Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, UK
Russell Baker famously quipped that ‘The goal of inanimate objects is to resist man and ultimately defeat him.’ While this remains true, ‘Mischief’, an exhibition of Lucia Nogueira’s sculpture and works on paper at Kettle’s Yard, shows a tender side of our often wilfull inanimate adversaries. The array of found objects and everyday materials firmly plant themselves in a grounding of dadaist assemblages and combinations of textures and sensations. Several of the pieces in the exhibition insistently interfere with the viewer’s personal space – either by getting underfoot and refusing to be relegated to a set region of the gallery. On some levels this seems mostly an aesthetic choice, as in a work from 1992 simply titled ‘…’ in which a red ribbon, like a musical leitmotif, connects a pail, a metal frame, and a burlap sack of sand, but also cordons off it’s own sphere of influence in the gallery. Others, such as Needle (1995), challenge the human viewer for primacy: it’s not just that one is afraid to step on the neon pink plastic cord that is stitched into the wooden flooring, it’s that by the time you notice Needle you probably already have. But without stanchions or even a marking on the floor, you never had a chance to avoid it, leaving open the question of who has invaded whose space.
Guilt and alienation are recurring themes in the work. Nogueira’s objects inhabit a world of mistakes, of closed or darkened spaces, and of practical objects which cannot, or refuse to, fulfill their intended function – there are shelves that do not ‘shelve’, wheels that cannot roll. One-time useful pieces of furniture are rendered useless or possibly even dangerous. For example, Hide and Seek (1997) greets the visitor entering of the gallery, an unplugged refrigerator still framed by its packing material, its door facing the wall. Seemingly engaged in a game, the stocky appliance is cutely anthropomorphic, the odd sweetness of the appliance is amplified by the framed photograph of rabbits perched on top. Now that the fridge has a personality though, there is psychosis as well, not only is play evoked, but the troubling gesture of an upset being facing the wall, hiding from us as well. This emotion is repeated in Untitled (1992), in which a wooden silver-painted cupboard is bedecked with a chain and topped with two nondescript aluminium cans faces in towards the wall, rendering itself useless and leaving the viewer with the sensation that it has something to hide. Full-stop (1993), a large cable drum is succinctly, almost cruelly hedged into a corner, palpably bursting with potential energy. Mischief (1995), on the other hand, seems fraught with one-liners and practical jokes: a wooden chair with its seat missing presents a painful and unfortunate eventuality, while the bin liners dragged across the floor are reminiscent of toilet paper stuck to the shoe, or a randy child or a pet who has decided to be destructive for their own entertainment.
The works on paper in the exhibition, all untitled and mostly undated, are loosely and dreamily painted. They inhabit a zone somewhere in between amorphous and humanoid, but frequently have a dark, vaguely threatening edge. Helicopters could also be yellow jackets, rockets might be flowers – occasionally a figure emerges. There is a play of symbols – some organic, some manmade – with a sensuous rhythmic repetition. Nogueira’s only foray into filmmaking, Smoke (1996), black and white and shot on 16mm, is also included, as it is at her concurrent exhibition at Tate Modern, and it too posits a strange parity between objects and their makers. It is a record of a one-time installation created at Berwick-on-Tweed in which visitors were supplied with umbrellas or kites. Kites and flags wave in the wind, and the spectators disjointedly look on, with little concern given to cause or effect. A stepladder placed on a dune waits for a person to climb up and admire the view, but perhaps the ladder is already doing that.