The Sunday Painter, London
29 November 2014 – 18 January 2015
by HARRIET THORPE
Samara Scott’s artwork brings materiality back from an age of internet art. Moving inside the screen was an interesting leap for artists, but Scott (b1984) paid a visit to virtuality and then returned to reality. In the exhibition, she becomes an unconventional landscape artist playing with the tactile nature of the consumer society through edible and chemical substances. Scott, who studied for an MA at the Royal College of Art, exhibited at the Peckham Pallazzo at the Venice Biennale in 2013, and has had exhibitions at Seventeen gallery and the Zabludowicz collection, among others.
In the corridor of the Sunday Painter, there is a distinctive, minty smell of toothpaste. It has been smeared on to the wall in irregular squirts that have been flattened and used like a thick glue for thin layers of brightly patterned pages from magazines . Titled Landscape, the work resembles an impressionist, pointillist painting and a collage of sorts, each flash of colour a fragment of another artwork. The confined corridor denies the viewer the perspective of distance and, even with eyes squinted, it is impossible to recontextualise the image from abstract. The Seurat-style landscape is fragmented and in free-fall. The toothpaste is versatile and when the work meets the corner of the wall, it folds over it, continuing around the corner. The toothpaste and the thin magazine paper have materiality in common.
Landscape is also addressed in the upstairs gallery where 14 individual and 3D landscapes sit like floating islands on the gallery floor. They resemble irregularly shaped petri dishes of cultivated bacteria under a microscope. The land bases are formed from baking trays, a disposable barbecue or a polystyrene fish box lid. Each is unique in shape and materials. Scott uses new materials with different properties, such as snow spray, decorative sand, insulation foam and potatoes. A squashy brown avocado skin is used in Sogetsu (heaven) 2014, along with potatoes, tights, Lenor fabric conditioner and aquarium rocks.
A text written by Scott accompanies the exhibition, which distils the materials down to our daily interaction with them and their involvement within a cycle of consumption and waste. The title of the exhibition, Harvest, refers to the abundance of overripe matter in our society and a culture that worships the idea of throwaway sell-by-dates. Many of the materials Scott uses are edible: as well as the avocado skin, she employs beans, nuts, noodles, potatoes, turmeric, Sprite and white wine. Food has been a recurring material in art history, most notably used by pop artists in America, who looked at the increasing rate of consumption during an industrial era: Andy Warhol famously made multiple prints of Campbell’s soup cans in his Factory and Claes Oldenburg created large-scale sculptures of household objects. The British contemporary artist Keith Coventry, too, made a bronze sculpture of a kebab machine, playing with the concepts of high and low culture through food. Scott’s consumption is that of a technological age, an age of 3D printers and copy and paste.
Scott describes her work as: “A living, decaying, fermenting collision of the ancestral sap of Claire’s Accessories and 99p Chinatown Copacabana runes.” She conjures images of manmade objects, chemicals that have been mixed, melted and moulded, then used and discarded. Many of the materials she uses are artificially concocted, such as spray paint, hair gel, nail varnish and acrylics. It is interesting that these substances can be poisonous to humans if consumed yet Scott is not an environmental activist. The works have a sanguine beauty and Scott recreates the feeling of a passive pleasure taken from a dangerous and harmful contemporary existence.
She casts the works beneath a warm light, an autumnal dusk that acts as a visual relaxant. Lines of spotlights on the wall emit shafts of light across the works. Like planets rotating around the sun, some parts of the landscapes are in shadow and some in light. The series of sculptures becomes an installation, and the gallery a solar system. The environment defines a contemporary aesthetic of malady and paradise, irresistible urban amenities surrounded by a city smog. Scott describes the atmosphere as a “medieval-Miami sunset”, where the “sallow sun” sets over a “boozy western skyline”.
Scott conjures up a scene so rich and dramatic it feels like another universe, yet somehow it also seems like home. Close up, the shadows pick out details of the landscapes. Familiar objects such as beads, broken necklaces and seashells shrink and grow with intensity of the light, adding drama to these miniature stage sets. The intensity of the dense surfaces is the harvest where objects are cultivated at a quickening pace in an abstract reflection of our homes and high streets.