25 Oct 2008 – 22 Nov 2008
Lydia Gifford might make drawings, or objects, or sculptures, or installations. All these terms could be used to describe some of the things that go into giving shape to her work, but to rely on any of these too much would be a mistake. This isn’t because they don’t give some sense of what you might find if you looked at what Gifford was doing – the last time I looked there were all of these things; some large drawings, of a couple of faded black rectangular wooden frame, that turned at an angle mid-way; a sheet of glass, propped against the wall, black painted across roughly half of its lower area; a piece of thick MDF, cut so that it propped diagonally from floor to wall, its sides roughly painted in a pasty black-green; another frame, this time taller, with a sheet of blue-greypaper folded and loosely draped over it; some long, narrow strips of ply; gathered together and hung at their mid-point so that they bowed under their own weight …
All these things you might call drawings and objects, and the way they are put together might be sculptures, and the way they are assembled might be installations or environments. But to describe them like this would be to make them already too definite and too certain, too much like art-work, when Gifford’s efforts seem always focused on leaving the things she manipulates with a sense of something incomplete, provisional and open. Part of this depends on how little she intervenes in the things she handles – a bit of paint on a bit of wood, a cut here, a fold there – and the modest and ordinary quality of the materials themselves. They may be the products of relatively advanced industrial manufacture – composite woods, sheet paper, glass and so on – but these are materials made for domestic manipulation, blank materials designed for prosaic and everyday usage and practicalities. Rather than over-render or over-construct these basic materials, Gifford makes consciously limited interventions, leaving the things she alters clearly transformed from their stock-room origins, and yet not loaded with any developed ‘artistic’ language.
Gifford’s objects don’t produce anything strictly symbolic or representational – a pane of glasss does not symbolise a window. Nor do they use construction to illustrate any abstract or conceptual logic – a frame is just a frame, not a set of exact dimensions rooted in mathematics. Nevertheless, Gifford’s objects carry suggestions of other things, partly because their reduced and stripped-back forms allow echoes and reverberations of other things and other places. These are physical or tactile echoes rather than merely visual ones – the sense of built structures and objects, their place in the outside worlds and how we physically encounter them. A pane of glass carries with it general associations – of looking through, of inside and out, of seeing through without moving through. Or a frame draped with a sheet suggests a sense of instability or precariousness; a prop against the wall draws us into the work of building and structuring. Gifford’s assemblies of objects present themselves as the minimal (but not Minimalist) outcomes of the act of altering materials by hand, with a few tools. They are not simply things to be looked at. Or rather, they are not things to be looked at too carefully. You dont’t need to admire the finish, or the colour, or the quality of the materials, because it isn’t there that their values lies. Instead, these quiet objects are gathered together in order to occupy a space, to organise and modify the room in which they happen to be. These are not sculptures in a gallery to be walked around and looked at; nor are they surfaces and volumes so substantial as to modify the architectural space that can be experienced there. They are instead careful modifications of material, made by hand, slight rearrangements of space made by placing of objects, carried and positioned by a singles person’s body, as that person moves about the space. Gifford’s work is about place and making, about the minimum action nescessary to alter a thing, and then a space, and pradoxically, to transform it in the most complete and maximal way.
Essay by JJ Charlesworth, 2008