Adam Reynolds Memorial Exhibition 2019 at Baltic 39

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The Adam Reynolds Memorial Bursary (ARMB) is Shape Arts’ flagship art award, set up by Shape in memory of the life and work of sculptor Adam Reynolds. It offers substantial funds and an accompanying three-month residency at a high-profile arts venue. An exhibition of this year’s shortlisted artists takes place at Baltic 39, Newcastle upon Tyne 19 July – 17 November. Review by Aidan Moesby.

Scaffolding with screens attached

Gallery 1 Installation view: Sophie Hoyle’s work in the foreground

This year’s ARMB award winner Sophie Hoyle undertook a 3-month residency at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. The Shortlist Exhibition takes place at Baltic 39 and features new work by Hoyle alongside works by Leah Clements, Laura Lulika, Amy Rosa and Romily Alice Walden.

Within the work there are several shared themes such as autobiography, living with chronic fatigue, trauma, ritualistic behaviours and acts of everyday resistance. Manifestations of illness and sickness are present as are impact and absence due to these. Curiously however, whilst ‘cripness’, the ‘radical crip aesthetic’ and even ‘disability’ are all alluded to or referenced directly, I was left wondering about the relationship this generation of disabled artists has to/with disability.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is Hoyle’s Excoriate, 2019 a multi-channel video installation mounted on a scaffolding structure. Footage of scientific processes in labs, biohacking and footage from a local community garden project working with refugees and asylum seekers are interspersed with stills and ink drawings in lightboxes.

Excoriate considers trauma within a personal and cultural context of ‘otherness’, chronic illness and bodily agency. It is well-executed but requires more space to breathe. I would also like to see the work unpacked a little more – to go deeper rather than broader.

Art installation featuring a tent

Laura Lulika moon babies squidding in the Land of Nod, 2019.

In previous years the shortlisted artists have exhibited separately from the bursary recipient. In this iteration, each work is given equal prominence. The opportunity for Hoyle to take centre stage and have the space to expand her work and profile in a solo show is much diminished.

Lulika’s audio-visual sculptural installation moon babies squidding in the Land of Nod, 2019 was made in collaboration with her partner and carer Hang Linton. With its projected footage of personal medical procedures, ritual and performance a melange of ‘trash, found objects and medical equipment’ spills into the space to an overloud soundscape. A circle of cardboard bedpans, a series of ‘shrines’ and ‘totems’, a tent of plastic bags offering sanctuary are perhaps an attempt to add ‘gravitas’ or emotional weight to the objects. But for me it has a lack of intended contrivance, attempting more style than substance.

Walden’s video -o-:06:19 is a quieter and more thoughtful piece consisting of time-lapsed views of the artist’s bedroom ceiling over 4 screens. It’s a poignant meditation on the reality of bed-bound disability. Her accompanying work Notes from the Underlands, 2019 – A manifesto for a Queer Future – exists as a large wall-mounted vinyl iteration and also as performative work on a screen with headphones.

The collective experience of Hoyle’s work juxtaposed with Walden’s and Lulika’s was disorientating and somewhat overwhelming. The sound from ‘moon babies..’ bled through into the headphones of both Walden’s and Hoyle’s works and the visual stimulation of varying screens and projections made me think about access.

Yes, there are signs of thought around access: the fact that the gallery is fully wheelchair accessible, a guide is available in large print and there are seats dotted around the gallery. All this is good, but all this is around physical access. Once again psychological access is less considered.

Bedroom scene

Amy Rosa Somnium (detail).

At one end of Gallery 2 is Leah Clements new film work Collapse, 2019, at the other end is Amy Rosa’s Somnium, 2019 alongside a triptych of images on canvas there is a silence – a year and a day, 2018. Rosa meditated daily on water and then froze it in cylinders. These images of ice crystals were part of her work on quantum theory and health.

Somnium consists of a box bed decorated with personally significant objects together with a chair where you are invited to sit, look into the box and listen to an audio work. Rosa is a talented writer and at her best when she conjures imagery with her evocative lyricism.

Collapse explores the phenomena of spontaneously falling asleep as a coping mechanism when faced with dis/stress. Shot partially in a sleep clinic and using a thermal camera this is part autobiography part recounted experience through interviews. The film interestingly poses the question of sleep as a political act and a form of resistance within a much wider discourse.

Somium and Collapse are literally good bedfellows which makes me wonder if the temptation, and opportunity, to show there is a silence… was just too much to resist for Rosa.

This show works as a snapshot of the practice of each of the artists. There is no escaping that it is a group show and there are five discrete artists here. I say this because it is an entirely different proposition to curate an exhibition like this, with the connection being the artists applied for the Adam Reynolds Bursary, as opposed to a curatorially driven, cohesively contextualised exhibition.