New Art Gallery Challenges Expectations With Artistic Exchange in “Assemble”

By Sonia Farmer Wednesday, January 9th, 2013 Categories: Exhibitions, Features, Updates

Nassau’s newest art gallery is full of unexpected but pleasant surprises, the first being its location. Tucked away into the heart of Palmdale—far from the cluster of downtown galleries—and nestled in a nook upstairs from the new eye-catching Liquid Courage warehouse on Patton Street, the space offers a refreshing niche in the mist of busy urban sprawl. After climbing the decorative tiled stairs lined with lanterns, viewers find that the Liquid Courage Gallery is a beautiful and professional space ready to push the boundaries of art by inviting international artists to exchange with Bahamian artists.

Heino Schmid- "Landmine". Photograph courtesy of the artist.

“I don’t want this space to be exclusively for Bahamian work. On the contrary, I want it to be as international as possible—not by way of being exclusive, but because that’s how galleries exist in the world today,” says curator of the Liquid Courage Gallery, Tessa Whitehead.

“We have a lot of spaces here exhibiting Bahamian work exclusively already, and a lot of the work is familiar,” she continues. “That’s exciting, but it would be great if the majority of shows in this space would provide something that doesn’t exist here already.”

Whitehead, a Bahamian artist herself, spent years in London earning her MA in Fine Art from the Slade School of Fine Art and then teaching and exploring her artistic practice of painting before moving home last month. Besides developing her aesthetic understanding and appreciation for art beyond the Bahamian sphere, Whitehead also maintained creative exchanges with a tight-knit group of London-based artists—many of whom she invited to participate in the inaugural exhibition of the Liquid Courage Gallery, “Assemble”.

Exhibition shot featuring Charlie Billingham’s “Three Men in a Boat & Seasick” (left), Heino Schmid’s “Symbolic Gestures with Familiar Material III” (center) and Paulina Michnowska’s work in the background. Subsequent photographs courtesy of Liquid Courage Gallery.

“Tropics Hotel” by Robert Phillips

Inspired by her move home, the exhibition started out as a challenge to the group of artists to create a piece that could fit in Whitehead’s hand-luggage, yet excited by the groundbreaking prospect of showing in the new space, the exhibition took on a life of its own.

Still, at its core, “Assemble” is an exhibition about migration, each piece offering wildly different interpretations on or references to the act of travel and relocation.

Some, like Robert Phillips’ lonely photographs “Tropics Hotel” and “604 Continental Oceanfront” and Charlie Billingham’s dizzying painted diptych “Three Men in a Boat & Seasick”—in which the seasick pattern takes over a whole wall of gallery space—presents to its viewers two emotional extremes: the expectation and excitement of adventure and the reality and fear of loneliness in exploration.

"Tacked Up Missoula (2012)" and "Untitled (2012)" by Lisa Smithey (in the background is Charlie Billingham's "Seasick" wall pattern)

Harriet Smith’s “Road Side I”

Tessa Whitehead’s “Shhh”

Others, like Harriet Smith’s “Road Side” pieces, polaroid-sized painted snapshots of a landscape during a road trip; Tessa Whitehead’s large painting of a field, “Shhh”; and Heino Schmid’s digital photographs of clear blue cloudless sky, “Symbolic Gestures with Familiar Material I”; capture the quiet yet fleeting moments that we often overlook in our daily life and everyday surroundings at home, yet hungrily seek out abroad, perhaps only to find—in failing to effectively capture them as a representation of a specific place—that that they are universal.

But the fascinating and refreshing aspects of “Assemble” lay not so much in thematic content as it does in its use of everyday materials which, through sometimes minimalist presentations and juxtapositions, can make grand statements about the way construct and perceive our realities and call them into question.

It is here, perhaps, that the exhibition receives resistance from its Bahamian viewers who are not to used to, for example, Rose Davey’s explorations of light and color that, through their simple breakdowns on bamboo rectangles in “Be Good I-VI”, allow us to think about “place” in terms of light; or the radical idea that the deflated colorful balloons migrating daily between two clear plastic slips to reveal an image obscured by the cluster in Sarah Kate Wilson’s “Time of Death” is a new exploration of painting.

“Be Good I-VI" by Rose Davey

"Time of Death (2011)" by Sarah Kate Wilson

“I think their work is really visually beautiful, but most people are irritated by it, they think that I’m trying to dupe them,” says Whitehead. “You have to really drop your expectations of what art is and then you can just enjoy it for its beauty.”

