Saturday, 25 June 2011

Gareth Jones, MK Gallery, Milton Keynes, Bucks (15 April-26 June 2011)

Less, much less, always appears to be more with the curatorial team at MK Gallery with the sparse display of works on display in most of its exhibitions being dwarfed by the enormous hard edged modernist architecture of the gallery itself and the under utilisation of the rooms inside.

Sometimes this works fantastically well (Cathy Wilkes in 2008 springs to mind) and at others it challenges the audience far more that it would anticipate during a visit (or possibly welcome) .  This exhibition falls between the two extremes.

Eight small, quiet and discreet pieces are displayed throughout the gallery.  They seem almost apologetic in their placement throughout the building and as this is the first major solo exhibition by Gareth Jones in a public gallery, is at first puzzling.  In fact they represent as MK Gallery describes “Jones’ exploration of the social and cultural landscape of Milton Keynes in the 1970s, approached through memory and seen against the backdrop of political change”.  This information enables the audience to connect more with Jones’ work and see the relation between his practice of making structures and installations, often using low-fi or found materials with his experience of growing up in Milton Keynes at the same time as the city’s development.

I am quite a fan of Milton Keynes myself.  Having moved there two years ago, I am growing very fond of its grids, roundabouts and mad architecture (my own little house is testament to some interesting architectural decisions).  Surprisingly, it is also actually a very green town with vast expanses of parks and lake land.  Its buildings amaze me, so I can only begin to imagine the impact the emerging metropolis had on the inhabitants of the villages it engulfed during its development as well as those people who where brave enough (or desperate enough for decent housing) who moved here over 40 years ago.

As a new citizen myself, Jones’ exhibition presented the opportunity of seeing for the first time archive material of how the city evolved from the North Buckinghamshire farmland.  Today those engulfed villages are now little green enclaves within the infamous grid road system and give unexpected charm to Milton Keynes.  At first you do not even realise they are there unless you happen to take a wrong turn and discover sheep grazing in fields next to Anglo Saxon churches, all within 10 minutes drive of the city centre.  

 New City” 2011, is a digital projection showing publicity photographs commissioned by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation to sell the city to its future citizens, alongside photographs which Jones has found in archive research of some of those citizens in their new homes, a plethora of mismatching colours and patterns in home decoration and fashion.  My personal favourite is of a young family sitting on the floor in their new lounge, the view from the window to the outside reveals just a building site, no fencing, no landscaping, just bulldozers working away.  A brave new world indeed for them.

“Harlequin Box”, “Mirror Box” and “Sliced Cube No 2” all draw on Jones’ memories of public sculpture in Milton Keynes and also seem to reflect again, the grid system of its road networks.  “Harlequin Box” contains the surplus materials from the construction of “Slice Cube No 2” and is as eloquent a statement as the original piece itself is.

Except for the curiosity value of discovering how camp 1970s cigarette adverts of very hairy male models all sporting a gypsy earring in their right ear, the impact of the 12 newspaper cut outs of “Twelve Men” were lost on me.  The exhibition handout explained that “Jones views the Long Gallery as a kind of modern ballroom, in which the scaled down display creates a theatrical and powerfully charged atmosphere, inviting the view to occupy the space and prescribe meaning to the work”.  Unfortunately, this did not translate to me and I feel that by only showing these cut outs in strange blue painted frames and nothing else of Jones’ work, an opportunity was missed to include more of his work, perhaps even some larger pieces by way of contrast.

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