Containers, collaboration and perception

‘California wow!’ exhibition view at Tramway, Glasgow, 2015.

‘All my work might be about vessels, the idea that everything is contained by something,’ says Laura Aldridge, standing amid ‘California wow!’, her installation in the former transport shed of Glasgow’s Tramway. The statement is perplexing at first, as there’s only one actual vessel on show, Biggest Pot (2015), which was glazed to Aldridge’s design by the virtuoso ceramicist James Rigler (showing contemporaneously in an adjacent gallery). The colours of the la landscape – grape red, sea blue, bleach white – ooze into one another, like the layers of a Tequila Sunrise.

The three plywood structures entitled Large Bodies (2013–15) are punctured by a curved gap that is filled with cushions and, at a stretch, could contain a person. Indeed, I’m tempted to hop inside myself, but am told by an attendant it’s not allowed, which Aldridge confirms. This isn’t a strategy of frustration per se, she says, but a way of encouraging visitors to ‘think about perception’. And it works: looking at the elegant diagonal heft of one pod-like space, I’m suddenly conscious of my weariness, the throb of my feet. Not My Elbow (ix) (2015) – layers of dyed rice held in a plastic cylinder, open at the top but crowned with a twist of bisque-fired plaster – produces the same effect. The conjunction of smooth barrier, exposed surface and the ceramic’s flourish, makes me want to run my fingers through the rice, imagining the hiss of the grains. As in the work’s title, physical sensation is elicited but displaced. It almost amounts to a mild kind of synaesthesia, enmeshing one sense with another, making touch a business of hearing and looking and imagining, as well as of palpable contact. While we’re talking, Aldridge mentions someone she’s met whose vision cuts out if they hear sound of a certain pitch: a participant in one of the workshops she runs for the non-profit organization Artlink, which seeks to find ways to communicate with people with sensory disabilities and learning difficulties through art-making. When Aldridge describes ‘California wow!’ as ‘a conversation through materials’, my mind turns to this.

At Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts in 2012, Aldridge displayed another series of con­tainers: oversized fabric pockets, some fastened with giant pantomimic buttons. Entitled ‘Underside, backside, inside, even’ (2012), the series played around with the spatial expectations of sculpture. (Where’s the back and where’s the front? What’s the core of a work which declares itself hollow?) It also made a physical address: like a gargan­tuan kangaroo’s pouch, each pocket seemed, as in Large Bodies, to want to hold the weight of a human. Even the imposing patchwork fabric ‘banners’ that Aldridge showed at Kendall Koppe in 2012 are charged with a sense of the portable. Initially inspired by the advertisements that hang from lampposts throughout la, they look as if they could be borne aloft in a procession; moreover, when talking about their importance to her recent work, the artist describes the appeal of a form that she could ‘fold up and put in a suitcase and carry with me’.

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