REVIEW: Luminary by Ron Haselden - Part 1.

by Christopher Spring

NOTE FROM AIB: This is a bit of an unusual review for an exhibition as Luminary has two parts to the installation, one within the Fabrica space and the second a series of LED drawings placed around the city. So consider this blog post a “part 1”.

After Fabrica’s tremendous programme of exhibitions from last year, including Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva’s haunting church made of pig intestine and Marcus Coates’ chorus of birdsong created by humans, I had high hopes for the opening of the 2016 calendar.

The first exhibition of 2016 is a series of LED sculptures created by Ron Haselden, co-commissioned by Fabrica and Brighton Festival. Each drawing is created from drawings drawn by “untutored hands” (his words, not mine) including the very old and the very young in the past. The series of pieces inside Fabrica are based on drawings by the very old and there is a certain attraction behind illuminating the most overlooked in our society by creating huge LED structures formed of their transposed drawings. These drawings are held in place by a metal frame (which I loved) through which youcan walk and interact with, changing the nature of his more traditional outdoor pieces which are usually in places you walk by, as opposed to into.

Damningly, for me the exhibition was interesting to look at for all of about 10 seconds, after which I would have quite happily moved on.

The most obviously flawed angle, especially in its first incarnation as an exhibition without the sculptural pieces around town, is taking a piece of public art inside of a huge space. Unfortunately due to the nature of the piece and the size of the room vs the size of the piece, it only takes up a tiny portion of the space. This means that where his pieces usually creates a lot of impact redefining public spaces, the piece instead has to create its own context, or rather fight against or work with the context of the space itself - something that it struggles to do at all.

In the immortal words of my partner however: size isn’t everything. The more concerning deficiency about the artwork for me is its lack of conceptual depth and the slightly perplexing choice of material. Down the side of the exhibition there is an insight into his working method, with original drawings, scaled drawings and sculpture plans with some books and a video interview with the artist. The drawings were fascinating to me, and actually the insight into his process was a welcome addition to the exhibition. The video interview was an opportunity to hear more about the artist’s thinking though and felt slightly disappointed by the result.

Haselden described these classes from which he got the source drawings from and spoke excitedly about the stack of drawings which he received at the end, but nothing about the people drawing them. Surely, if you are going to illuminate these drawings as huge sculptures, you want to celebrate the personality behind them? Tell their stories? Encourage a semblance of ownership, especially when creating work from it that is in your name, not theirs?

When we did get an anecdote, it was of a lady (name not given) who had never drawn before and then after a conversation with Haselden created the tree drawing in the Fabrica exhibition. It’s great that someone who had never drawn before drew, but it didn’t exactly fill me with the cathartic vision of a person who sounded fulfilled or excited – more, someone who wanted this pesky artist to go away. Which, actually in hindsight, I kind of like more.

I think as the pieces are rolled out around town, we will gain more artistically from the exhibition as a whole. It will place his sculptures into the context of where they are “meant” to be seen – in public – rather than in a space that dominates the sculpture in its current form.