The long wait is over. Site Gallery has reopened, flinging its doors wide to welcome the public to its new shop, cafe and, most importantly, gallery space. After spending what seems like an age walking down Brown Street and watching the progress of the build, I couldn’t wait to explore the new place as soon as it was open. During the closure, Site’s curatorial team have worked hard to pull together an exhibition that would stay true to the roots of their programme but that would also outline their ambitions for the future. They duly delivered with Liquid Crystal Display.
The exhibition is based around a new commission by artist Anna Barham that takes inspiration from the crystal itself and its organic nature. This large-scale structure dominates the main gallery space – a modular design hinging around a series of custom yellow brackets that support sheets at a 60-degree angle, mimicking the crystalline forms that tie together the other works in the exhibition. When designing the exhibition, curators Laura Sillars and Angelica Sule made a conscious effort to hang no work on the surrounding walls of the gallery, ensuring that the brand new gallery itself is as much on show as the work inside it. Barham’s piece, then, acts as a cabinet of curiosities – or wunderkammer – for other works to sit within.
Around the gallery and amongst Barham’s installation are a variety of artworks, geological specimens and film works. Each piece explores the presence of crystal structures within our daily lives and also their functions historically – as a material used both in measurement and construction, and also within spiritual practices such as crystal healing.
Penny McCarthey showcases two detailed drawings of archival pages from the notebooks of Crick, Watson and Franklin, during their experiments that led to the discovery of DNA. These contemplative studies bring into focus one of the most momentous points within scientific history, which for many marks the discovery of the building blocks of human existence. In contrast to the stillness of McCarthey’s work are the projected films of Jennifer West – an artist who residents of Sheffield may be familiar with from her solo exhibition Aloe Vera & Butter at S1 Artspace back in 2012. West plays with the materiality of film by manipulating it with chemicals and abrasive materials. Her work for Liquid Crystal Display focuses on the famous earthwork by artist Robert Smithson titled Spiral Jetty, in which he produced a 460-metre-long spiral within the salt lakes near Rozel Point, Utah. West made a pilgrimage to Smithson’s work to shoot a short film, which she then treated in the salt-filled lakes surrounding the sculpture. The crystalline liquid altered the very film itself, producing a psychedelic result that is one of the most visually exciting pieces in the exhibition.
My only criticism of the show is that for a new, bigger space with ambitions to be open to a wider public in Sheffield, the gallery could have offered more information on the idea of the 'crystal era' that these artists' work explores. While there is always a fine balance between providing enough information in an exhibition and being overly didactic, Liquid Crystal Display would perhaps benefit from more of an introduction to its themes aside from the catalogue on sale in the shop. With a public programme of tours, talks and workshops, though, hopefully audiences will gather a more in depth understanding of Liquid Crystal Display.
There are so more many works featured in Liquid Crystal Display than there's space to analyse in detail here. But I recommend spending a good amount of time with the exhibition, wandering through Barham's labyrinthine structure and taking in this beautiful, expanded space that Sheffield is now lucky to have dedicated to contemporary art.
Waad AlBawardi; Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway; Ralf Baecker; Anna Barham; Karen David; The Crystal World (Jonathan Kemp, Martin Howse, Ryan Jordan); Liliane Lijn; Ann Lislegaard; Penny McCarthy; The Otolith Group; Mungo Ponton; Eva Rothschild; Ruskin Collection; Shimabuku; Kiki Smith; Suzanne Treister; Jennifer West.
- Words by
- David McLeavy
- Images by
- David McLeavy