Despite the unsettling nature of the artworks included in ‘Standing on the Frontier Vol.2’, there is a sense of coherence to the exhibition, testament to the skill involved in situating the works within the impressive Unit24 Gallery. Takayuki Hara and Noa Edwards co-curated the exhibition, drawing upon ideas and themes which have developed over many years. Their first collaboration, ‘Standing on the Frontier’ was curated four years ago. The initial idea, Taka Hara tells me, “came from Susan Sontag’s essay ‘The Pornographic Imagination’, when she talks about the artist’s duty of travelling to the frontier – marking an uncertain line between real and unreal – and sharing what is there upon their return.”
The exhibition statement is an ambitious one. The collection of artwork aims to redefine the boundary between reality and the imagination. “We wanted to create a blurred line – as if nothing was definite, no matter where you stand – this side of the frontier or that, we have chosen artwork which allows you to glimpse the world without this frontier.” Their first volume was more linear, the artworks becoming more weird and wonderful as you were guided on through the exhibition. Volume two meanders and explores, offering constant surprises and delights.
Unit24 as a physical gallery itself seems a perfect location for ‘Standing on the Frontier, Vol.2’. It sits in the uncertain realm between functionality and artistry – for as well as housing exhibitions, the space also serves as Spots – a dry cleaners. Taka Hara agrees; he “loves the fact that the space itself is challenging the identity of an ‘art gallery’. Do we have to be in Shoreditch or Mayfair to exhibit? Do we have to be trendy to attract people? It is so much more interesting to plan an exhibition in an apparently ordinary place, rather than using a template, a copied and pasted white space that people may expect of an art gallery.”
The location of Unit24 has clearly played a part in influencing the choice of artworks. On the way from London Bridge, my walk to the gallery falls in the shadow of the Shard’s dominating presence. The iconic building makes its reappearance, towering over the natural and alien creatures in Laura Clarke’s incredible etching ‘An Honest Man’, situating the scene in a strange and dystopian alternative reality.
The journey through the exhibition evokes constant surprise and intrigue. There are seventeen artists and forty one artworks, all in some way unsettling and extraordinary, many strikingly beautiful. “All we knew was that we wanted to have artworks dealing with the borderlines of reality. It might be the subject matter, the way of execution, or the stories the artwork tells us.”
True to the exhibition’s statement, the viewer certainly ‘weaves his or her way across the line that demarcates the boundary between the mundane … and the surreal’. The artwork is incredibly varied, exploring a whole host of themes and ideas. Whether through delving into dark corners or searching vast expansive landscapes, they all question and provoke.
“The process of bringing the exhibition together was very organic. Each of us selected artists, and then tried to find the thread and coherence in the selection. We had to drop some artists in this process despite loving their work – we just couldn’t put them in the right context.”
For Hara, the most important consideration involved in curating an exhibition is “simply put, visual coherence.” Taka says that he and Noa wanted to tell a story with the exhibition. “Travelling through the gallery, there is the wonderful experience of being influenced by the pieces as you go along. The residue of each work hovers in the air as you take in the next, leaving its echo lingering.”
The concept of the exhibition’s second volume was inspired by the work of Serrah Russell. “When I first saw her work, I felt like there was an opening in reality that I was not supposed to see.” Hara remarks upon the Lynchian undertones of arresting violence within the images. Her photographs depict what could be described as staged collages, disrupting seemingly familiar scenes with the simple placement of an open magazine or other printed images. This ability to catch the viewer off guard, juxtaposing the ordinary and the astounding, captures the essence of ‘Standing on the Frontier, Vol.2’.
When you approach Unit24, the glass front reveals ‘Encounter’, the impressive and huge artwork of Robin Mason, overlooking the gallery before you even step foot inside. The depth of the detail, cartoonish figures combined with religious imagery, is engrossing. Winding up the uncomfortably creaky spiral staircase to the second floor of the gallery, the ripples of this artwork, as Hara says, certainly stay with you throughout the rest of the exhibition.
And what a variety of work there is to follow. Charlotte Bracegirdle’s artworks evoke a powerful sense of unease and loss. She takes photographs and mixes paint to an incredibly precise colour, so as to replicate the background and erase their faces, instantly anonymising them. A whole new layer of meaning is added on discovering that the photographs are (were?) of authors, here including F. Scott Fitzgerald and D. H. Lawrence.
Chris Agnew’s piece ‘A perfection of means, a confusion of aims’ stands out not only visually, but also because of his process. The artist uses a unique method of etching and oil painting onto icon panels. The rigour of the geometric shapes and the permanence of the indentations made by etching onto the panels, contrast with the dreamlike nature of the beautiful oil paint depicting the sky and clouds, which form the silhouette of a profile. The depth of all these different elements is utterly powerful.
The pencil drawings of Lee Edwards, ‘Tight’ and ‘Entangled’, are so intricate and delicate that they look like photographs. Suspended beautifully in white space on the paper, these depictions of fabric take on a form and identity of their own. The absorbing result challenges the viewer to pay closer attention to the smaller details in everyday life.
Noa Edwards’ four paintings depict fantastical landscapes inspired by the natural world, encompassing the depths of the ocean and what could stretch to the galaxies. They are at once recognizable yet unfamiliar, resembling surreal collages set against graphic colour.
The beautiful embracing pencil drawings of Takayuki Hara exude his interest in storytelling and Japanese folklore, having studied creative writing and Japanese literature in Tokyo before achieving his Fine Art MA in London. Hara tells me of his preoccupation with identity and the assumptions we all make about others based on appearances alone. These ideas are influenced, he says, by his experience of being “a foreigner in London”. Hara is inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphosis, which explores ideas of shapeshifting and of discovering new potentialities of being. The intricate, almost anatomical details of his artworks delve beneath the surface in a multitude of ways. “We all look different and unique, but we are made up of the same substance. We are all human.”
‘Standing on the Frontier, Vol.2’ is a rich and varied exhibition, bringing works from emerging artists together to stretch the realm of the imagination and challenge rigid borders. In Takayuki Hara’s words; “I am confident that the exhibition raises questions about how you define reality in this world and how art and imagination play a huge part in expanding the possibilities of what we are capable of.”
‘Standing on the Frontier, Vol.2’ An Exhibition curated by Takayuki Hara and Noa Edwards
20 Great Guildford St