Discovering the motley grouping of objects and events that compose Walking on No- Top Hill, I can’t remember having enjoyed looking at art so much in a long time. It makes me feel giddy and vulnerable, compelling me to shed the cool demeanor of a science-leery artling and succumb to its droll candor and charm.
The two main spaces of the gallery are occupied by an assortment of objects and kinetic sculptures whose diversity is united by a mood of idiosyncratic inquiry and ramshackle chic. ‘Nightwalker’ (all works 2008) consists of a totemic sequence of coloured, neon lights (green, red, blue, yellow) bent parallel and tied to a twisted walking stick leaning in a corner. This piece is emblematic of the co-mingling of the organic and inorganic that often marks Canell’s wholesomely analog sculptures.
In ‘Sleepmachine’, a torn, green plastic bag is flattened and suspended against a wall by the steady breeze of a small black fan located on the wooden handle of a nearby plunger. This humble demonstration of physics seems familiar, as if it has always existed, evidence of some primaeval logic, and yet fresh, arresting and full of a homely grace. Like much of Canell’s work, it evokes the ad hoc aesthetics of Rauschenberg’s early combines, Jimmie Durham and Fischli & Weiss, while a Beuysian shamanism lurks on the periphery of her practice.
In the centre of the same room, a ring of bones, connected end-to-end, hangs horizontally at knee level, suspended from the ceiling by a series of long, floss-thin elastic bands. Inspired by Jean-Antoine Nollet (the 18th century physicist who proved that bones could conduct electricity), this static sculpture bears a latent tension, helping to shift the general tenor of the entire exhibition into a more delicate, if precarious register.
‘Anatomy of Dirt in Quiet Water’, located in the final room and the most ambitious testimony of hypertrophic tinkering in the show, addresses Canell’s preoccupation with sound. This initially confounding archipelago of wayward activity, featuring old amplifiers, blinking lights and a small circular wooden cutout that rotates aloft a geometric bramble of repurposed plumbing, gradually resolves itself with time.
The creaks and tiny growls of the rotating wooden chip are amplified in three different places and ways: directly, through water, and through a mechanism that transformes the sound into flickering light. A phenomenological investigation of sonic mutation with alchemical undertones, this piece speaks of intimacy: puzzling out the miniature workings like deciphering murmurs, you get the feeling that it was made just for you. Its poetry is liable to incite poetry, flooding the mind with qualifiers (raw, quirky, enchanting etc); if the kiss of death ever clouds the brain, it does so fleetingly. Not only is this work too complex, aesthetically, intellectually and scientifically, but its sincerity alludes to the darker, more unwieldy contours of genuine obsession.
Chris Sharp is a writer and curator based in Paris