BLOG Stanzi Collier-Qureshy

NWR Issue 110

AJ Stockwell’s The Place That Knew Them Knows Them No More Forever

Image by AJ Stockwell

When I visited Elysium Gallery on Sunday 27 March, I entered a sort of nowhere space. To say the least, it was not what I was expecting. The two conjoined rooms were completely white, empty but for a puzzling display, a video screen and some questions taped to the wall. From the room on the left, a soft voice with a dreamy quality to it echoed, as if searching, lost to the gallery space. Though at first glance incredibly bare, the rooms have a deep message to them, one of transience and a grieved-for past.

The exhibition is an odd mixture of history and poetry, the artist using the existence of an unknown object to probe her own existence, the fragility of it, as well as mankind’s connection to lost artefacts, to our historic past. Though the message, the exploration, is powerful, the exhibition, however, felt over-simplified, the core artefact dissected into oblivion, a state which is barely art. It leaves you feeling confused, displaced and left asking what exactly this exhibition is about. My first impression was that the display was only half-completed, was still in the middle of being set up.

As far as I can see, the object itself remains a mystery. In an interesting use of video and projection, her words their own form of art, Stockwell details where she found the object, what it was connected to – the factory history of south Wales – and how she was tasked with putting the mysterious object back together. One is told of her attempts to reconstruct something lost, her probing wonder at how these few fragments survived. Why them? Why not another artefact, another series of pottery shards? These questions are reiterated in the main room, attached to the walls.

Perhaps the artist’s preoccupation with the object’s functionality, with the functionality of all artefacts found and their place in the daily lives of those who came before, is where the traditional idea of art got lost. The gallery itself is kept rather vacant and clinical. Yet, maybe Stockwell is daring to suggest something more, something about our own traces left behind in the dirt, that what remains is a blank canvas and we must construct the history – the art – ourselves. The plainness of the rooms leaves them to be filled with thoughts instead. The images projected in the video almost seem to hypnotise, zooming in until the screen is just a blurred white circle. I was stood there for a while, just waiting, watching the slow, strange progression, watching the fragments appear.

Less of an art exhibition, this gallery is ideal for those who want to explore our connection to Wales’ past, and to our disparate selves. The exhibition is free to enter. It can be seen at Elysium Gallery, running until 2 April. There is an artist talk on Saturday 2 April at 2pm. More information

Stanzi Collier-Qureshy is a blogger-in-residence at New Welsh Review and on placement via Cardiff University.


previous blog: Rose Wylie’s Tilt the Horizontal into a Slant
next blog: Jenny Hall’s Hollow at Aberystwyth Arts Centre


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