LIDO is pleased to announce We’ve Plumbed This Whole Neighbourhood, an exhibition of new works by Christopher Owen and Tamara Van San. In a culture that tends to privilege the visual over other senses, whilst insidiously championing watching over seeing, it is common for the eye to be allowed to skip lightly across the surface of things, content to quickly pick-up linguistic or associative clues from which to form a succession of sufficient meanings. In adaptive evolution this ability to quickly assess and judge situations of threat or opportunity is a cognitive triumph. The casualty of this tendency toward high-speed looking is the delight to be found in sustained, questioning scrutiny. Using a palette, both verbal and material, that belongs very much to the high-speed contemporary high street, Owen and Van San are nonetheless each able to delay the transmission of superficial meaning for long enough, and with enough verve, to allow the viewer to look afresh at the works before them, and to find within these works new networks of meaning that privilege the eye but work in concert with the mind.
In Owen’s Untitled (2011), a four-part drawing of modest means, two ultramarine blue buildings sit among a scattering of shrubs and a single red palm tree. The ease and speed by which this arrangement is read as a landscape however, is almost as quickly undermined. The formal specificities of its constituent parts – the hard-ruled edge of the blue square against its densely worked centre, the giddy, wavering red line that delineates an area of white paper within from a greater white space beyond – abruptly denies the cognitive short-cut which initially offered such an limited semiotic interpretation.
Van San’s sculpture, made specifically for LIDO’s gallery space and for the beach front outside, does not toy with linguistic or pictorial systems, but its heightened colour and catholic materiality serve to delay the work from quietly retiring to the territory of pure form. However, with time, it is form that emerges as the primary force in these sculptures. Allowing the works to resolve themselves through the process of their own making, and at all times keeping the tendency toward decentred chaos at bay, Van San arranges coloured forms in space that attain an harmonic, if temporary, order - an order that suppresses its constituent materiality’s potential to upstage the whole.
Both artists achieve a formal sophistication in their work without recourse to dry or well rehearsed technique. Instead, by sailing close to the wind in their embrace of the language and material of the everyday, they are able to transform the familiar, revealing a space of visual delight and complexity that exists beneath the semiotically vociferous surface.
Christopher Owen lives and works in St. Leonards-on-Sea.
Tamara Van San lives and works in Appelterre, Belgium.