AirSpace Gallery is pleased to present our first exhibition of 2019. Harley Kuyck-Cohen
marks the end of his 6 month Graduate Residency at the Gallery with his inaugural solo exhibition. Transforming the gallery space into an immersive installation comprising a series of sculptures animating 2 ‘pre-fab’ domestic spaces, Allotment
seeks to rationalise Harley’s research into the conditions of city space and, since relocating from his London base, most prominently asks a question about Stoke-on-Trent...
what tense is the city living in?
"The development of cities is very political, with regeneration and housing being the centre of many discussions over power; how a city approaches regenerative growth affects culture. This is happening in Stoke-on-Trent.
Always questioning where the city is now going, one thing that stays anchored in Stoke's cultural landscape is ceramics. Often white noise for a lot of people I’ve been around, pottery is Stoke’s cultural mandate, a socio-political landscape forever living in its deindustrialised past.
Noticing that Stoke is a city with much of its industrial housing remaining, my work over the residency has interrogated on how living relates to craftsmanship and making new, the importance of touch and material when thinking about the future.
Using the exhibition title as a metaphor for thinking about living and working in industrial space, allotment’s are wonderful sites of creativity and material diversity. I want this to act as a model towards making within the city; thinking about the rather cannibalistic architecture of living and eating on top of each other."
- Harley Kuyck-Cohen, 2019
A core focus of Harley Kuyck-Cohen
’s practice is an exploration of our domestic lives and the ever changing boundaries between public and private space. These politics of dwelling are manifested in various media - sculpture, architecture and installation, and often incorporate time based assemblages that imply waste and renewal. Harley graduated with a BA from the Slade School of Fine Art, UCL (2018), and was recently shortlisted for the Woon Prize in Sculpture and Painting (2018). Present group exhibitions include Preserves [Artist-Run, London], MOTEL [The Slade School of Art, London] and More Gas [Assembly House Studios, Leeds].
Each year, AirSpace Gallery’s Graduate Residency Programme offers two new graduates a fantastic opportunity to be part of an exciting and innovative artist-led space in Stoke-on-Trent, providing 6 months free studio space, ongoing professional development support, mentoring and guidance in those crucial first months out of higher education, and an end-of-residency solo exhibition. Now into its 7th year, the residency programme is an attempt to tackle and highlight a problem with graduate retention in the city, offering early stage professional development support to artists.
Allotment - Harley Kuyck-Cohen
an exhibition review by Selina Oakes
The gallery, somewhat like a city, is a transitory arena: both, too, have the potential to become agents for unwieldily dreaming in the hands of the architect, artist or urban developers. Stripped back to its bare components, the gallery is divided into two 'pre-fab' domains – or rather, allotments – in graduate resident Harley Kuyck-Cohen's inaugural solo exhibition. But what comes to mind with the title Allotment – bustling stacks of squash in a makeshift Eden – is exchanged for two domestic scenes, paved with chipboard and newspaper pages. These allotments are platforms for the rustic assemblages which Kuyck-Cohen has nurtured throughout his residency at AirSpace Gallery.
Stepping up and into Allotment #1, a prim, ready-made awning casts out from the wall, supporting a gritty-looking stray animal. Fox, a composite of insulation foam, filler and toothpicks for teeth, watches over the viewer as they encroach upon the exhibition. Blotchy and blue – and red, yellow and orange too – Fox is crude and fable-like: we ask, is it part of the neighbourhood watch, a voyeur or an embodiment of the artist himself? We're fearful but intrigued by its distorted, acute appearance. Beneath the awning, rows of Kellog's Cornflakes boxes form part of the brickwork for Allotment #1 – is it a wall, a barrier, or a suggestion of what society is made of? They're consumerist relics but also one of the blandest foods around – in our conversation, Kuyck-Cohen points out that they were invented by a psychologist for his patients as an easy food to digest.
