Nina Canell, Near Here
Camden Arts Centre, London/BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK
Even though I lived in London for a year when studying for my Foundation Degree, I had never been to Camden Arts Centre before. Looking back, I wish I had known about this gem: not only is it an exciting hub of contemporary art but it is also a perfect excuse for a day out in sunny Hampstead.
After eating the most amazing salad in the world in the downstairs Café (seriously, I could write a whole review on the salad), my boyfriend Joe and I made our way into the gallery space. Although perturbed by the invigilators who monitored every step we took as they followed us through the gallery, we were able to ignore them as we were immediately intrigued by contents of the light-filled room: Nina Canell’s ‘Near Here’.
Swedish artist Canell has, according to the blurb on the wall, made a series of sculptural works which ‘respond to the architectural environment of Camden Arts Centre’. The scientific laboratory aesthetic of fragments of electrical cabling set on concrete plinths or inside glass vitrines are muted by areas of domestic carpet which are the same cream colour as in my boyfriend’s mum’s house.
The long black pieces of cable are covered with water in blue-y glass vitrines. At each cut end, we can see a cross-section of hundreds of tiny copper wires, insulated with different coloured plastics. As we walk across the room, the surface of the water wobbles and ripples as though there is still electricity coursing through the thick cable. These remnants of electrical current are echoed by the process of the floor work, ‘Near Here (One Microsecond)’, where the artist has passed 1,000,000 volts through photocopying toner during one microsecond. The result, a dusty black flash of lightning, recalls the force and power of energy, but seems absorbed by the carpet underneath.
Photo Credits: Nina Canell
Canell seems to choreograph her audience in the gallery space: I have to stand right up close to see the individual fibres of ‘Blue (Diffused)’, a shredded sock which now resembles a petri-dish of cell culture; but when I look down to see ‘Forgetfulness (Ether)’, an Ethernet cable suspended in water in a small vitrine, close to the floor, it is invisible. I am forced to step back, but carefully so I don’t knock the other work which is clustered together.
This trepidation is fully realised in ‘Amender’. In this work, a hidden magnet holds nails which form a chain dangling down. These nails which hang at eye level are simultaneously threatening and precarious; their vulnerability makes you want to hold your breath so you don’t disturb the invisible force which stills them.
This exhibition makes me think about transmission and electricity and how it has been domesticated in our homes. Plug sockets, light switches and Ethernet ports are a familiar sight in our homes, but their underground arterial network is unknown to us.
‘Near Here’ in Gateshead is a much more sparse, pared-down show than in Camden Arts Centre. Just four works occupy the gallery space of BALTIC, a converted flour mill on the Newcastle/Gateshead Quayside. Stepping out of the blue-y glass lift, you are immediately faced with Canell’s second incarnation of ‘Near Here‘, and in particular, the huge sculpture consisting of hundreds of handmade neon strip lights. These lights are filled with gas which, when ionised by electricity, causes them to emit a fluorescent, off-white light: each glows a slightly different hue, depending on the ratio of different gases in each glass tube.
This work, ‘Overcoming the Current Resistance‘, was originally designed for a derelict powerhouse in Sydney, Australia, where the tower of light illuminated the dark, industrial setting. BALTIC, though once a working mill, is now a clean white cube gallery space; here, the blue-yellow-pink-white light is subtle and subdued, changing according to the light conditions outside the gallery. The overwhelming scale means the electricity running through the sculpture is almost palpable; an invisible buzz seems to surround the work.
Photo Credits: Nina Canell
In Camden, the carpets paired with Ethernet cables made me think about the electricity that has been made safe and accessible in our homes; how used to it we are and how we rely on it in our daily routines. In front of this vast work, however, I am faced with something far less familiar and far more powerful: the formidable force of electric potential.
You can see Near Here at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Arts until 20th July. BALTIC has an excellent Café and shop, and brilliant views of Newcastle/Gateshead Quayside. You can access their incredible library resources for free, and their staff are amazingly helpful and always willing to chat to you