Thursday, 1 March 2012

Antonia Low: White Cube Longing, Chapel Street & Hope United Reformed Church

Berlin-based artist Antonia Low's work exposes what she sees as the 'impossibility of the white cube', a supposedly neutral place in which the visitor forgets their surroundings to concentrate on what is in the space, rather than the context in which it is displayed. In the past, she has used white cubes as starting points for installations that show up inevitable imperfections, exposing the infrastructure – a lift mechanism or wiring – hidden behind surfaces that are seemingly free of detail.

For White Cube Longing, Low has created a single focal point in a room where once there was none. The basement space in which White Cube Longing is displayed in Salford's Chapel Street and Hope United Reformed Church has numerous distractions relating to its multiple uses, from a netball basket to balloons hanging from the ceiling to a girls' brigade logo. White Cube Longing is a pristine white room, viewed from a serving hatch, that is cut off from the rest of the space (and now, due to the false walls and floor of the installation, only accessible via the serving hatch). Illuminated in neon, the room looks almost surgically clean and new, appearing to stand independently of time and space, yet the installation was only made possible because of the space's obsolescence as a kitchen for preparing and serving food. The kitchen did not meet hygiene standards because the lack of a dishwasher meant cups could not be washed at the required temperature for public use. Eventually the kitchen will be refurbished, but until then the church's minister is content to let the installation remain as a 'step in the middle, a quiet space'.

Low's installation draws you in, a glowing light among the basement's gloom. It also draws you into an institution which is in need of an attraction and a new purpose to get people through its doors. Once, churches were focal points for the community – places for routine and regularity, physical reminders among the rooftops of a common, unifying belief. Because of their scale, it's hard not to feel a sense of awed reverence and smallness in a church. As congregations dwindle, and ageing churchgoers are not replaced by younger generations, churches are shutting down and the buildings are left to face dereliction. Many are magnificent, but it's hard to find a new use for buildings so crafted and specific in their original intent and expensive to maintain.

White cube galleries have been accused of imbuing artworks with an air of sacredness, or imposing a formal distance between the exhibition and the viewer. The one object on display in White Cube Longing is a cupboard, the oldest of several which had been added to the kitchen over the years as the building's use evolved. The lack of activity in White Cube Longing makes you notice the varied life of the rest of the building, a place associated not just with worship but the diverse people who use it for non-religious purposes. The basement of the United Reformed Church is usually accessed through a separate, back entrance, but the curators and artist made the decision to bring visitors to White Cube Longing in through the main church itself, and past a new cafe area which has replaced the one in the basement. Low's installation makes you ponder the building's adaptability and wonder what these places are for now, which have been around for so long, and what is lost if they disappear.

White Cube Longing is the sixth in a series of performances, installations and interventions into the everyday around Manchester and Salford that comprise the Seven Sites project.

Visit White Cube Longing at Chapel Street & Hope United Reformed Church, Lamb Court, Chapel Street, Salford, M3 7AA daily from 11am-4pm until March 30.

1 comment:

LAUrence oerokings said...