Seventeen Gallery, Haggerston
15 September – 29 October 2022
You have to seek out Seventeen Gallery – between Hackney and Bethnal Green, it sits a stone’s throw from Regents Canal and a short walk from the ultra-hip Broadway Market. Up Acton Mews, up a steep flight of steps, and then down two more once inside this former industrial building; as a preparation for looking at work, it is pretty good. You arrive in the cool, subterranean space properly focused and expectant.
Packed Stars Dividing is Gabriele Beveridge’s second exhibition at Seventeen, and it is a substantial one. Her first show, Live Dead World was four years ago. In that body of work the artist made prominent use of the anonymous portrait photographs used to decorate the windows of hairdressing salons and nail parlours. Her thesis revolved around the idea of the industry, anxiety and artifice that accompany the cosmetic alteration of our, specifically women’s, surface appearance. It is a global commerce that supports a dogma of a particular kind of beauty, and one which fetishises women as an agglomeration of body parts: mouth, eyebrow, cheekbone, nails etc. Each successive generation of women negotiates this cosmetic-industrial complex on its own terms.
Packed Stars Dividing uses some of the same devices – the appropriated shop display racking for example, the pastel colours that are a universal signifier of the ‘feminine’ – but it is speaking in a subtler tone. In the main, first room Beveridge has painted three of the walls the softest of greys. As you enter, on the left is a piece titled Single Cells that is composed of steel shop fittings onto the hooks of which are slumped hand-blown glass forms. They sag improbably, confounding understanding of the essential properties of glass. The forms are coloured vermillion at their narrow apertures; what are these? Bladders? Implants? The Dalí-esque drooping and propping strategy suggests the seepage of some parallel reality into the prosaic day-to-day.
On the right, the wall is painted a duck egg blue, and in the centre of it is a circular form the colour of blood. It is glossy and seductive, made of synthetic hair extensions, branching out to the radius from a central, paler point. It put me in mind of Mat Collishaw’s gruesome Bullet Hole, 1988, possibly because I’ve been watching the BBC’s documentary series about the YBAs. Beveridge’s piece does not need to be visceral for effect; with quiet restraint it unavoidably conjures up a sphincter in one of the internal canals of the body.
Coupling and Coupling ii are hand-blown glass forms, standing on mirrored plinths. Each roughly the size of a human head, they are gorgeously multi-coloured. Each one appears to be created out of two melded forms, as if dividing zygotic cells. Where they join, a lip sometimes curls. Without being overtly about the glass maker’s practice, they betray the signs of their making: one can see where the pieces were cut from the glass-blower’s rod. They announce the dual nature of glass as both liquid and solid through their fluid structures.
A fact that may have passed you by is that 2022 has been designated by the UN as International Year of Glass. The International Festival of Glass has just closed in Stourbridge in the West Midlands. The aim of this year-long focus is to highlight the centrality of glass as a material in our lives in the 21st century from ultra-fast glass fibre broadband and solar panels, to the vitrification of hazardous waste that makes nuclear energy safer.
Gabriele Beveridge has found a way to use the material to harness its beauty, strangeness and ubiquity. Nest, 2021, in the back space of the gallery is a 150cm cube glass display structure, inside of which sit eight transparent vessels of the palest pink. Each with a slender neck facing in a different direction, they suggest the ventricles of the heart, polyps, or perhaps a scientist’s retorts. The play of reflection on the whole structure creates a phantom third set of vessels that floats like a ghost between the two real ones. One circles the work, interrogating its fugitive translucency, trying to figure out what is going on for sure.
We have seen a lot of artists using craft techniques such as ceramics and textile in recent years; this is the first time I can remember seeing hand-blown glass used in this way, in a conceptual, sculptural practice. Beveridge’s work is noteworthy in that it is respectful of the material while not being in thrall to it.
Highly recommended viewing.
Rear of, Entrance on Acton Mews 270-276, Kingsland Rd, London E8 4DG
Opening Times: Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm
Exhibition open until 29th October 2022