Robert Orchardson: Endless Façade
It’s a tricky thing trying to recapture youth, especially that elusive sense of wonder and amazement you often experience when you are little because you haven’t seen it all before; unfortunately, now it’s much more difficult to suspend disbelief. On a recent visit to the Contemporary Art Gallery to see a solo exhibition of work by British artist Robert Orchardson, there was a moment of marvel upon entering the gallery space. Confronted by a bright red abstract form embracing the triangular doorway, we were then made to squeeze through an angled corridor, both signalling that this was the threshold to another world altogether. Endless Façade is Orchardson’s first exhibition in Canada and the show was organized in collaboration with the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, the former stomping ground of the CAG’s current Director, Nigel Prince. Upon entering, you feel as though you have wandered into an eerie abstract painting, a strange universe where nothing is figurative or familiar except the other viewers who wander the space. Two of the four walls are covered with a monumental monochromatic grey drawing composed of interlocking triangles which matches the concrete floor. Various abstract sculptures are scattered throughout and one struggles to make sense of their shapes and decipher their meaning as they sit against this barren backdrop which forms a dystopic landscape. Orchardson’s work references science fiction cinema, as well as the work of architects and designers who are interested in notions of the ‘Future’ – something inherently unknown – especially those creating prototypes for forward progress. With this installation, he makes sentimental reference to the optimistic spirit proposed by Modernism. This work also makes a very specific historical reference to the work of Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi who was commissioned to design the set for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s rendition of King Lear. Noguchi created a neutral backdrop and a stage that was meant to be altogether surreal since he wanted his set to avoid the trappings of time and place. His design, however, was panned as ridiculous and out of touch with the production. This idea of failure – the failure of Noguchi’s ambitious project, as well as the failure of a Modernist utopia – is a matter of ongoing investigation in Orchardson’s work. What’s fantastic about this exhibition is you don’t need to be aware of any of these references to experience the unsettling sense of mystery the installation evokes; Orchardson succeeds in creating an unfamiliar world of his own. And like a child you will feel like you haven’t seen it all before.
Robert Orchardson, Endless Facade, installation views, Courtesy of Contemporary Art Gallery. Photo: Scott Massey