lady described another as ‘rubber gloves of sadness’. More importantly though, beyond the liberating (if unfulfilling) sensation of saying what you think and knowing it can’t be wrong, it is refreshingly clear that the artist has pored over her work with painstaking exactitude. Through the tour it became clear, her sheer enthusiasm and passion for her work, that everything is present for a reason and everything is exactly in its place. Whatever your outlook on contemporary art and its infinite meanings, it is plain to see that this is a thoughtful, calculated and masterfully crafted exhibition.
You’ve another chance to hear Samantha Donnelly speaking in person about her work in her second Artist’s Tour on Sun 18 March at 14:00. Reserve your place here. And please note this tour will be BSL interpreted for the hard of hearing.