Becky Beasley, Lake Erie from the Northwest, Laura Bartlett Gallery, London

12 February 2016 By
Becky Beasley, ‘A Man Restored A Broken Work’, 2015, HD Video, 21 mins. Courtesy the artist and Laura Bartlett Gallery, London

Becky Beasley’s new show with Laura Bartlett gallery brings together work that spans the last 12 years of her career and offers a view of the continuities within it, as well as the way this most subtle and reflective of artists processes major life events through her work.  The first work that confronts you as you enter the space is a dark, weighty photograph taken in 2004 in Athens.  Like all the works in that early series, it has a monumentality that is emphasised by the saturated blacks of the print.  It shows the shuttered up 19th century frontage of a disused shop.  Look closely and you will see that the door opens unusually, to the left – an effect produced by flipping the negative in the printing process.

As ever, a breadth of literary and other cultural references underpin the work, and the current exhibition harnesses Herman Melville, Duchamp and film maker Robert Bresson among others, formal as well as intensely personal concerns.  Beasley’s practice has always been characterised by the fertile tension between intellectually rigorous enquiry and the more emotionally charged elements of her life – in the past sculptures have taken the dimensions of her parents’ outstretched arms, or her mother and father’s relative heights have been the measure for paired objects.  The last few years have brought her the experience of love and then motherhood; as distilled in to her work, Beasley admirably conveys both the shattering profundity and the existential absurdity of these experiences.  She employs a candour and humour that can catch you by surprise within her cool minimalist visual vocabulary: take for example the photographic work Extensions (Elaboration No.1) (2013), in which two slender wooden forms front up to each other – the strategically placed peg and little round hole a third of the way up transforming them from pure sculptural stelae into overtly narrative objects.

Pairings of objects, mirrorings and returns proliferate in this show that emphasises the reflexivity at the heart of Beasley’s work.  One of the newest works here, Given (Cock and Clam) (2015) – yes, that is quite as rude as it seems – is a pale green shelf unit bearing two coupled pearwood objects. A familiar strategy in Beasley’s work, which so often operates in the slippery territory between object, image and image of object, the form of this shelf unit was the subject of a photographic work back in 2012. The paired objects are themselves the subject of photographic works in the current show.   Beasley’s first ever film is shown on a large flat screen monitor and from a close up, fixed camera, coolly observes the hands of a craftsman restoring one of her walnut wood box sculptures that had been broken in transit.  The disassembled parts of the sculpture are the subject of the photographs Build Night (I&II) (2012).

Camera I-V (2014), consists of beautifully made triangular objects in American black walnut wood: one face of each is lacquered black, one face features a neat round hole. They are shown on a circular mid-century table, and if their dimensions strike one as somehow familiar, it is because they are taken from a Penguin paperback, an object so familiar to hand and eye.

Lastly there is Foresight (2015).  A set of six prints that act as if they were posters for the solo shows of the last few years, these works explicitly intertwine the various parts of the artist’s life by layering a narrative of her falling in love and falling pregnant across the more standard CV.  There is an immense truth and honesty in this synthesis of the two parts of her life – something that has a quietly revelatory power in a world that too often quarantines the professional from the emotional in a falsely hygienic way.

Very highly recommended, not least as a corrective to the sea of schmaltz threatening to take over our high streets this weekend.

Caroline Douglas

Becky Beasley, Lake Erie from the Northwest, Laura Bartlett Gallery, 4 Herald Street, London, E2 6JT. Open Wednesday – Saturday 11.00 – 18.00, Sunday 12.00 – 18.00. Exhibition continues until 3 April 2016.