In The Black Mariah it looks like someone has been carefully butchering a house. Bits of flooring, banisters and soft furnishings are spread throughout the gallery; they constitute discrete elements providing carefully dissected evidence of a place that is out of date and grubby around the edges. These pieces, each one extracted in some way from a domestic setting, are butted up against the rigours of geometry: not just domestic artefacts, these are loaded symbols transformed by their precise interactions with form.
The material for this exhibition comes from objects created for decoration: sparkly hanging things, patterned clothing, carpets, wallpaper, curtains. However, Angela Fulcher treats something potentially trivial with intelligence and delicacy, intervening with a touch light enough to avoid a kind of kitchen sink drama of scattered interiors and instead only implying a human narrative of the domestic as lived space, and one primarily focused upon the strangeness of its artefacts. Untitled (Crystal Cabinet #2), a photographic collage, is the only direct imaging of people in the exhibition. Small black and white photographs of what appears to be a dinner party sit underneath flocked wallpaper, cut to give a glimpse of finely dressed figures who seem strangely dissociated from each other. It is a good example of the way in which form is used to resist hackneyed narratives, the sharp geometric cuts into the wallpaper which reveal the image below allow both elements to exist materially and conceptually, creating thematic coherence, but avoiding straightforward conflation.
What is interesting in Fulcher’s treatment of her materials is that it is the material itself that really comes to the fore; this exhibition is compelling because of the unexpected sharpness and precision with which she approaches familiar objects. One of the standout pieces is the three-metre triangle of carpet that sits in the centre of the gallery. Simple in its conception, this worn piece of patterned carpet is inset with a smaller triangular section of similar pattern that highlights the geometric against the ornamentation of the original. This intervention is seemingly straightforward, but it does much to such a loaded artefact. Fulcher chooses a section of carpet that is patterned according to the ubiquitous fashions of the recent past; it is strikingly familiar but equally nonspecific. That the pattern is cut into in an exercise of precise shape-making means that the busy visuals of the carpet are sharply brought to a halt, the contemporary popular interest in clean straight lines obliquely superseding the more florid decoration of the past. The wear and fraying that subtly mark the material makes it seem lived with, perhaps for too long. This treatment of materials is repeated in Untitled (Crystal Cabinet #3). This synthetic satin curtain material is carefully scored with sharp lines, a regular and repeated pattern that is echoed in the strange wallpaper construction that sits on the floor in front of it. Looking more organic than synthetic, the folded wallpaper resembles an origami hedgehog in pale pink. Again, the curtain is marked by age; rust coloured stains discolour the cloth, barely perceptible from a distance, but complicating the surface of the piece from close up. Where it would be easy for Fulcher to emphasise the kitschness of the materials she chooses, encouraging disdain for chintz and tastelessness in her viewers, instead she considers these things seriously, showing them as everyday items well used, appreciated, but also loaded with meanings not often regarded.
The photographic collage Untitled (Crystal Cabinet #6) shows images of the front walls and gates of northside estate houses, the little details that individualise the photographs: pillars, cars, gates and satellite dishes again portray mass design and lived in and personal. Cut across the images is a thin white line, scoring a gap into the representation of familiar environments. It is a line thin enough that it does not obscure that which it represents, but instead reminds the viewer of the representational, the white of the gap echoing the white of the gallery wall. Again, loaded and familiar imagery competes with formal concerns, the straightness of the line highlighting a grid like pattern in the work, the vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines of the photographs become visual echoes of the patterns that Fulcher scores onto materials elsewhere.
In this way Crystal Cabinet is a coherent and condensed exhibition. The precision of line and pattern in the interventions that Fulcher makes to all of her materials (whether found, like the carpet and curtains, or made by the artists, as in the photographs), a visual language is established that repeats across the detritus used to construct the exhibition. Fulcher’s skill is to make familiar items strange enough that we can perceive them without being overwhelmed by their initial associations, but not so strange that these resonances are removed completely. In this way we are given a means to approach these ubiquitous objects so that we can appreciate their peculiarity, but we are also invited to analyse, connect and reimagine them within new aesthetic and symbolic frames.
Angela Fulcher: Crystal Cabinet was on view 19 January – 23 February 2012.