KEN TOWL went to the Whitgift Centre and got more than he expected
I had been doing the sort of soul-destroying Christmas shopping that you do at the Whitgift Centre and I was making my way to Wellesley Road tram stop by heading for the underpass when I noticed to my left a sign saying “opening night” and, behind it, visible through the glass front of the Turf Gallery, a collection of starkly lit metal sculptures.
Like a sailor drawn to a siren, I made my way in.
The installation is a challenging one. One might argue that it is at the other end of the art spectrum to the Croydon Art Society exhibition of landscapes and portraits on show at the Clocktower. I was bewitched by it, transfixed like a rabbit in the headlights. Literally so, because the installation is made of found elements including fog lights and car headlights.
The central, largest and inevitably most impactful elements of the installation are two life-size figures. Their cryptic titles “The Perennial Forgiver” and “Believer of Truth” inevitably impose on our thought processes, invading our attempts to interpret what we see.
The figures have hard, cold aluminium carapaces somehow imbued with a softness, an all-too-human frailty.
This being the opening night the artist, Kira Freije, was on hand to help.
She handed me a booklet entitled Companion To A Fall, 28 pages of text and images that I hoped might help me understand.
Here is the first paragraph:
“There’s something like a bittersweet tryst in the very being of Kira Frije’s sculptures: these objects of devotion are characterised by an uneasy sense sense of constrictive intimacy, even imprisonment. Indifference and desire, prohibition and permission, proximity and distance. Thriving and diving. The palpating flesh of pop music. A body not there, or here”.
As a rule, I find this kind of artspeak unhelpful. Particularly so in this case. Freije kindly agreed to answer some questions by email and I contented myself for the time being with not knowing much about her art while knowing that I like it.
When they arrive, her answers offered, I think, a helpful insight.
Why fog lamps and headlights? Freije allludes to a “kind of lighting that is reminiscent being on a journey [and] how the light from car headlights reflect on the road at night, particularly in the rain and how the effect of this feels cinematic and nostalgic of moments of reflection; being a passenger at various ages staring out of a window or being a driver with purpose.”
As I read, I found myself thinking of the hugely atmospheric title song from Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels On A Gravel Road from 20 years ago. A spell is being weaved here – I am starting to join in with the nostalgia and the “palpating flesh of pop music”.
I had asked what “The Perennial Forgiver” had to forgive and Freije chided me for seeking too literal an explanation of the figures.
She said the titles reflected feeling or thought processes at the point of creation, here “forgiveness, spans of time, and human relationships”, and I feel that I am starting to get that while also recognising that art and our responses to it are very subjective.
In response to my question about the space, the long, deep ex-furniture shop that is now Turf Gallery, she expands on her metaphor of the road, populated by metal artifacts and illuminated by car lights. Little by little, I am becoming convinced of an integrated whole, a palpable theme that pulls the installation together.
I reproduce here in full Freije’s answer to my question “Is there any particular inspiration behind Companion To A Fall?”:
“I had the title in my head all along whilst making the group of sculptures that are in this exhibition, Companion To A Fall, felt to me grandiose in its assertion, like a film title, and mighty and religious in its tone. I enjoyed having that weight as the backdrop in my head. It made me think about human relationships and the way we keep a balance between fantasy and reality in our heads and hearts.”
So perhaps the responses Freije’s art evokes are perennial responses to the universal relationships between the fantastic and the real, the cerebral and the physical, and the strong and the vulnerable.
I don’t know if you will like the exhibition, but if you happen to be in the Whitgift Centre any time between now and Saturday December 15, you could do worse than pop in. It will do more for your soul than any amount of retail therapy.
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