Entering Harrington Mill Studios in Long Eaton last weekend, the rumble and hubbub grew to a busy din. Climbing its spiral stair-tower up to the first floor I half expected to walk in on a factory full of lace makers leaned over bobbing and wheeling machinery. Years ago I would have, but the hubbub on Friday night was a noisy and sizeable crowd come to see Harrington Mill Studios' part in Nottingham's 'Open Festival of contemporary visual art'.
Friday evening, however, served a dual purpose. It was also the launch of 'Standing Room', a space among the studios that has been given over to practical research into curatorship. Standing Room will host a number of residencies in which both curators and artists will be given the opportunity to explore practical and theoretical approaches to curatorship.
October and November has seen Standing Room's first resident curators Jayne Falconer and Jane Hardstaff put together the exhibition 'Residual Traces', a haunting exploration of our relationship with the past.
Spilling out of the 'Standing Room' space, the first work to see was Richard Tailby's large black and white photographs and Jayne Falconer's clay lozenges hung from pulleys on rope. The photographs weren't photographs as we might recognise them but had been made using wet darkroom processes pushing the face onto photo paper. Similarly Falconer's clay had been carefully imprinted with clothing and textured fabrics before being fired. Both referred back to the moment of creation, its tactile engagement before the fixing processes. It seemed impossibly distant, but at the same time unshakeably present. Tailby's face seemed pressed against a glass, Falconer's imprints empty but vulnerable.
In the space itself there was a roll of paper hung vertically from the ceiling, weighted at the bottom by the roll. Down the length of it the phrase "I was waiting" had been painstakingly written in tiny perforations over and over again. Once again our attention and imagination were being drawn to the performance of the creative act in a manner almost archaeological. But rather than an archaeology of ancient ruin, it seemed one of the immediate or near past.
In Suzanne King's "Quarryscapes", pen and ink drawings of steel framed structures in the quarries around Cromford in Derbyshire, old and new were impossible to discern. The structures seemed strangely picturesque, but not like the derelict abbeys of the Romantics. They were modern and functional and it wasn't clear whether they were abandoned or still in use, whether these structures of the past were still worked or inhabited.
Caron Kirkham's 'Four Knitted Strands', opposite, had a very different but equally evocative sense of the past and present in uncertain cohabitation. The 'Strands' in question were four nylon double helixes bejewelled with antique glass beads. Kirkham claims to be the last apprentice of a jeweller who was also a last apprentice himself, the tradition fragile and endangered. It showed that these 'Residual Traces', though belonging to the past, can be invested with life in the present. Their presence can be imaginatively engaged with to become more than just evidence of the past.
This strength of presence seems to be the overarching feeling I was left with after seeing 'Residual Traces', even if it was just the presence of an impression, the presence of an absence that comes alive in the imagination, like hearing the lace workers in the hubbub of an art event.
the time to explore a theme, Falconer and Hardstaff have brought
together various works that really speak to each
other. Together the works create a strange half-world space between past
and present. As such, 'Residual Traces' seems to extend beyond the gallery
walls and the curated space.