The works in this small exhibition are grouped around the idea of scale - measurements. In the main room, Anne Tallentire shows us Area, wall-mounted, flat-coloured MDF panels corresponding to the dimensions, rather than the appearance, of objects in the communal area of a public housing complex in Graz: the work was first shown in that city in 2018.
Originally shown, in other words, before the pandemic which has made us measure things in new ways. On the train on my way to the show, I kept a paranoid eye on my fellow passengers in case they got too close. I then walked through an abandoned City of London, kept company mainly by warning signs mentioning the government advice two keep two metres away from each other, if possible.
In the show notes, the artist says: “Area speaks to the experience of people living in close proximity in crowded housing… Recent social distancing rules means we are all beginning to manage a specific measurement as a parameter of and for life… architecture will now have to rethink what separation means for the new social distancing environment.”
Unfortunately, Tallentire’s art doesn’t call to mind such lofty thoughts - to this viewer at least. She used deliberately humble materials, with Arte povera a stated influence. But simply having things measure the same as objects in a crowded housing estate does not lend very naturally to thoughts about the social processes that forced this crowding-in. Let alone our more recent COVID-induced injunctions to stay apart, if we can. Because the art isn’t much to look at, the viewer needs to engage with the ideas behind the art.
Tallentire based Area around social housing, but the exhibition features another series that’s on a smaller scale. Along one wall, there’s a series of collages of floor plans, layered with post its and coloured blocks which partially obscure the plans’ measurements.
Maybe I wasn’t supposed to, but given that the notes said some of these collages depicted Tallentire’s own home, I couldn’t help but wonder if hers was the one with the five metre by 13 metre roof terrace? Social distancing is easier for some than for others. Or then again, maybe that’s her point!
Tallentire plans to update Area in response to the crisis. I wonder how.
Anne Talentire: As Happens is at Hollybush Gardens (London). 23 September - 19 December 2020