BLOG Ellen Bell


Neasa Terry: Litmus Residency

Two viewers’ comments hang on the board outside Oriel Davies’ Litmus space where the Cardiff-based artist Neasa Terry currently has her residency. One reads: sublime neon. The other, written in capitals, reads: IF IT’S VISUAL ART WHY ARE THERE SO MANY WORDS? ARE YOU USING THE CORRECT MEDIUM FOR WHAT YOU WANT SAY? While appreciating the reasons for offering the general public an opportunity to respond by providing visitors’ books or this particular system of postcards hung on dowelling rods, it’s nevertheless a hostage to fortune. Immune to the ubiquitous crayoned-scrawled names of children, the lewd drawings of genitalia and other more prosaic offerings, I’m winded by the harshness of this statement. And failing to smother a knee-jerk assumption that it must’ve been written by a man, I return to the space, determined to defend the artist.

The tiny room, under two metres square, contains three large wall-hung posters and ten A4 sheets. The posters, one a fluorescent pink, one green and one orange, and reminiscent of the Futurists’ posters of the 1920s and 30s, have first been screen-printed with geometric marks and photographic imagery, then written on by hand with a black marker pen. The A4 sheets, comprising quotes and downloaded internet images, have been taped to the walls in groups or are fixed individually to the posters.

Trained as a printmaker and fresh from completing an MA in Communication Design, Terry is clearly a conceptual artist. RoseLee Goldberg, in her excellent book Performance Art, defines conceptual art as ‘an art of ideas over product… that could not be bought or sold’. An art of ideas, shall we start there, Mr Critic? And why can’t ideas be expressed visually through words as well as images? Plenty of artists have done and continue to do so. For Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer and Fiona Banner words are their art.

Two women carrying shopping bags are walking towards the Litmus space. One hovers at the threshold, the other strides in, scans the walls and marches straight out again.

This isn’t going to be easy.

I pick up one of the printed sheets accompanying the show. ‘Neasa is interested in weaving together seemingly unrelated concepts and ideas to understand how they might work in harmony with one another,’ it reads. I re-enter the room.

It’s a bit like cracking a code, I tell myself. You have to look for clues. The first A4 sheet comprises a highlighted quote from a Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh: ‘simulating one kind of a landscape, he broke into another.’ The next sheet, taped to Poster A, is a picture of a bleeding, severed landscape. The words AS ABOVE, SO BELOW have been printed at the base of each poster. The footers of each A4 sheet act as interconnecting lists. One reads: camouflage disguise shroud secret cloak veil landscape dark steel ghillie suit. An image of the ghillie suit – a hairy, Mummers-like costume – referred to in the full Manaugh extract has been attached to Poster C. On another sheet there is a picture of Clara Rockmore, the spit of Bette Davis, playing Saint Saens’ The Swan on a theremin, a musical instrument played without physical contact from the thereminist. ‘Pitting humans against machines’, states Poster C. The final A4 image is of a coffin draped in a shroud.

Everyone human being is an artist, wrote Joseph Beuys. A marvellous egalitarian statement but does it necessarily mean that everything human beings do is art? I don’t know. All I do know is that Terry’s work took me somewhere other. It required persistence but I gained something. It created pictures in my head.

Touché, Mr Critic.

Ellen Bell is an artist and writer living in Aberystwyth.

This exhibition runs at Oriel Davies Gallery, Newtown, until 2 December. Artist Website


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