Across the way, Facade, a model-house maquette, has the perfect measurements. It's a miniature of a would-be dream-home which Kuyck-Cohen has covered with splatters of paint. An ominous slug-like form floats over the house – perhaps a 'think-tank' or a nod to a subconscious conscience. Duck down and around and you'll find Untitled – a gaunt figure with elongated limbs and a colourful exterior. Made of jesmonite, filler and insulation foam, the man sinks into a bed of fluorescent fuzziness and psychedelic dreaming, only just maintaining a sense of conventional reality with the clutching and crumbling of his discoloured hands.
Allotment #2 occupies the latter part of the gallery: it too depicts part-interior, part-exterior – this time, a kitchen and a 'dog-house' (in this case, a rat-house.) Poised on the would-be tabletop is an unrefined sculpture which also carries the show's namesake. Allotment stands tall on wooden slats and a miniature plywood roof, but its concrete composition looks set to crumble. It's fragile facade is, albeit, misleading: much like one of Jean Dubuffet's early sculptures, it is sturdy in its role, cupping bowls of weighty sand in its extending limbs. It's Dali-esque, too, with a resemblance to a nose and nervous-system which exist in a state of contented turmoil.
We're brought back from this Surrealist bubble by a time-stamp added by sheets of The Sentinel newspaper. Pasted around the edge of the tabletop are two copies of the local paper printed on 1st February 2019 – the day that Allotment opened. It quietly dates the timeless space, adding an external dialogue to Kuyck-Cohen's privately-made sculptures. The convergence of these two – the exterior and the interior, the public and the private – is key to the artist's thinking. His individual sculptures, made so attentively and organically, contrast with his installation environment – a quickly assembled and unfinished set. Screws and seams protrude from the unpainted chipboard: we're unsure whether these structures are at the start or end of their lives. We could ask, are they part of a building-process or boarding something up?
A series of odd-ball photographs hint at past experiences: these are documents of the artist's time in Stoke-on-Trent. Sunsets, allotments, fake spiders and smiling carrots are dotted, at random, around Allotment #1 and #2. A picture of Bibendum – the Michelin man – framing an empty heart is both endearing and melancholic. It's another part of Stoke-on-Trent that has thrived and then been dismantled. In the corner, Rat Box – a black, spray-painted doll house with angry-looking bird spikes protruding from its roof – creeps into consciousness. Here, empty bowls and silver dishes are asking to be filled.
As we withdraw from Rat Box's positioning on the floor, we stand and notice a shadow on the gallery's rear wall – a medium-sized painting on a board in which glimmers of a cyanotype peer through smatterings of paint. Kuyck-Cohen says it's been with him since his degree show and throughout his residency: in the exhibition, it assumes the role of a quiet witness – forgotten about yet accountable for the artist's numerous mark-making processes. In many ways, this “black-hole” as the artist calls it, teaches us to become more assertive to the subtleties of touch dotted throughout the show. Imprinted in the rashly applied Polyfilla are his individual marks: similar to the newspaper, his fingerprints and mark-making are a testament to the moment which the work was created – something which fuels an ongoing dialogue between time and timelessness.
The Kellog's Cornflakes boxes, too, contribute to this conversation: like the newspapers, they are stamped with a time, a “Best Before” date. But, then again, they're also timeless: they're familiar, consumer-orientated and, as the packaging states, have been around since 1906. This visual limbo between time and timelessness leads us to the artist's question: “What tense is the city living in?” Stoke-on-Trent is a civic in limbo, existing between a nostalgia for the Pottery industry and a longing for an indefinable future. There's also a decisive sense of “de-growth” in Allotment – the aesthetic of making do; of Bricolage; of something unfinished with space for change.
Kuyck-Cohen quotes Donna Haraway, “I am a compost-ist not a posthuman-ist,” a sentiment which contains a lot more earthiness than autocracy. Rather than being a clean-cut, ready-made show-room for 'pre-fabs,' Allotment is more of a show-room for the vernacular – for what's actually happening beneath the corporate veneer. The works' haphazard fabrication, though coarse, opens up an invitation to the public to help navigate what happens next – one which the artist hopes feels “generous.” Afterall, the word Allotment refers to an allocation or a share of something.
