Niall Robb & Bryden Williams
Entering (semi)permeable in the white-walled gallery of Newtown’s ARCHIVE__, many points of interest are concurrently revealed- spotlit and gleaming, but motionless. The largest piece, dominating the centre of the room and heavily bathed in golden light, is an installation featuring sculptural, mechanised and new media components. ‘Fence #2’, created by Bryden Williams, sees a metal fence rolled into an upstanding barrel-shape sitting atop a rotatable platform. Once circled, it is revealed that this neatly coiled mess of metal and organic matter is accompanied by a video work, positioned on the ground, showing the process by which the fence was wound. The slow rhythm and nocturnal setting of the film enables this video to reflect a sense of the past- a memory from the entwined fence’s former life; the one that lead it to its current situation as an art object. Behind this installation is a photographic print that pictures the fence just after it was rolled, with the same heavy golden spotlights, but in its “natural habitat” of a field.
On the other side of the room, three works by Niall Robb have been thoughtfully attached or placed within the space. The first work encountered is a branch-like protuberance, covered in copper, extending from a bronze dot adhered to the wall. On the same wall, ‘Surface #2’ has “copper” simply listed as the materials used, as Robb has seamlessly encased an existing pipe in copper, drawing attention to a fixture that would most often be camouflaged. Robb’s two-dimensional work on the adjoining wall sees a fragment of copper wedged between acrylic sheets. Housed on a backdrop of fading purple and blue hues, the copper will slowly oxidize throughout the duration of the exhibition, transforming the alluring metallic metal into a smoky black remembrance.
Acknowledging academic inspiration from Barbara Bolt’s discussions regarding endless surfaces and exhibiting reactions to a Greenbergian “truth to materials”, Robb and Williams claim to separately question “the integrity of constructed barriers”, asking what happens when said barriers are decayed and the zones they once kept, demarcated. (semi)permeable clearly addresses these ideas, but does not answer them. It instead proposes an afterlife, a prior incarnation, or both simultaneously.
Chicken wire, knotted red rope, rusted barbed wire, clumps of earth, severed and gnarled roots, dried organic matter and sprouting blades of grass, cylindrically wound by recorded and revealed processes, encompasses the exterior of ‘Fence 1’. However, once peered into, a sense of life after the retirement of this object’s intended function (as a fence) is encountered. Burgeoning from its coiled heart is a seemingly endless mass of clovers, transforming this perished fence into a terrarium. This bundle, which formerly created boundaries that divided natural space for humans, has become a new type of enclosure, as it now houses the fine root systems of plants.
In conversation with ‘Fence 1’, Robb’s wall-mounted sculptural work causes a questioning of what lies beneath. As it is wondered how far into the coiled fence life exists and for how long it can be nourished, it is also visually unclear in Robb’s work as to what this branch-like object is constructed of beneath its copper exterior. What cannot be seen with the naked eye, but is assumed or apparent, becomes the focus. This idea is continued through to ‘Surface #2’, as the copper encased pipe is made salient via this covering, but the form that is highlighted is the usually-ignored object beyond the surface; the pipe. Contrastingly, Robb’s hanging work does not focus on presenting hidden forms, but asks what happens once an object of coruscating delight decays into blackness. Tying in with the life-after-death themes found in Williams’s installation, Robb’s work speaks of a transition from lustre to trace.
(semi)permeable accentuates the history and future of objects. It asks what purpose or importance they held before their surfaces were tampered with or their form was reshaped. It proposes the penetrable nature of these surfaces, yet also signals to the unknown consideration of what lies beneath. Simultaneously, Williams questions the meaning of an object once its utilitarian use and structure is destroyed, whilst Robb looks at the how a veneer or an exterior can bring an object to attention.
-by Olivia Welch