A first-time visit to Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, yesterday, presented an opportunity to see the work of Amelia Crouch. Castlefield runs a ‘Launch Pad’ scheme that provides short opportunities for its associates – on a selective basis – to present a solo show; and this is, apparently, Amelia Crouch’s debut solo exhibition. I experienced a very positive response to her work, and even found some encouragement for myself, so this is a reflection on why.
Starting, though, with the artist and her work, Crouch is based in West Yorkshire, has BA & MA in Fine Art, and has a number of public commissions to her name, as the website illustrates. She works with language – and, significantly, I found that short sentence a difficult one to construct, perhaps still haven’t got it quite right, which has a lot to do with the ‘work’ (and why I responded positively). Although deceptively simple (several pieces have close associations with puzzles, games and wordplay e.g. Double Over and Ifs & Butts and Ayes & Knows), her work addresses some deeply fundamental issues around language and the way its structure/use impacts on everything to do with our perception of life. Playful and accessible, it is also conceptual, with complex contextual sources in semiotics and philosophy. Even the supporting essay by art writer and historian, Lara Eggleton, keeps up the linguistic performance, as it includes annotations by the artist that occasionally question the language itself.
She uses video presentation extensively, sometimes with sound, and there are prints too. If I was looking for an area to criticise, it would be the somewhat deadpan nature of both the visual and audio experience. In the context, I can see exactly why it is that way, but it could perhaps be a tad more eye-catching – but that is no more than a quibble. Two of the most recent works, not on the website but in the show, were Untitled (Prepositions) (2015) and Attention is rarely directed to the space between the leaves (2016, I’m guessing) – both video presentations. The first involves various containers – bowl, jug, dish etc – and several small balls, all but one of which are white, the one being bright orange. The artist manipulates them physically and linguistically, questioning (undermining? subverting?) the simple prepositions ‘over’, ‘in’, ‘on’ etc. Visually, as well as conceptually, this worked successfully, for me, as a short, simple, small-screen video that used a very limited colour palate. The second also involves wordplay and word association, featuring a child’s voice, animals, the sounds they make, and leaves (plus the spaces between them!), and was presented as a large projection onto a wall. I’m less sure that this piece had as clear a conceptual focus as the others – and, ironically, the nature of its projection lessened its visual focus too – form and meaning!
However, minor quibbles apart, the work made a positive impression and the reasons are there in the previous paragraphs – playful; conceptual; both simple and sophisticated at the same time; accessible and attractive, but also contextually significant; a touch subversive (and/or deconstructivist); more analytical than personal. In many ways, these are all characteristics I strive for in my own work. I have sometimes reflected on whether work such as ‘New Photographic Chemistry’ is too detached, too analytical, and whether I should be doing something more personal; so it’s reassuring to see an artist like Amelia Crouch who is, in many ways (and more successfully than me, I must emphasise!) working in a not dissimilar manner. (Good, also, to add Castlefield to the list of ‘local’ galleries; and their Associate Member scheme looks worthy of further investigation.)