Prophetic Diagrams offers glimpses into artists' tentative and preparatory sketches – the initial gestures that explore an idea or thought. The exhibition is characterized by a kind of looseness; a sense of meandering through the imaginations of the artists.
The underlying concept of the exhibition revolves around an 18th century German book on the occult, which the curator, William Corwin, found in a skip in Greenwich Village in 1993. Fascinated by the emphasis on the visual representation of the spells and incantations, Corwin realized that the process of drawing was a persuasive mechanism at the heart of these supernatural desires. In Prophetic Diagrams he carries this idea forward, exploring the creative alchemy of art practice through the preliminary sketches, strokes and mock-ups with which artists playfully, and hopefully, initiate a new creation.
The exhibition brings together both established artists and new graduates; works by Bob and Roberta Smith, Sarah Lucas and Simon Patterson are shown alongside those of emerging artists such as Chris Baker and Rose Davey. Although diverse – there are 39 artists featured in the exhibition – there is nevertheless a sense of harmony, a narrative thread linking each artwork.
One of the strengths of the exhibition lies in the distinctive foundation laid by Corwin. He sent each of the artists a short essay describing the found book, along with his initial thoughts and impressions (this is available at the gallery). This defining, and yet open approach set the artists in motion – there is an organic and dynamic relationship between the works. It is refreshing to see this openness within the curating process. Sometimes, by bringing together such a large body of works from so many different artists, the core concept can weaken, resulting in a mish-mash of ideas. Or, at the other extreme, having a distinct preformed idea of the final product can override the innovative, creative impact of artworks on each other. Prophetic Diagrams falls into neither camp: it manages to hold a diverse range of artists in orbit – each a separate entity, but interconnected by a kind of conceptual tension.
The fact that most of the works are framed initially seems to offset the concept of the exhibition. The frames appear too exacting; too careful and neat. But, as I continued throughout the gallery, I gradually realized that the frames provide an effective contrast to the work they contained. Each frame, in effect, emphasises the fluidity, informality and fragility of each sketch. Just as the sharp edges, straight lines and margins of a sketchbook facilitate and contain creative chaos within, so the frames give the works a sense of theatre – a structure from which they stand out.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is a large ink drawing by Gaetan Sigonney entitled Motherboard 1 + 1 = consequence. The piece seems to illustrate the clusters, constellations and swarms that form around new ideas, whilst drawing our attention to the time-investment required to develop a thought. Another outstanding work is Paulina Michnowska's Gun – a delicate, watery painting of a gun – a curious artwork indicating an untold story, or the start of a narrative.
It is this obscuring of the final, "official" artwork that engages the imagination of the viewer and makes us complicit in the affectivity of the exhibition. In viewing the work, we collaborate with the artists and join them in their exploratory thought process.
It's a great exhibition to see at the start of the year, as it's a thought-provoking look at new beginnings and new ideas. The exhibition has been extended to the 16th of February, so make sure you set aside an afternoon to go and see it. It's also George and Jørgen's last exhibition at their current location at 9 Morocco Street, between London Bridge and Bermondsey. The gallery will soon be moving to a new location, yet to be disclosed – so keep an eye out for their next exhibition.