Described as an ‘investigation of Leeds’ post-industrial urban landscape’ Signs of Life is one of two new exhibitions to open at the Project Space Leeds Gallery showcasing the work of local artists Mathew Shelton and Jim Brogden. While Shelton works with found objects, creating collages of scrap wood and ‘litter drawings’, Brogden’s cityscape photography explores found locations or ‘non spaces’ rediscovered long after the decline of industry. Both artists aim to create what Brogden terms ‘a different beauty’.
In Herzog Mathew Shelton collects discarded papers or ‘detritus’ washing, ironing and then draws over the top of them, although he maintains that the process is not a form of recycling. Linking the work to his habitual and compulsive collecting Shelton claims “My creative process has, historically, involved the private, almost obsessive hoarding of a huge range of useless items. I then constantly worry about what to do with them, how to store them, whether I am wasting my time or whether I am really, finally, on the cusp of making something significant. The methods of production I employed to make my contribution to Signs of Life developed through necessity.” The paper collages were the only pieces he planned every aspect of and displayed as originally envisioned. This was, perhaps, an attempt to stop chaos creeping back in and reverting the finished artwork back into the ‘bits of crap’ it took him 10 years to collect.
However unintentional, the work unleashes a narrative potential, if these found objects provide the stories then Shelton provides the illustrations when he takes pen to these picked up papers. Studying closely the discarded items from bills and shopping lists to certificates of achievement and even ASBOs one can begin to form chains of association linking them back to people or places and in a sense creating links to various imaginary narratives or histories. ‘Many connections are made’ even if as Shelton says ‘most of them are made by accident!’
In contrast to the way he conducted himself with in hanging the paper collages , Shelton allowed himself more freedom during the installation of Harry Thubron, with the end result surprising even him. “In making the wood collage something wonderful and unexpected happened; when it was complete, I noted that the piece resonated with references to fantastic synthetic cubism and early pop art by people like Juan Gris and Stuart Davis, old ‘art heroes’ of mine who’s work I had not looked at in detail for many years.”
Brogden brings a fine art aesthetic to the street, transforming run down urban areas into picturesque landscapes and exposing their hidden depth and beauty through the medium of photography. Brogden, a fellow at the University of Leeds, has been photographing these ‘non spaces’ for around five years. The images shown in Signs of Life are part of a larger series of works involved in a project named Terra Nullius.
Although he agrees the work displays an ‘obvious intimacy’ with the urban wasteland, he maintains it is not to be confused with sentimentality. This is why colour is an important aspect of his work. His investigation into the area of ‘non-spaces’ is more ‘forensic’ than nostalgic, according to him.
Mika Hannula, Professor for Art in Public Space, at the Academy of Fine Arts, Helsinki, states “Brogden has a great ability to address the important and meaningful nuances and details in non-sites in a way which is not nostalgic or didactic.”
More over his work is much more than the exploration of post industrial townscapes; it is a study into the subject of space itself. “In relation to our frenetic urban experience, one could suggest, that some form of consolation may be found in these forgotten spaces” he comments “the zones that I explore act as palimpsests” and although Shelton might deny it, this is really what the show is all about .The documentation of changing spaces, the passing of time and as Brodgen reveals “the more universal themes of transience, loss, erasure, return, memory etc: associated with the ‘human condition’ ”.
Signs of Life runs between 19th January and 27th February 2010 at Project Space Leeds. http://www.projectspaceleeds.org.uk/