Boutwell Draper, Boutwell Draper…

Art Life , Reviews May 27, 2004 No Comments

We hadn’t been over to Boutwell Draper in ages. There are two shows on there at the moment, one is by Paula Dawson and the other is by Geoffrey Bartlett, and let’s be honest from the start – they are terrible, but terrible in interesting and different ways.

We once attended a lecture by Paula Dawson and she was a very funny and interesting person to listen to. She’s become famous for making huge holograms. Her work includes some of the biggest holograms anyone has ever made and she has to use all sorts of incredibly sophisticated and expensive equipment to make them. Interestingly, she started her career doing explosions – that is, she got a license to handle explosives and blew up water and made photographs of the shock waves in damns and reservoirs. The step from blowing things up into holograms is quite explicable, as light and compression in air moves in waves. But the similarity ends there. The other thing worth noting about making holograms is that the artists who work in the field (and yes, there is a field of this kind of thing) are tied to the studio or lab where all the equipment is – we guess the extension cords aren’t long enough to drag all the gear outside.

Anyway, according to BW’s website, Dr Paula Dawson’s major art works are:

“…life size holographic images of interiors and people. Her largest installation, To Absent Friends, comprises a bar-room in which all the mirrors and reflective surfaces have been replaced by holograms which reflect the room depth of up to ten meters. Apart from making the world’s largest hologram images from real subjects Dawson has also made synthetic holograms Shadowy Figuresin full colour of scenes which change both in lighting and spatial sense as the viewer moves.”

In this exhibition she’s exhibiting a huge hologram that looks like a bad souvenir from Vatican City. Along with those are bibs and bobs that went into making the pieces and some works made from gold leaf on artist board and are stuck on the wall. What’s extraordinary about Dawson’s work is how interesting the ideas are and how awful the results are. It’s an experiment gone terribly, terribly wrong. The holograms have an ooh-wow factor that’s hard to beat but have very little to sustain them as works of art. The gold leaf works are little more than a mistake. If you’re going to gild the lily, gild the lily, not the wall!

Then there’s a piece she’s done using the dancer Graeme Murphy as a subject. We hear that Murphy is a lovely bloke but using him for an artwork is the easy option that gets you on TV or on the cover of a magazine but come on, it’s the soft cock option of the Archibald comp artists. We feel foolish saying holograms are crap, thinking that in the future someone will come along and show how it was Dr.Dawson who was the Thomas Alva Edison of the new communications web of the 23rd Century, but honestly, from the vantage point of the 21st Century, working in holograms looks about as relevant as working in Morse Code.

We said that these two shows were awful but interesting in different ways. Well, we have to admit that we lied about that – it was a cheap trick to keep you reading. There’s nothing interesting in the work of Geoffrey Bartlett, except if trying to figure out how someone could make such monumentally ugly sculptures counts.

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Andrew Frost

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