Spaces in Transition at Hanmi Gallery


I didn’t take Hanmi Gallery’s claims about ‘Spaces in Transition’ seriously enough. I read the disclaimer they attached to the exhibition literature lightly – the forewarning that this exhibition was being held in the midst of the gallery’s major renovation project. I took it as a side note – a self-deprecating remark on the gallery’s part to excuse itself from harsh criticism from guests who would find the crumbling walls and creaking floors unprofessional.


But, since when has shabby-chic not been accepted in the contemporary art world? Hirst and pal’s start-up exhibition Freeze, was held in a disused London Port Authority buildings in the docklands, and the talk of last summer – The Tanks at Tate – were a series of pieces performed in a cave-like structures that had been dug into the side of the Turbine Hall (hardly a glamorous building itself). That was the art-world being edgy (and all its try-hard connotations). This isn’t.


It’s such a neat collection of high definition, sharply-focused photographs of desolate stretches, derelict power plants and deserted dwellings. So while the setting – the gallery – comes as an extension of the works, there remains a pleasing contrast established between the neglected scenes (inside and outside of photo’s edge) and the photographer’s eye which attends to it in an adoring manner. It’s just the fortuitous circumstances (so I believe) of the gallery’s very own space in transition.


One of the photographers, Fernando Perez Fraile, spoke to me of this desire specifically – to look for beauty in the details – but all four of the photographs identify scenes of considerable natural beauty (a term that takes on new meaning in this exhibition). The gallery itself provides concrete evidence that in any environment there are snapshots of beauty. Once we are able to appreciate the subtly of natural beauty in the photographs, the gallery no longer appears a space which is simply apt, but is charming, characterful and no longer obtrusive on the eye.


The dialogue between the setting and works is one that sustains – the photographs responding to the space immediate to it. As an architect as well as photographer, Fernardo Perez Fraile fostered this conversation between canvas and context with a great degree of intention, and the results are delightful. ‘Cry’ pictures lava-like ash, drip as though tears down a rubble wall. The artist then aligned the cascades with a considerable crack that divided the concrete wall behind. The photograph hung to its right, ‘68’ has the light within it enhanced by the natural light of the room, which also streams in from the right.


Like the gallery, currently being transformed – its walls bare, wood un-sanded and brickwork exposed – the works are intensely tactile. A visitor who was partially sighted, described the rare sense of depth he felt looking at ‘Collisions 2’; and the shredded turquoise wallpaper of Fernando’s ‘Greenish’ and Paul Tucker’s ‘Under the Surface 9’ extends to the viewer.


Underpinning this textural overcoat, all the photographs have a satisfying sense of structure, whether whole rooms or a series of slacks on a door. A reminder that the core of any structure remains even while the superficial qualities of a space shift. Looking into people-less place, one realises that an inhabitant’s residue rests in a space sometime after they are gone. The residue may be literally  – scribbles on a wall – or found in a more abstract sense. A place, in the eyes of a beholder, is never really empty. We look for life within, either by searching for human features amongst barren places as Fernando identifies – there are tears on walls (‘Cry’) and mouths for ladders (‘Ugly Face’), or we look inside of ourselves to find social significance to what would otherwise appear as silent.


The success of this exhibition certainly comes in the interplay of art and its context, which strengthens the conceptual impact of the works, which are independently striking images. The cohesion of the exhibition in this clumsy shabby-chic setting is pleasing, and it is only Chris King’s work on the ground floor that, although aligns well with the theme of ‘Spaces in Transitions,’ speaks of spaces (mostly roadside shots from the USA) and transition (mostly that induced by travel rather than time) in terms which appear lost amongst the rest. Alfonso Batalla, Fernando Perez Fraile and Paul Tucker work is striking collectively because of the cohesion of their concepts. I could give a lengthy spiel of the beauty of these images individually, but that I think you should see.


For me, the adventure of discovering these works in a context you constantly feel you have intruded upon, is a picture both of the photographers who approached their subjects with intrepidation and investigative eyes, and of the viewer who has that exhilarating feeling coming to an exhibition, that they’ve made a discovery they won’t wish to forget. This is how we ought to experience art.


Installation shot of ‘Collisions 2’, by Fernando Perez Fraile, and taken by Fernando Perez Fraile.

Cover image: ‘Greenish’ by Fernando Perez Fraile



‘Spaces in Transition’ is at Hanmi Gallery, Maple Street, London until 23rd February:

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  1. […] arty endeavour has been Spaces in Transition, a photography exhibition at Hanmi Gallery – click here to read a review of this fab […]

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