Nick Hackworth

Field of Difference

Essays & Reviews Palmer Gallery

An essay commissioned on the inaugural exhibition of Palmer Gallery, a new, experimental emerging art gallery launched in London March, 2024.


Field of Difference

In keeping with their broader curatorial ambitions, Palmer Gallery's inaugural exhibition is at once unruly and considered. The work of eleven artists working across painting, drawing, sculpture, textile, sound and video, fill the newly renovated and idiosyncratic gallery space off Lisson Grove, once, in the mid-twentieth century, part of the Palmer Tyre Company’s factory that was repurposed during WWII to manufacture parts for Spitfires, Hurricanes and Lancaster Bombers.

Myriad threads of meaning run between and through the works, connecting surfaces, feelings, materials, colours, ideas, sounds and shapes. There is a touch of the carnivalesque here, in the show’s commitment to sensory abundance, plurality, variety and hybridity - the aesthetics of a field of difference.

Through this curated complexity, viewers may plot their own paths, articulated through sets of relations between particular works. Between, say, the contrasting surfaces of the paintings of Jennifer Carvalho and Norberto Spina. Carvalho's smoothly rendered oil paintings borrow fragments and details from historical paintings that hail from the fault line between the late mediaeval and early renaissance and reconfigure them into a semiotic anarchy. Here disembodied arms float in refined architectural space, grasping at an ornately hilted sword. Two smaller works report strange, compelling, gothic scenes from the distant past. The textured and abraded surfaces of Norberto Spina's paintings, meanwhile, bear the marks of the artist's punishing, dualist process of addition - image-making, painting, layering - and subtraction - comprising the infliction of violence of various kinds, scraping, scratching and trampling, inflicted on the work. The paintings here, depicting a foot and a hand holding a nail in its palm, carry intimations of biblical wounding and fate.

From painted space into an immersive, multimedia installation by Gusty Ferro that occupies the annexed area at the back of the gallery. Ambient post-industrial sound layers the space shared by one of Ferro's bold, brutal-and-delicate, twisting sculptures. A ruined form, perhaps, reanimated by a dynamic, rhizomic, organic vitality, has become fluid, caught here in a process of strange metamorphosis. Its steel skeleton supports a body made from straw and concrete, embedded with coins and cobblestones and sprouting cable-ties. A thing existing outside anthropocentric frames of reference. These qualities and concerns of materiality and corporeality also pervade Albano Hernández's minimal and sophisticated, sculptural paintings. They are constructed from rows of repeated, thin, ceramic, lozenge-shaped forms, which are, surprisingly, slices of thick air-dry clay cut up by the artist with an electric food slicer. Hernández has long been interested in the meat industry and its processing, packing and commodification of flesh. Here the artist’s physical metaphor wryly extends that industrial logic to art itself.

Hybridity flows through many of the works here. The various logics of cross-fertilisation, circularity and rebirth animate Bea Bonafini's work and its collaboration with materials, symbols and ideas and its fusing of disparate artisanal and sculptural methods. An intricate, wall-based sculpture, describes a quasi-xenobiological form through a collage of sections of domestic carpet, inlaid as if they were stone, accented and highlighted with pastel. A floor based porcelain and steel sculpture exhibits qualities of both the geological and the organic, its leaves and segments chromatically marbled through the Japanese technique of Nerikomi. A literal recycling, by Venezuelan artist Francisca Sosa Lopez, of found material, here cardboard and bleached canvas are the foundations for her densely expressive multi-media works which pull utility and beauty from the discarded, and serves as a basis for the artist’s conceptual engagement with change, adaptation and sustainability. Densely layered, the work combines an energetic application of, variously, acrylic, oil, oil pastels, pastels, watercolour markers, markers, pen, graphite and embroidery.

Sunlight infuses both the coloured drawings of Rowley Haynes and Adam Boyd’s syncretic assemblages and constructions. The nominal subjects within Haynes’ attractive and joyful drawings, here two chairs and the arm and side of a person, represent, most meaningfully, surfaces for the artist’s rendering of the soft and warm interplay between colour and light. On the other hand, the experience of the ethereal, imagined typically and obliquely through the tropes of science-fiction, the supernatural and the ecclesiastical instructs Boyd’s conceptually rich and experimental work. Indicative of Boyd’s arcane methods of reification, is his use of photogrammetry technology - the science of scanning three dimensional spaces, to map patterns of light from photographs onto tapestries - a translation of digital readings that draw attention to the subjectivity of perception.

Humour, as well as notes of the grotesque and metaphorically marginal spaces, draw a thread between the work of Ramah Al-Husseini and Karolina Dworska. Al-Husseini interrogates and manifests the anxiety of identity in her excellently dead-pan ‘Fruit Salad’ series of paintings and ceramic sculptures. Each piece is an anthropomorphic hybrid of three different fruits resulting in a new, unique, category-defying fruit portrait. Dworska’s gloriously abject and comic tapestries, rugs and sculptures bring surreal dreamscapes full of softly rendered horror and longing into the gallery - becoming porous membranes through which artefacts from the realms of dream and fantasy leak into our reality.

Representative of the transdisciplinary nature of the artistic practices that Palmer Gallery seeks to platform and support is the work of Divine Southgate-Smith, which spans a breadth of media and methods including video and moving-image, sound, photographic collage, sculpture, performance, writing, spoken word and 3D animation - as in Thicker Than Water, 2022, an expansive CGI Animation shown here, that transports the viewer to a surreal, digital desert.

With its opening show, Field of Difference, Palmer Gallery, showcases an extraordinary and talented collection of emerging artists whose works span a spectacular variety of media, techniques, subjects and concerns. In doing so it celebrates creative expression at its most expansive and experimental and also foregrounds the gallery’s dedication to championing ambitious cross-disciplinary artistic practices in its future program. Similarly, the exhibition’s staging manifests an ongoing commitment to curating immersive experiences that encourage more meaningful engagement between viewers and artworks.

In its future exhibitions the gallery aims to amplify creative possibilities still further by giving artists carte blanche to freely imagine and realise shows and even invite artistic collaborators of their own choosing into the mix. This devolving of a profound degree of curatorial agency to the exhibiting artists brings an additional radical dynamic into the program, through which the gallery’s core selection of artists proliferates into, initially unplanned, duo and group shows. At a time when market induced pressures often drive artists to self-edit and self-limit, Palmer Gallery’s bold, supportive and enabling curatorial vision is calling for more experimentation, more risk.