I was pleased to have the opportunity this week to visit two exhibitions in Leeds by fellow 2009 Fine Art graduates from Leeds Met, Anna Davis and Tom Miles. There was an intriguing synchronicity at play. Both had spent considerable time abroad during the last year; both shows documented their respective experiences in an idiosyncratic way; and both shows took place in grassroots edgy urban Leeds locations hidden from casual glances and spontaneous passing trade and involving patience, tenacity and alert observational skills to find the party. Happily I found my way.
Anomadic Tendencies (Anna Davis’s production alter ego) was showing two films at Enjoy Art Space in Mabgate. The first, shot in a devastated village in the aftermath of the Chilean earthquake, was bleakly moving. Repetitive visual and audio rhythms were established through the incessant worker ant activity of locals and students rebuilding a community from prefab kits. The overloaded grey skies weighed heavily on both workers and viewer and claustrophobic viewing was triggered by early panoramic shots of a threatening grey but calm sea: the source of the disaster. I become quite phobic at the mere idea of a tsunami, and I felt bleak fear when confronted by the view of this sinister sea and the muddy cloak with which it shrouded the shoreline.
A second film focussed on Anna’s life in Cordoba, a surprisingly culturally vibrant city in the heart of Argentina. Anna has a real gift for getting inside ordinary people and portraying them in a way which is compelling and anything but ordinary. The ‘characters’ are suffused with love of life and vibrancy and draw the viewer into a close knit world which is familiar in its sense of community despite our lack of familiarity with Cordoba.
Tom Miles’ show ‘Oh Canada’ (on until 21 November) was another very personal expression of a prolonged stay in Canada, but in a quite different way. On entering theartmarket Leeds, the visitor is confronted by a matrix of photographic imagery, precisely arranged in an intriguing manner. Tom takes the relatively unusual step of curating the series conceptually without regard for aesthetic qualities. In fact, for me it still worked aesthetically because the dark tonal range of the individual pieces gave it overall coherence. But the darkness of the imagery was unsettling: the usual view of Canada as a land of wide open skies and vastness was abandoned in these images. Even the broad landscapes were crushed by twilight skies.
The main matrix arrangement provided for shifting perspectives; from panoramic nature to close-up nature, and from rural to urban. A second arrangement opposed these extremes in more concentrated fashion, and a final juxtaposition of two images summarised the ultimate opposition between broad landscape and detailed urban debris.
Both artists are travelling again in the coming months, and I look forward to seeing what will emerge from later journeys. And what of the Piscean element? I can’t resist this. If you aren’t a Piscean you may scoff and stop reading now, but I am amused and intrigued in these visual travelogues to catch a fleeting glimpse of a peculiarly Piscean take on other cultures. I could go into more detail, but will leave the observation tantalisingly open. And what else could account for the serendipitous back to back timing of the showing of these works?