Pump House and After Image are two solo shows presented simultaneously at Nottingham Contemporary, by Artists Michael Beutler and Yelena Popova respectively. The two distinct shows instigate a discourse gravitating around the relation between the built environment, new technologies and human interactions with Contemporary Art.
German Artist Michael Beutler was invited to realise the second part of his solo show Pump House in Nottingham Contemporary. Following the completion of stage 1 at the Spike Island Gallery in Bristol, Beutler resumed his plans of transforming the gallery space in Nottingham Contemporary.
Enlisting local collaborators, Beutler has transformed galleries 3 and 4 into an imaginative realm bursting with vibrant colours and luscious textures, with the use of repurposed materials - ranging from corrugated cardboard and paper, to plywood along with accessible industrial materials. The resulting structures manifest into Architectural and Sculptural forms which alter the gallery space into a Fine-Art-grown-up equivalent of children’s playground - where the audience is submerged in Beutler’s a visually stimulating maze.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Beutler’s manipulation of the gallery space is its resemblance with Allan Kaprow’s Happenings in the 1950’s and 60’s New York. In a way similar to Beutler, Kaprow would occupy gallery spaces with maze-like large scale installations constructed with found objects. Kaprow would subsequently encourage his audience to interact with the built structures in such ways that resulted into spontaneous performative acts that became known as Happenings. The common thread between Kaprow and Beutler is the inclusion of the human factor in the manipulation of the built environment - which illuminates a communal aspect of artistic creation. This component contributes to the immersive experience of the audience, which is constantly reminded that the final structure of Pump House is the result of the group’s collective manual labour - through the broadcast of the video documentation of the assemblage of the structure from various televisions stationed in the space.
Most importantly I realised that Beutler’s Pump House presents the way in which we consume the built environment: Admiring the overwhelming material presence and size of the built structure itself, we occasionally become oblivious to the amount of manual labour that was poured into the completion of the project. Acquiring a socialist point of view, Beutler reintroduces the human labour factor within the construction process of Pump House. Apart from the video documentation being broadcast in the space, Beutler also reminds his audience that the hand builds the brain’s design based on the heart’s desire - by incorporating the architectural plans as part of the installation and the distribution of hand-drawn ephemera.
Russian born Yelena Popova’s first institutional solo show After Image, accompanies Beutler’s Pump House. After Image examines the way in which we consume images living in an oversaturated world where we are bombarded with imagery from every direction. The show comprises of a selection from Popova’s ongoing series of Evaporating paintings - which manifest on unusual circular and oval canvases along with the more traditional square canvases. The paintings depict abstract scenes painted using subtle pastel and beige tones in a manner where the images are barely there, requiring the audience’s undivided attention in order to reveal their pictorial secrets. Yelena’s work is reminiscent of Wassily Kadinsky’s use of rhythm and musicality observed through his lively arrangements of organic shapes. Popova’s natural flowing abstract shapes evoke Kadinsky’s musicality and so does the rhythmical arrangement of the Evaporating paintings throughout the gallery space.
And it does not end there; Popova expands her use of fluidity through her 2016 animation titled This Certifies That which is also exhibited as part of After Image. This code generated video animates european-currency-inspired imagery in a flamboyant manner, choreographing the smooth flow of stars as the backdrop alters revealing an ever-changing classical-sculpture-reminiscent figure. The use of a sequence of numbers dependant on the time and date, ensures that each dance remains unique offering the audience a literal once in a lifetime show. The majestic moving image is accompanied by loud soothing synthesised music and sirene like vocals, which establish a transient and meditative environment that engulfs the audience. Surrounded by this ocean of serenity, the audience witnesses Popova’s spectacle which initiates a discussion revolving around thematics of the European Union and its relation with life, capital and politics.
Having seen Beutler’s and Popova’s shows, it becomes apparent why the two were paired together by Nottingham Contemporary. Beutler’s material entropy creates a dialogue with Popova’s work which distills and reimagines entropy with an eclectic taste. The two shows share a finely balanced dynamic which allows the audience to appreciate the differences between Beutler’s and Popova’s work, painting a picture which is indicative of the diversity which exists within the Contemporary Art world.