Laura Aldridge’s recent work reveals an evolving sensibility that employs text, theatricality, and various decorative arts to question the nature of the works she exhibits. There is a sensitivity to display techniques in her work that goes back to her MFA degree show where she presented a series of photographic portraits of individuals modelling ‘radical facial jewellery’, reminiscent of anthropological imagery, alongside a large pop art totem, ‘personal triumph’. Reproductions of early museum interiors were important to that body of work and remain so in more recent pieces. The otherness that a museum or a gallery bestows on an object, amplifying its characteristics and extracting it from familiar contexts, is clearly of interest.
Aldridge, though, is not conducting some predictable Foucauldian critique of power, colonialism and display. Instead, the emphasis seems to rest on the liberation from function that befalls objects in a gallery space or a museum presentation. The otherness that emanates from the objects in these conditions is created by their transition from practicality to decorativeness. Aldridge highlights the energy and playfulness released in this process while also pointing to the strange sense of dislocation that accompanies it. In her most recent exhibition, ‘the workshop has survived because we love each other’, at Glasgow Sculpture Studios this year, this approach has been taken much further. Three large rock-like sculptures inhabit a space abutted on one end by a purple backdrop. The sculptures are all animal mass with suggestions of tails, paws, ears, and hind legs though never clearly identifiable. They smack of public sculpture and their outdoor quality is emphasised by the real-life plants growing within crevices in the works. Around the walls are images of boy band Blazin’ Squad looking as mean as they can muster lined up on a sink estate wall. Each of these images is obscured by a loose, chaotic network of rope and wire, a series of organic nooses and knots which defy the manufactured rebellion of the band and assert the primacy of materials over product. In the shadow of the purple backdrop, all of this assumes a theatrical form and we, the audience, find ourselves players amid these objects. The title of the exhibition comes back to haunt us—a drama workshop or a sculpture workshop? ‘Because we love each other?’
It’s at this point the works take off from their moorings and tempt us to move beyond literal interpretations. Fiona Jardine’s accompanying primer, both enigmatic and thought-provoking, encourages us to plant our own ideas in this object garden and watch them flourish. Aldridge returns us to the museum’s early origins in garden history.
Francis McKee is director of CCA, Glasgow