THE MYSTERIOUS CODES OF BLUE
by Asaf Rolef Ben-Shahar, PhD
Bare walls with peeling paint. Broken wooden floor, a small stool. A very fine blue net wraps a huge pile of cotton wool into a tight package; there it rests on the stool. It looks like a surprise, a gift, a brain, a promise. A tiny white and red pin holds the net together, drawing the eye in. There is something evocative about it. The netted cotton, the stool, the room. This is “90”, by Jae Jo. This is CHROMA Blue Issue exhibition.
CHROMA is a curatorial project aiming to amalgamate selections of works made in isolation from one another and explore what narrative potential they have when presented alongside each other. The exhibitions and publications focus on colour because of its simplicity; since works conveying various ideas can still fit into this theme. After the success of CHROMA Red, this exhibition, CHROMA Blue, has attracted both national and international artists.
Alongside the publication and the exhibition, much work has been done on the web. Ben Lattimore’s piece Just Make it More Blue
was presented via the CHROMA website which meant that the piece could be viewed on phones at the exhibition and be experienced alongside the other works. Flashes of blue hues fill the screen with their respective numbers; 0009C, 2E37FE, 3A5894. A language develops, bridging letters and hues, colour and words. Perhaps one can understand this language cognitively, but to speak it you need to speak colour.
As I look at secrets, by Lilac Abramsky-Arazi, I am reminded of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s film Three Colours: Blue. Juliette Binoche is swimming silently in a pool. All is quiet, yet there is such a strong sense of disquiet. How is this discomfort created? For what purpose? Abramsky-Arazi manages to lure us in with her aesthetic composition yet her painting is almost too human to tolerate. Emotional, disconnected, hurtful and hopeful. The tension between the seen and the unseen is amplified by the location that looks like an abandoned safehouse, stretching art into the streets of Peckham.
Secrets hangs on a wall. The paint on the wall is peeling. The curation is anything but an ordinary gallery organisation. Urban, biting, wild. Secrets looks alarmed there, showing little and concealing more.
Its marked imperfections, which characterise Abramsky-Arazi’s work, seem to fit the theme of the exhibition, but more so its ethos. Emotionally alive, mysterious, vague, urban, yet meticulously curated and executed. Paintings and objects are scattered around Safehouse2 in Peckham, South London. Some artworks are on the walls, some placed on chairs, others – in different ways – on the floor. Yet although the works have only one word in common – blue – the exhibition has a coherent feel to it. For four days alone, between 21-24 April, CHROMA Blue Issue explored language as a response to visual stimuli of blue. Paintings, objects, experiences, feelings, sensations, memories, all blue.
I had a Londoner friend who was a magician. Whenever we met he would show me his newly learned magic tricks, and like an enchanted boy I eagerly waited for him to show me, I wanted more. The two of us had an agreement, he would never tell me how a trick was done but if I guessed right, he would confirm my guess. In the end I almost always understood the process. It began with utter enthusiasm and curiosity but as soon as I understood how the trick was done, I was disappointed. I was waiting for real magic, and kept expecting one to show up. Magic tricks are magic tricks, though. Where can we find real magic?
The three curators of CHROMA wish to remain anonymous. They present as a brand. Secrets befits them. I was curious to learn about the location, the timeframe and the secrecy which envelopes the project.
There are conceptual reasons as well as practical ones behind the location, time and brand, CHROMA organisers explain: “We are interested in spaces that differ from the typical white-cube contemporary gallery space, and as the shows are an exploration into curating a wide variety of disparate works we want to use locations where the works can interact with the space as well as with each other”.
“The short timeframe actually creates a fascinatingly intense install period. Practically, the timeframe is so short because renting space in London is increasingly unaffordable. We are completely against charging submission fees and extortionate exhibiting fees, so to keep costs to a minimum the rental period must be short. Artistically, it is interesting to have such an intense and short exhibition. The premise is to collate and curate works that run along a similar but loose visual theme, and to explore what narrative potential occurs, and what conversations the works have. This can happen in a short time frame.”
There is something oddly pure about this ragged location; short and imperfect and decaying like life, yet with so much beauty. I like art that doesn’t take me away from life, but instead helps me value my life. “Why remain anonymous?” I ask, just like my endeavours to expose my friend’s magic tricks.
“The creation of a ‘brand’ has had a really positive impact on the whole process. It has eliminated any ‘clique’ mentality. Having no personal ties to the name, CHROMA managed to eradicate a lot of hierarchy, ensuring the artists took centre stage, rather than it being the work of three individuals.”
I am not convinced, but pleased the magic trick remained secret. I can feel the paradox inside of me. When I notice a mystery, I wish to analyse it, to comprehend it fully. At the same time, I wish for it to resist my attempts at understanding. CHROMA’s secrecy, and the artworks in CHROMA Blue Issue, serve to amplify this paradoxical tension. The vagueness does its job. Frustrating the need to understand, helps keep the magic alive.
CHROMA Blue Issue’s set-up is multifaceted and rich, and is accompanied by a publication, which the curators consider integral to the project, yet it is not a catalogue – it does not mirror the exhibition but instead expresses chromatic language through a different medium. Accessibility by different mediums exemplifies the multifaceted nature of CHROMA. Like Ben Lattimore’s work on the web, Blue becomes a colour code, one which cannot be fully deciphered, and it is strange that the body understands much more than the mind when looking around. Morse code. B. L. U. E.
The Morse quality of CHROMA Blue Issue becomes most explicit with Jessa Mary Mockridge’s work, which was taken from her project Exercises: Xhosa Textbook Fiction. The work holds an ingenious false promise for order and reason in the chaotic blue. It shows and hides in unexpected ways. Mockridge explores non-binary and fictional translation, non-normative Englishes, diagrammatic writing, codes, registers, poetic syntax, invented and imagined languages. The work subtly and powerfully addresses the whole nature of CHROMA, it being an exploration of language, conversation and narrative. Like CHROMA, it provides us with barely sufficient ground to stand on, while the rest of our certainties are taken apart.
The visual language of blue was very different from how I imagined it would look. Interestingly, while the first connotation to the word blue was melancholy and depression, CHROMA Blue was neither sad nor mellow. When emotions came through the visual and affective, rather than the interpretation of blue, the results were actually quite vibrant and alive if not always pleasant. Like Kieslowski’s pool, an ocean of images and metaphors unravelled, memories and excitement –a promise was created.
More CHROMA issues will follow and I recommend following this interesting young group, in their curatorial projects, their online presence and their publications. CHROMA Blue is a minimalist exhibition with an interesting agenda, bringing freshness and vitality.
In the meanwhile, here is Juliette Binoche, the beautiful woman taking long strokes under the water. Swimming. Blue. It is no longer a pool, but the ocean. Opening up before us, blue; opening up within us, blue. The ocean, a mystery forever to be sought after and never to be solved.