Exhibition Essays

Enjoy Gallery Catalogue 2005

December 2005

Ideas for banners for The End of Water

Jessica Reid

In advance of her exhibition, The End of Water, Shay Launder provided the gallery with a series of ideas she had had to appear on banners. Some were optimistic, motivational slogans. They expressed urgency and neediness. Others were like relationship catch-phrases, what lovers might say to one another, clichéd because of their universality. Some were more poetic and fantastical, childlike in their simplicity, like a fairy-tale, they spoke of dirt, water, and the sun. Here are some of my favourites: Headlong into the Future, Gravity Must Be Worked On, Drowning Methods and Accidental Speech, The Honesty and Generosity of the Future, Water for Sadness, I Surrender, New Societies, The Forested Desires of the Future, Please Forgive Me, Before It’s Too Late, Preparing Ourselves for the Future, The Sun’s Noise.

I sensed something floating in these words that I felt but couldn’t describe or define, connecting these images and phrases. I expected that the exhibition would reveal these connections and clarify my thoughts. However, The End of Water was probably one of the more oblique exhibitions I’ve encountered. Its multifarious components seemingly marked a winding, whimsical trajectory: fairy lights lit up the gallery’s fire exit steps, like a heavenly staircase marking a way out, or possibly a way in. A crowd of unmarked green bottles fermented Ginger Beer that intermittently and explosively popped their cork stoppers up to the ceiling. Two images of cats, kitschy found posters, were displayed upside-down with foresty tree tendrils oozing over them in painted-on white fluid.

The space for most of the show’s duration was quite sparse, so unfamiliar, freshly painted and new, and while this confounded some viewers, it was as if Launder wished to make a feature of the space itself. For the exhibition opening Launder had invited opera singer Natalie Moreno to perform. Her ghostly crystalline voice welcomed in the gallery audience like a mythological siren. This welcome or calling in to the space was particularly apt as this was the opening of the first exhibition in Enjoy’s new space and many Enjoy regular’s first view inside.

Instead of the usual artist talk exhibitors are required to give, Launder opted for a felt mitten making evening instead. Large saucepans of lentil curry and rice were brought in and kettles of tea were brewed. Bags of brightly coloured wool were unpacked and spread across the floor. Launder demonstrated the technique of matting and soaping the wool, spreading it to a thin fabric that was then cut to the required shape and size of a hand. The floor was covered in soapsuds and cheerful banter filled the room. This interactive activity, combined with the hearty food on such a chilly, wintry evening developed a warm atmosphere between strangers as they compared projects, asked questions and mused on each others skill.

But despite Launder’s lyrical forays, it became apparent she had a more sobering message in her work too. In one corner a monitor was set up for the evening, which was to remain for the rest of the exhibition. Videos could be selected and watched on various topics relating to global development and the preciousness of the world’s resources, the scarcity of clean water in particular. The videos were a bittersweet reminder of the disparity between the situation we were enjoying and the one ‘out there’ in a world with problems. Of any part of the exhibition, however, it was the conviviality of the mitten making which struck me the most. The instant sense of ‘togetherness’ showed an optimistic way forward, childlike in its simplicity, but which inspiration could be taken from too. Rather than trying to decipher or unravel the meaning of the works, it seems best to take that sense of something from it: this amorphous, floaty and perhaps confounding feeling of something which could resonate with a group of people on a cold midwinter night.