Sometimes it feels like artists are doing everything in their power to stop you seeing their art. We went to First Draft Gallery expecting to get in since it was already 1.20pm (gallery hours being 1pm-6pm) and guess what? The gallery was closed up, the lights were off and we couldn’t see anything inside except for an inky blackness that seemed to go on forever. We went away, had a schnitzel at the Shakespeare (hoping to see our good friend Ray Hughes but no luck there either) and thought, we will not be denied! so went back down the hill an hour later.
The doors were open at First Draft and we went in but we still couldn’t see any art – everything inside was draped in black velvet curtains and there were no signs, no room sheets and the guy behind the counter was talking loudly on the phone going “YEAH!… NAH!… YEAH!”. We know First Draft fairly well and walked into one of the galleries. We should have listened to our parents and eaten lots of carrots because we are night blind as adults – we stumbled forward and found a sheet of black plastic hanging about 2cms from our faces. The guy at the counter could see we were in trouble and yelled from the desk “GO LEFT! See if you can find the wall!” and then went back to talking on the phone, “YEAH!… NAH!”
Inside was a sculpture by Thomas Stephen and the exhibition – we later found out – was called Damage Joy. The sculpture was some sort of fibre optic thing with elongated tendrils that pulsed slowly at a very low wattage. Our eyes took ages to adjust to the low light and as we stood there trying to work out what were looking at, there was a low frequency WOOOMPF WOOOMPF rumbling through the gallery. We eventually twigged that the sculpture was a model of synapses or brain function and the room we were standing in was like a brain.
In the next room was a sculpture with a polished surface like a table set very low to the floor. Placed on top of it were rectangular blocks of acrylic with lights pulsing red from underneath. It looked like a model of a city a la Logan’s Run and other cheesy SF films from the 1970s. Then we recognised that the blocks were actually laid out in the shape of a Running Man – a cheesy SF films from the 1980s – and the lights were being fed through from underneath. In the last room were more sculptures – rectangular lengths of acrylic cut very thinly and sandwiched together. Stephen had used a computer to plan out a series of etchings into the surfaces of the sandwiched acrylic and then used controlled lights to illuminate each layer in a random sequence. Looking straight on into the sheets you could make out fragmented images – a body, a car – that would coalesce and then fade away. Looking edge on to the sculptures you could see the light sources shining through in a rainbow of colours. There were a couple of smaller wall mounted works that were similar and a big piece in the middle of the gallery. Meanwhile, the WOOOMPF WOOOMPF continued…
This was easily one of the best shows we have seen in ages. Stephen’s work was a brilliant conception – the works reflected the process of seeing, cognition and perception – while playing a game with those processes. The colours, the pulsating layers of colour and the fragmentary images all worked seamlessly together and, although the works had their cheesy side (who in their right mind works with acrylics these days?!!), were consistently well thought out and executed. We especially loved the suggestion of a narrative in the sculptures – was the car sinking in water – was their a body in a lake – or had we imagined the whole thing?
We left the gallery and told the guy behind the counter how much we liked it and asked, are you the artist?
“Yes, he said.”
“Maybe you should put something up to tell people who you are,” we suggested.
“Yes, said Stephen, “There are these invitations with my name and the title on, maybe I could put one of those up?”
“Yes,” we agreed.