Becky Beasley’s fourth exhibition with Laura Bartlett Gallery, now in Bethnal Green, has all the elements that we have come to expect of her subtle practice as an artist. There are multiple literary references, from the ideograms of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy to a short story by the obscure and troubled early 20th century German writer Robert Walser that signal an atmosphere, a mindset. The walk we are encouraged to take is an infinitely slow one, with a meandering route that ‘is a kind of straight story (A to B), which nevertheless proceeds by a shaggy dog method (via C)’.
Photographs are presented in multiple formats, to emphasise their status as objects, not as mimetic devices merely depicting their subject: there are large scale, unique silver gelatin prints, with the inky, seductive, saturated blacks that are characteristic of Beasley’s hand-printed method; there is a stack of litho-prints that you can help yourself to, and there are photographic postcards on the kind of dumb, commercial rotating stand that ought to threaten a fine art practice but has instead been co-opted by Beasley to extend her meditation on the currency of the photographic image. Again, you can pick a card to take away with you.
This is a generous show in more than one sense: as in previous shows, references to Beasley’s own life and family are not far from the surface. Previous three-dimensional works have adopted the measurements of her father’s arms, or the relative heights of her parents. In this current show the subjects of the photographs are garden plants familiar from her childhood; what could be a sentimental exercise is here more akin to a delicate, psychological examination of origins. The title of the floor-based sculpture Cloche signals a horticultural device for protecting the tender and growing, while its form has the kind of tough minimalism that we have seen in earlier, hardwood sculptures.
And presiding over the whole installation is a mobile, which is a form Beasley is increasingly making her own. Where in her Spring Rain show at Spike Island and Leeds Art Gallery last year she has used tiny, cast brass gherkins, here we have a long, elegantly tapering cast brass branch, suspended horizontally like a water diviner’s wand. The mobile turns at a precise but languid 1.5 rotations per minute and urges the viewer to slow down to a distinctly wonderful non-metropolitan pace, and be fully present in the moment.
As at last it begins to feel like Spring might be just around the corner, this is the show to see this weekend.
Becky Beasley, The Walk…in green, Laura Bartlett Gallery, 4 Herald Street, London E2 6JT. Open Wednesday – Saturday 11.00 – 18.00, Sunday 12.00 – 18.00, until 30 March.www.laurabartlettgallery.com