Andy Wicks: The Doldrums at Occupy My Time Gallery

Forged Histories (2)

Andy Wicks’ two-month residency at Occupy My Time Gallery, SE8 has culminated in three distinct outcomes dedicated to Deptford, which together he’s entitled ‘The Doldrums’. Each one of these outcomes claims one of the three concrete gallery walls, and each one – entitled Forged Histories, Re-rooted and Jetty – take a different physical dimension, which seems to have been a deliberate decision made by the artist, who has said he wanted to abandon his prime medium of paint for this residency and consequential exhibition. While distinctive as a set, two of the works, sit in the space somewhat discreetly. These two are Jetty and Re-rooted.

It’s a strange suggestion [that Jetty could be discrete] once you size it up. At 7 metres long, and the width of the rivers Quaggy and Ravensbourne at Lewisham (something I’ll come back to), it’s the most sizable structure in the gallery, and the length of the gallery space. However the structure is so befitting, it doesn’t strike you as intentionally placed. Made of stainless pale wood, and built like a piece of fabricated furniture, this pier-like gallery prop, (which is designed to be used as a viewing point), is every bit functional and contemporary looking: unweathered and purpose built. What it lacks is the telling wrinkles of Forged Histories, which appears at first a shame, but the structure doesn’t dissatisfy for long.

What one begins to realise is that each work exhibited in the show (treating the Forged Histories as a pair), should be treated as a separate investigation. Jetty’s slant on Deptford is perhaps the most-broad sweeping of the three. It considers Deptford now and then, from when Henry VIII established trade at Deptford Dock, to post industrialisation 2013. The work references its long-standing status as a shipbuilding town hugging the Thames in both its name and basic form. Its structure echoes the piers that reached out from the shore to the docked boats, but its purpose refers to one of the new lifelines of Deptford, creativity. As Owen Hatherley highlights so well in his catalogue text it’s “a raffish, self-consciously Dickensian part of London, a place where meat packing and interpretive dancing…co-exist.” As a viewing point in the gallery, Jetty looks directly onto Forged Histories, and as an installation work that represents a contemporary perspective on Deptford, it is no coincidence that it does so. Our responsibility – Wicks suggests – as people established on a past, is to recognise it.

Re-rooted is almost cruel for this reason. It is only a trace, a faintly drawn map pencilled on the far wall, that’s been made intentionally hard to perceive because it represents a shift in the significance of Deptford and its loci’s waterways. Here the perspective on his subject matter by the artist, is unique to himself. The start and end mark (signified by an overdrawn pencil line) his homeland, and the place he has made home during this residency. Re-rooted tracks one of Wicks’ urban walks, showcased and titled as such, because on this particular thirteen-mile journey, he transported an oak tree sapling from Petts Wood (origin of shipbuilders family, the Petts) to Deptford (where the ships were constructed from Petts Wood trees). In the neatly produced auxiliary text to the exhibition, writer Rachel Thom, describes her journey alongside Wicks for Re-rooted.

It was, as I begun writing, originally the two Forged Histories images that caught my eye. These two black and white portraits of shipbuilding nails stand erect on the wall, blown up well beyond their natural proportions. Unsuspectingly the nails were photographed against the gallery floor. Regardless, the aesthetic is fitting, as the backdrop reveals as haggard and worn a setting as the nails, centuries old, appear. The texture – engrained in the nails and floor – is what defines the photographs, and what makes them appear on the whole aged, and hand-made; aged and hand-made just as the industry was.

In Forged Histories, we find an artist who is able to produce photographs that are richly rewarding on the eye, plain speaking, and yet evocative. Looking at Jetty and Re-rooted, we may see discreet artworks, but we find an artist who can transform from heavily researched and documented processes, in two modest, uncomplicated but meaty and well-conceived outcomes. And in addition to these works, the exhibition publication is one of the most attractive and neatly constructed texts I’ve seen held up alongside an exhibition – a genuine joy to read.

Images are courtesy of the artist:

leader image: Jetty (Detail), 2013,  Pine,  700 x 76 x 100cm 

top image: Forged Histories, 2013, C-Type print, 122 x 82cm

The Doldrums is on at Occupy My Time Gallery until Saturday 28th September: http://www.andywicks.co.uk/biogdoldrums.html

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