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* Richard Blackwell: Labyrinth *
Richard Blackwell: Labyrinth Flinders Lane Gallery 16th June 2020 - 11th July 2020 Straddling sculpture and printmedia, the interdisciplinary creations of Richard Blackwell trace the physiognomy and psychology of the built environment. Created on film faced plywood, the labyrinthine reliefs in his new series deal with ideas of modularity, fusing individual experience with architectonic space and dismantling what's left of the weathered walls between physicality and digitality. Blackwell's parametric designs represent his attempts to create iterative processes and logic around his felt experiences of the city. There is no figural presence, yet the works function as the private lens of the artist; a kind of synecdochic proxy for his perceptions and memories. ‘As the creator, I see the figure that is looking at the spaces in these works', he explains. In a phenomenological sense, the panels materialise the act of looking - at the urban environment and, ultimately, at oneself. His abstract topographies reference Blackwell's time living in Doha for three years, a city seemingly devoid of public space, where private places or ‘nodes' are connected via virtual and physical highways or ‘branches'. Departing from the grounded perspective of previous works, this series summons nights spent staring downwards at the city through the window of his high-rise apartment. A timbre of loneliness is exposed through the isometric, aerial viewpoints, where curvilinear forms recede into the darkness of an impenetrable, anonymous landscape. Disconnection is made palpable as we witness the private opticality of a new kind of flaneur. The works in ‘Labyrinth' examine the evolving interfaces between artist and machine, creativity and execution. Blackwell considers the ways in which human limitation can be transcended by creating systems of production that supplant manual labour, reflecting the rapidly advancing technical systems that society is built upon, and the ways human creation is conforming to those systems. He explains, ‘my work is a reflection of what it means to make. In an optimistic sense, the collective knowledge that we build, store and disseminate via the Internet empowers people to do amazing things; but in the pessimistic sense, many people's creative expression is reduced to selecting a few filters for their Instagram stories'. Informed by his roots as a printmaker, Blackwell renders his designs in three dimensions, creating a matrix, before projecting them flat; impressing a moment in time. By translating this relationship between the matrix, the machine and the moment - where embodied observations are parsed by technological systems - his works distil notions of the post-hand; the post-human. Engaging with the legacy of Modernism, and adding to the lineage of abstractionists like Frank Stella, Blackwell's relief panels echo the architectonic contours and surfaces of Doha, with its a surreal hybrid landscape of ultra-modern and ancient Islamic design, futuristic facades and mashrabiya. The works function as urban cartography, and yet they also map the complicated, lonely virtual spaces that are rapidly subsuming contemporary (Western) ontology. Blackwell grapples with the unknown ways in which virtuality is changing our social reality and collapsing geographical space - a concept sharpened during the current Covid crisis. The disorienting convergence of the physical and virtual is visualised in the works' mesmeric symmetry, repetition and axial reflections, which duplicate the parallel and perpendicular surfaces of the civilised city. Voluminous topographies are reflected back on themselves, rupturing spatial certainty and thwarting the viewer's ability to logically traverse each microcosmic metropolis. Meanwhile, the ostensible softness of engraved fabric-like folds collides with the hard materiality of wood. These unicursal forms become labyrinths in the literal sense, but also in the mythological sense; spiritual paths severed from linear time and direction. The voyager/viewer finds themselves in a liminal realm where physical place and virtual space tesselate in a hypnotic rhythm. A surreality emerges herein, as walls and buildings morph into faces and flora, crystalline structures, circulatory systems and cellular networks. The panels' undulating surfaces seem to breathe, to swell with life, and we are reminded once more of the interconnectedness of all things.
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