Allotment - Harley Kuyck-Cohen
A short Q&A with Alessandro Vincentelli
What was the inspiration for the title ‘Allotment?’
I think at the time I was thinking a lot about decomposing bodies. I saw a William Kentridge film, one of his book ones, where a body falls and turns into soil and then into flowers. I was really moved by it and started thinking about decomposition, the body in relation to land. “I am a compost-ist, not a posthuman-ist” Donna Haraway once said – I think this has got something to do with time for me.
Allotment in the title suggests something planted, something tended to, looked after contained, does this stay relevant to the concept
I wrote a thing back in October when I started thinking about Allotments as a space for making:
“Why grow yourself such a tasteless marrow, you now have yourself a baby. Lets eat it all for Sunday Lunch”
The seasonal repetitious cycle that Allotment growing and care has is a vernacular practice, one related to place. It’s also cannibalistic. I like the universal acceptance of it, people piss on their crops to encourage growth, and then eat it without thinking about it. As an artistic practice I think its really brutal.
Hey, so photos that you have taken in Stoke these last few month feature in the installation. What did you photograph and why, do images form part of the research?
In the exhibition I’m trying to think about how to represent time. Sculptures often are anthropological or utopic, and exist within those readings. The importance the rest of the elements in the show, the photographs, the newspaper and installation of ‘Allotment #1’ & ‘Allotment #2’ is to bring the work as a whole onto just the cusp of an event, of transition or change. I’m really interested in potential, voids to be filled. The two spaces are about to be decorated/realised; the printed material has no reference to the past.
You were motivated by tombs, ( the one you showed me in the Potteries museum) folk horror of the mummified cat museum display, containment and scale and miniaturisation. things buried within walls, talismans and folk horror traditions. Reynard the Fox?
Last night I watched ‘THREADS’ for the first time, that 1984 BBC made for TV ‘docudrama’ film about what would happen if the UK was hit by a nuclear bomb attack, its terrifying. Its horror comes in its aims to be as realistic and un-romantic as possible.
In the film, one of the first procedures of government would be to de-centralise, allowing every city and town to operate without higher authority, controlling their own infrastructure – food, policing, industry. It reminded me of when I used to read a lot about Neo-medievalism, a school of thought that tries to change the perspective on citizenship and centralisation, arguing that we are moving towards a ‘guild’ like cultural/political infrastructure away from centralised international government. I think conversations about folk production are still really relevant.
I had never thought of Reynard! I always aim to not touch on past fables, rather I’m looking to create new motifs and tales that we can make now. I’m looking to explore the dynamics of vernacular practices today.
In the architectural approximations that you create certain ideas of improvisation are clear to be seen. Jerry made, knocked back and bit rough. It lends itself a pleasure, and a humour. Would you agree?
I certainly would – I think some architects call it ‘de-growth’, its also a Turkish approach to making (Halletmek, the art of making do). I think these qualities are really important to me; I’ve always been really against the conventional designed completion of works, where you can tell the sense of touch is more industrial than anything else, a means to an aspired end.
Bricolage is so much about place, about learning and being open to the chaotic nature of space. They have a greater relationship to time, you’re able to make ruins to something or something with the potential of change. It’s malleable, I hope this feels like a generosity to the viewer.
Alessandro Vincentelli is Curator of Exhibitions & Research at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, where he has worked for more than 10 years. During this time he developed and curated solo exhibitions with artists Elizabeth Price and Steve McQueen amongst many others. Currently, Alessandro's "Digital Citizen" - a 10 artist group show drawing on the imagination of contemporary artists to inspire a conversation on ideas of citizenship in the digital age - is showing at Baltic. Alessandro was mentor support for Harley during his Graduate Residency