Home is where the art is - viewing But this material... at The MAC

Acclaimed Armagh-born artist Anne Tallentire's exhibition But this Material... at The MAC makes Jane Hardy think differently about home

Anne Tallentire's show But this Material... is at The MAC until November 21
Jane Hardy

IF the purpose of great art is to make you look at the world afresh, Anne Tallentire's conceptual work definitely qualifies.

Her new show, But this Material..., currently at The MAC, makes you think about one of the most important human concepts.

That is, home. In art history talk, "(her) recent practice explores how we inhabit space, both public and private, to reveal systems that shape the built environment..."

From pieces based on the Calais immigrant camp to an installation filmed near her home, the artist analyses that place we lay our head.

Born in Armagh, the veteran artist has been based in east London for a while and studied at The Slade. Acclaimed yet totally approachable when I bumped into her in the Upper Gallery, she was happy to talk.

We discussed her film, Morning Lane, running on continuous loop in the small lower gallery. Red London buses run past an ordinary wall which has clearly experienced building work. A couple of torn bits of plastic shiver in the breeze.

They reminded me of that scene in American Beauty where a carrier bag tossed around by the wind is captured dancing by Sam Mendes.

Tallentire agrees with a smile: "Yes, I like the idea of finding beauty in everything."

Entering The MAC's spacious top floor gallery, not overcrowded as they follow Covid guidelines scrupulously, you see a series of brightly coloured oblongs on the wall and builder's string on the floor.

Tallentire explains that the pretty shapes, of different sizes, are pieces of furniture. "I saw them when I visited a residential community in Graz, Austria." They look a bit like a fragmented Mondrian. There is something optimistic about Anne Tallentire's palette.

The bright green builder's string you're asked to step over measures out a social housing project designed locally by Clanmil Housing Association.

As the artist explains, it's spacious, with some nice, important details. "It's designed for three people and there is disabled access, as you can see."

At the back, in the tiny gallery next to the big window showing a gritty view of the city centre, is a series of pretty architectural drawings.

The only drawback for me was the pseudo-poetic language in the titles that accompanies them, riffing about the 'Window between' and 'Sometimes, they' but I may be being unfair about a nice whimsy.

Down a floor you encounter some thought provoking work. There is a pile of wooden pallets in one room. They look neat, attractive, a bit like Carl Andre's controversial pile of bricks that caused screaming 'this isnt art' headlines in the late '60s.

You admire the colour, but they're based on the materials used by refugees in the inhospitable and squalid camp, the Jungle, outside Calais.

Other worrying notions of living space are recreated by Tallentire's use of again ostensibly pretty lengths of insulating material.

As invigilator Richard McVea explains, it's about limitations on our habitat. "This is about how much smaller our space is in confinement, say in prison. Your chair and bed would become quite a bit smaller."

Masking tape plays a major role in this part of the exhibition, with coloured rolls in Perspex boxes. Kids' stuff, and there is definitely a playful side to Anne Tallentire's vision, but important kids' stuff.

From the front, you see what might be a house, from sideways on the chaotic reality of maybe-figures.

Nearby are some lengths of building tape, indicating the limitation of lockdown, with windows marked off.

As Mr McVea adds, some people have related the yellow material to our famous Harland & Wolff cranes Samson and Goliath.

Emerging from But this Material... you realise you're looking at your living space quite differently.

:: But this Material... continues at The MAC ( until November 21. Viewing slots need to be booked.

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