Fractured – (a review)

(by River Stone)

Sandwich © Sam Peacock

Terror and Beauty

Let me start by explaining why I’m posting a review for an art exhibition you can no longer see. Fractured, artist Sam Peacock’s third UK solo show, ran at Curious Duke Gallery in London from 5th to 15th March 2015, a disappointingly short run for such a powerful set of pieces. The primary reason is simple: I want you to see these creations. This is my first (yes, first ever) posting and I want to use it to share images of these works. So, go on, click here before reading any more to view what I was privileged to see hanging on this tiny gallery’s walls. (If you then click on individual images, you’ll be taken to a separate page where you can read a small story about the work in question. Do that now, if you like, or stay with me a while longer.)

The second reason I’m posting a review for an exhibition that’s been and gone is because its subject is an exploration of the potential effects fracking will have on the environment here, in the UK. We need to keep talking about this. There will be no moratorium on granting licenses for fracking. There should have been — of course there should have been — if only to consider the consequences of this activity, but our government won’t think outside the market paradigm. There are no moral limits, to coin Michael Sandel’s phrase, where capital is concerned.

Peacock’s works are subterranean imaginings of how the land may be changed when gallons of chemicals and water and sand are injected into the earth at high pressure to release natural gas. I want to give a little permanence to a transient thing — that moment of walking round the gallery, the pieces placed one next to another in careful arrangement —because the work I saw confronts the transience of landscapes, as we live by and with them. The earth is beautifully mobile and mutable, and its plates shift and heave by their own measure, but violent intervention by hydraulic fracturing will surely have unintended effects. Peacock has made works of uneasy speculation and for all their terror and beauty, I want to say: please, no. We should not force this change.

The works themselves are steel sheets layered with paint, plaster, wire and colour, blistered by fire. Each is named after a place in the UK which may become a fracking site. (And again, I do urge you to click on each individual image on the main page to read a little about these sites. The pieces are abstract, but they are responses to real places, with their own stories.)

Puckland Wood (copyright Sam Peacock)

Here, in one of the larger pieces, Puckland Wood, we see a dried ooze running along the margin of the white plaster section; I was reminded of tree sap, which appears as a strange border between what I take to be a layer of rock (the white) and soil (the murky greys, browns and reds above). This odd arrangement gives a sense of natural order subverted, of the uncanny. In short, things aren’t where they’re supposed to be. We are looking here at the earth below an ancient woodland, according to the information accompanying the image: a home to bats, owls and bluebells. What will be the outcome of fracking in such a place?

Running blind

Sandwich, the image at the top of this post, was the piece I found most captivating and alarming. It’s a work of charred beauty: a black sun (or so it seemed to me) burnt into the mud and blood-red rock, but also an image reminiscent of melted film stock. Either is unsettling: if black sun, a chthonic deity burning the earth from the inside; if disintegrating film-frame, an interruption of the narrative, a break. A fracture.

The works are highly textured and some (for example, Shotts) have exposed wires protruding from them. Are these pieces of rubbish compacted into the earth, or perhaps renegade bits of fracking machinery, come loose from their moorings? In one piece, Netherley, the wire resembles a claw. This is nightmare territory now, a cyborgian creature scratching its way up to the surface, refusing to stay buried.

I said these are uneasy speculations because we are running blind here. Peacock has given us a set of arresting, disturbing and beautiful conjectures. They are, I hope, not prophecies.

Fractured ran at Curious Duke Gallery, Whitecross Street, London, EC1Y 8QP, from 5th to 15th March 2015. All images copyright Sam Peacock, used for review purposes only. Visit the gallery’s site here.