Published by Art Monthly, issue 413
With their respective exhibitions ‘Fragments’ and ‘This Mess is Kept Afloat’, artists Andrew Lacon and Kate V Robertson both respond to the site of the DCA, producing new works that acknowledge their environment and instigate a relationship with it. Presumably coincidentally, both artists have produced floor pieces that visitors are encouraged to walk on, Lacon’s Fragments, 2017, the sole work in his display, is a raised terrazzo platform framed by the walls of the room, while in among the larger show, Robertson’s Restore, 2017, revisits the concrete casts of Tupperware, takeaway containers, etc that visitors to Glasgow International 2016 will be familiar with, again using them to form a cobbled floor of sorts.
While floor-based pieces, specifically those intended to be walked on, have established canonical precedents such as those by Carl Andre, it still feels antithetical to proper gallery behaviour to step onto the surface of an artwork. This is something that Lacon toys with, intentionally leaving a border of gallery floor in front of the piece, while expanding to fill the rest of the room, allowing the possibility to enter the space without walking on the piece, encouraging a degree of uncertainty. Even knowing full well the artist’s intention, the temptation nonetheless remains to wait for someone else to walk on the work, thereby granting tacit permission to those around them.
Lacon’s floor consists of square pieces of terrazzo, constructed from white marble and cement, with pigment added to create sections of red, blue, green, yellow and orange in a geometric pattern, echoing the irregular diagonals of the building’s ceiling as well as the crazy paving found in suburban gardens and driveways throughout the UK. From the right viewing position, the work finds further resonance wherein its colourful grid is almost replicated in the sign of a nearby Mecca Bingo seen through the window. Visiting midway through the exhibition, the surface now acts as a record of the visitors who have walked on it, their footsteps having gradually worn down the material’s surface, even creating breaks around the corners of some of the terrazzo pieces, demonstrating the surprising fragility of material that is perceived as sturdy and hardwearing.
Robertson’s Restore can be read similarly, yet in even more detail, because the individual pieces of her floor are more sensitive and liable to break, creating a surface that shows you the patterns of visitor behaviour, with some areas left almost untouched, while others, particularly around the piece’s border with the gallery floor, break and crumble. Robertson finds a surprising degree of variance within her loose grid of concrete forms, giving the viewer something intricate to examine. The breadth of colour is also surprising, with the concrete showcasing a range of grey-blue and warm pink tones, which are mirrored in the wall piece behind, Ad Infinitum, 2017, where Robertson has plastered the wall in a rectangular pattern of blank Financial Times-pink newsprint and pale blue billboard paper.
Similarly to Lacon, it is interesting to examine visitor behaviour when interacting with Robertson’s Restore, and while people confidently stride atop Lacon’s floor, Robertson’s elicits a more tentative response, as the individual pieces make for an uneven surface which moves underfoot. These movements create the pleasing sound of the concrete casts knocking against one traversing of the surface. This care is interrupted, however, when a breakage occurs, causing a satisfying sensation. In allowing for the pieces to break with relative ease, Robertson plays with the perception of concrete as a solid, reliable building material, making us reconsider the permanence of the infrastructure around us.
While traversing Robertson’s floor, something in the far corner of the room catches the eye, an object rapidly spinning, seen through a small window in the gallery wall seemingly created specifically to elicit this sort of curious reaction. This is Latent Waste, 2017, and as the spinning pauses, the mystery object is shown to be a rough chunk of polystyrene hanging in what looks like a small tiled recess in the wall, although these ‘tiles’ are in fact undeveloped photographs (Robertson once again using material in unexpected ways). In encouraging viewers over, she entraps them in a sort of voyeuristic act, since peering through the small, secretive window, looking into what appears like a tiled bathroom, feels like encroaching on something private.
The idea of ‘waste’, as referred to in the work’s title, is a recurring theme throughout Robertson’s exhibition, as various waste products being re-formed into art objects, whether attaching a motor to a chunk of discarded polystyrene packaging, casting disposable takeaway containers in concrete, or crushing seemingly endless eggshells for Terra Bits, 2017, Robertson seems fascinated by detritus, things that are discarded and considered useless. She takes this a step further with Extra, 2017, the title implying that these sculptures are created from resin left over from her Stratas, 2017, series exhibited adjacent. In applying the same critical eye towards her own practice that she does to society more widely, Robertson demonstrates a thoughtfulness in her practice, an engaging willingness to think small as well as big.
Reviewed by Tom Emery