We were here but not for long

Press release for a two person show featuring Sam Blackwood and Corey Bartle-Sanderson at Villiage Books, Leeds - August 2023

The North bank of the Aire at dawn; the unfolding constellations of Canary Wharf, etched onto the Thames foreshore; a beach, far off and grey, hazed by rain. A pair traipse parallel footsteps through the silt, steel waves threatening to erase their work. Scanning the ground with metal sticks, they carry shopping baskets of redundant fragments: bent cutlery, billboard offcuts, ceramic shards, torn clothing, gnawed plastic, and the eternal silver of confectionary wrappers. Objects emblematic of the quotidian, the invisible; aspects on the cusp of different zones, grounded in or moving along the unspeakable axes partitioning that which we would define as ‘space’.

They head for the pickup. The trailer roof has been hacked away with some inappropriate tool, hastily replaced by a framework of window shutters, heightening the sides of the compartment towards imposition. Their findings are lowered over the edge with great care. The driver opens a door, offloading his kit with a huff. On the cracked leather beside him sits a short range radio, a handheld anemometer in silver (with one of the three hemispherical cups missing), and two car batteries. The footwell below the apparatus brims with empty bottles, which rattle frantically at the turnover of the engine. They have combed this stretch as if droned in rapture, endlessly seeking something without being able to remember what - unable to relocate the psychic co-ordinates with which to anchor their search or themselves - occasionally taking comfort in the fact that whatever they find always had to be found.

Eastwards, the parting dunes reveal the sprawling landfill of the coastal waste dumps, punctuated by networks of brutalist underpasses, mortified and flanked by concrete urine deflectors at unscalable angles, a tenacious flora on their banks. The truck follows the spinal arc of the land, which curves towards the horizon, stumbling off into a morse phrase. After a time, a dim blockhouse moves into the dark frame of the windshield, sketched by the headlights. The windows are lined with the bombast of tabloid headlines, smear campaigns, and a photomontage of conflated images. The four walls are pebble-dashed, marked with a vague graffiti. A switch is flicked, a lone bulb liquifying the moonlight into syrup, revealing a solitary living environment lost to navigating its own psychic highways.

Brimming wooden shelves line the double-height walls. Hundreds of fragments in a similar cadence to those in the pickup have been arranged to face the centre of the room, classified into an incoherent remix of hierarchies, informed by something without. Shelves stop at the wrong moment, interrupting other meticulously poised elements, before recommencing at an incorrect eye-line: a poorly transposed phrase in a television score. Fragments have been gathered in sacks that have split, left to blight the units below. The gentle undulation of the timber stud-work maps the convergence of the gaps between these shelves - now cast as dark Ley lines in a tomography of unknowable meaning, meeting together each time the collected objects become too apparent, too manifest. The fragments seem to hum together, a chorus in a reverberant shadow-show. A thousand lives: a certain frequency evidenced on the pocked surfaces of plug casings, in the stains inside a jean jacket pocket, in the mist on a fragment of shattered pint glass. Every hand it has touched, every lip it has passed. A life of their own.

Absences in the collection reveal a dim bleed from the newspapered windows beyond. At the top of the furthest cinderblock wall, the only unlined window projects a panorama of grey living blocs outside, visibly saturated by the outlines of material goods and luxuriously textured objects in their own windows. Fruit bowls, electric juicers, walk-in showers, fridge-freezers, flatscreen televisions, faux plants, Anatolian carpets and luxury furniture, dragged in from the street and fed up the elevator shaft. Penthouses above and flats below: through their saturation, these spaces are nullified into a vague lexicon of signs and symbols, fed into a queue of use-value, and informed by the cinematic proportions of the windowsill.

Back in the bunker, things seem to make more sense. Speed is reduced; contrast dialled back. The need for producing a ‘clear image’ becomes redundant. Everything appears to have found its place, and though indecipherable, feels like a minor relief from that which lies beyond the beach. Through an incoherence that doesn’t demand translation, the towers of objects become a language of human presence that simply requires to be.

Awash but afloat - waves flatten, churn, and repeat. The calmer straits are punctuated by sea birds as city birds as country birds, perched outside the blockhouse window at dawn. Sunlight bleeds through the shelves, revealing dust particles as microscopic interventions in space - rounded isometries; crystalline structures that are blindingly reflective as they make their way from above to filter between the objects on the shelves, finding their own place among the ruins.