“I was excited by Sarah Kate Wilson’s piece because it requires a lot of understanding beyond the visual language of it, and I figured it would be different to viewers here,” she adds. “She’s got such a good grasp of painting as a living structure and what painting is becoming and what painting has been.  She’s stretching the boundaries of painting and I think that’s hard to find right now.”

It is in this materials-driven exploration of artwork that Bahamian artist Heino Schmid found a foothold when he was invited to respond to “Assemble” with his own work that is displayed alongside his international contemporaries.

“I wanted to reimagine material and to be playful with the material, and the space called for that kind of work,” he says. “I like process. In the studio, everything is process, there’s no accountability with materials, especially when it’s a lot of juxtaposition which a lot of my stuff is, but a gallery space makes you put something together—not in a pressured way, but in a productive and playful but really still quite authentic way.”

"Gun", "Untitled (2012)" and "Untitled (2012)" by Paulina Michnowska (in the background is Charlie Billingham's "Seasick" wall pattern)

Allowing his work to come together organically as he worked directly in the gallery space co-curating the exhibition with Whitehead, his pieces encompass a perspective of sorts from the other side of migration—the perspective of destination.

The many industrial nails driven into the ubiquitous coconut pod in “Landmine”, references the hidden and deadly sea urchins on ocean floors—yet the use of a tired signifier of the Caribbean implies much more is a stake in this piece than a ruined day at the beach. Meanwhile, there is also more than meets the eye in “Symbolic Gestures with Familiar Material III”, which appears as an unfinished installation of a pink-sands colored canvas—a raw, behind-the-scenes construction of paradise.

For Schmid, the Liquid Courage Gallery is an important space within which to challenge preconceived notions of art through the use of shifting context and juxtaposition between artists based as home and abroad.

“There’s a fine line between not liking and being challenged by artwork,” he says. “You can not like that you were challenged by work, but that being said, I think it’s till a good thing. Art is still supposed to do that, I think the biggest compliment is still to be surprised when you walk into the space.”

“When people think of challenging art, a lot of time it’s always this very obtuse in-you-face work, but the biggest way you can be a rebel is to be authentic,” he adds. “I feel like the whole show is an authentic gesture and people were a little surprised by that, and that’s a good thing.”

Exhibition shot featuring Tessa Whitehead’s “Shhh” (large painting, left) Rose Davey’s work (center) and Heino Schmid’s “Landmines” on the floor, right and Lisa Smithe's work in the background.

Indeed, taking in the very different offering of international work in this large windowless gallery, with the memory of Palmdale and even the specialty liquor warehouse the gallery shares it name with left at the foot of those decorative stairs, the viewer could be anywhere—and perhaps that’s the point. The Liquid Courage Gallery aims higher than pushing boundaries—it’s set to do away with them altogether.

“I hope people think this show is beautiful—but if not beautiful, then fun—and if not fun, then challenging,” says Whitehead. “I hope they just can enjoy it from the colors to the images to how it’s put together.”

“That idea of not having a place or border really exists within art now everywhere, especially in big cities,” she adds. “I think that will happen here very quickly—where it’s not about Bahamian versus international artwork, it’s just about the artwork.”

“Assemble”, including the work of Charlie Billingham, Rose Davey, Claire Dorsett, Robert Phillips, Paulina Michnowska, Donal Moloney, Harriet Smith, Lisa Smithey, Heino Schmid, Sarah Kate Wilson and Tessa Whitehead, can be viewed at the Liquid Courage Gallery at 19 Patton Street in Palmdale, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m.  It closes on January 21 2013. 

Original post courtesy of the Nassau Guardian.

Sonia Farmer
Sonia Farmer

Sonia Farmer is the founder of Poinciana Paper Press, a small fine press that produces hand-bound limited-edition chapbooks of Caribbean writing, based out of The Bahamas. Her poetry has won the 2011 Small Axe Literary Competition in Poetry and has appeared in various publications including Poui, The Caribbean Writer, and The WomanSpeak Journal. Her hand-made books and paper have appeared in several exhibitions in The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. She presently works as an archivist and communications coordinator with The Current art team at Baha Mar. She holds a BFA in Writing from Pratt institute.