Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Walls are talking: wallpaper, art and culture

This exhibition at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester uses wallpaper as a medium through which to criticise and subvert domestic culture. A byword for the neutral and overlooked, wallpaper in this exhibition gets the chance to redress the balance and show that it can shock, subvert and cause unease.

Much of the exhibition deals with historic wallpapers and how taste has changed, but I was more interested in the conceptual designs. It was interesting to see Robert Gober’s work, which previously I had only seen in books. His Male and female genital wallpaper and Hanging man/sleeping man were both shown but perhaps because I had seen images of them before they seemed familiar rather than shocking.

I found Abigail Lane’s Bloody wallpaper copied from images taken at a crime scene shocking because they were based in reality. At first glance you do not realise the images are copies of real blood stains but once you do they engender a feeling of unease.

Catherine Bertola’s Beyond the looking glass was very effective. The wallpaper seemed to be peeling from the walls and into the room and seen through an opening in the gallery wall made it appear even more three dimensional and life like.

I thought Conception by Francesca Granato in collaboration with Helen Knowles was a clever piece of patterning using stylised outline drawings of the male and female genitalia. It was more subtle and clever than Robert Gober’s more obvious drawings.

Erwan Venn’s animation entitled Destroy wallpaper shown in the image above was very entertaining. It started with an image of a wallpaper pattern made up of several components, which then seemed to slip down the wall and crash to the skirting board. The process was accompanied by the tinkling sound of crashing glass.

The exhibition showed that wallpaper can be more than a simple background wall covering. As it says in the catalogue ‘wallpaper obliterates the past. It covers up the cracks, the dirt, the evidence. It wipes the slate clean and enables new beginnings.’

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