Reviews/Visual Art

Dystopian by design

9 July 2018

Review: Richard Giblett, “Frontier” ·
Turner Galleries ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

Richard Giblett’s exhibition “Frontier”, at Turner Galleries, showcases the artist’s ongoing investigations into space, architecture and global branding. Giblett’s works are displayed sparsely and evenly throughout the front room of Turner Galleries; the industrial concrete-and-white space playing nicely against his canvases and lightboxes, which involve clean geometric shapes amid finely detailed lines.

A centrepiece to the exhibition is a Perspex miniature warehouse, emblazoned with the Chanel logo and lit from the inside, making its architectural lines glow like an unearthly, alien object. Luxury branding also appears as a recurring motif in Giblett’s gouache and collage canvases, with the Chanel logo again appearing in Sump System II (Frontier). Similarly, YSL System IV and V features collages of artistically slumped models woven throughout geometric, interlocking rectangular shapes – YSL referring to, presumably, Yves Saint Laurent.

'Enclosed System 4 refinery', gouache on card on found photograph, 65x80cm, 2018.
‘Enclosed System 4 refinery’, gouache on card on found photograph, 65x80cm, 2018.

The branding of these works contrasts somewhat with Bauhaus de Stijl block, the second sculpture in the exhibition, which is made from a number of steel set squares, layered on top of one another to form a structure and lit from underneath, adding another eerie glow to the work. It’s an interesting use of an architectural tool used for making straight lines; in this case, the lines themselves are formed by the square, and the humble, everyday tool transformed into an art object in itself.

The central piece, Sump System II (Frontier), forms the largest and most intricate work. Comprised of four canvases, the work shows a dense system of factories, homes and urban environments; some resemble ancient pyramids whilst others are as humble as a suburban swimming pool. Throughout the work, instantly recognisable global company logos top buildings: Shell, Esso, Xerox. The buildings float against a black background, interconnected by a system of pipes and tubes, many of which ooze slick, black oil. From this work, it’s clear that the artist’s interests lie within graphic design and his childhood years in Hong Kong; the patterns are futuristic yet industrial, suggesting built environments and concrete jungles.

Although the artist’s statement claims that his use of luxury branding, consumerist motifs and industrial pollution is not necessarily a critique, but is used to simply draw attention to the impact these have upon our lives, it’s hard not to view these works as critique. The images of corporate greed are so pervasive in Sump System II (Frontier) that, when combined with the geometric industrial pipes, angular, sullen models and corporate factories, the world created seems to me to be more dystopian than simply design-oriented. As a whole, the exhibition reflects to us our most greedy and corporate selves, holding up a mirror to our reliance on global energy companies and luxury capitalism. Giblett may not intend to critique this reality but, by reflecting it through his intricate, geometric works, he makes us realise that it necessitates critiquing.

“Frontier” shows at Turner Galleries until 4 August.

Pictured top: Richard Giblett ‘Sump System II Frontier’, gouache on paper 100x200cmx4, bottom left panel, 2018.

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Author —
Miranda Johnson

Miranda Johnson is a curator and writer who has worked for various contemporary arts institutions, co-founded Cool Change Contemporary and co-hosts Fem Book Club at the Centre for Stories. Miranda’s favourite aspect of the playground is getting the chance to meet as many dogs as possible.

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