Colchester: Mixing old and new at town’s gallery

NEW exhibitions at Colchester’s Firstsite, which sees paintings by John Constable sitting alongside contemporary art installations, will open today.

British artist Steven Claydon has brought an eclectic selection of his work to the gallery, including sculptures, paintings, video and print to form his Culpable Earth exhibition.

He has also curated a parallel display called the Equivalents exhibition, which includes cloud paintings by John Constable and a sculpture by controversial American minimalist artist Carl Andre.

Claydon’s work focuses on materials and how they are used to create useful, functional objects, such as barrels, tin cans and bricks. He uses alternative materials to recreate these familiar items and in the process forces us to think about the millions of particles that make-up one simple object.

This concept extends to light and sound with another exhibit being made up of a ceramic bell and a microphone that echoes, perhaps rather annoyingly to some, around the gallery.

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He also gives a nod to Colchester’s rich history, with a Roman face urn installation which he says is his favourite of all the pieces.

Asked what he would like people’s reaction to be to his work, he said: “It’s not just having a subjective, psychological response, it’s physical as well.

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“There is always interaction, we’re drawn together all the time through objects. Each installation is having a relationship with us via the air so there is always that dialogue.”

Accompanying his own works, the Equivalents exhibition includes five cloud studies by Constable during the 1820s and Andre’s 1966 sculpture Equivalents VIII composed of 120 firebricks.

Claydon says the two objects are linked more closely than we would think, in that they are both made up of complex particles beyond their surface.

In 1976, the same installation caused controversy when the Tate purchased it for its collection. Critics said it was a waste of public money purchasing something that looked as though it could have been made by a bricklayer.

But Claydon defends the accusation: “It’s not about whether anyone could create it, Andre thought of them as clouds. I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t see these as beautiful. But, yes, we’re bringing something quite controversial into the Essex landscape.”

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