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The Double Negative Review

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An exhibition that challenges our ideas of Anglo-Russian collaboration is a timely one, says Andy Minnis…

Approaching GRAD (Gallery for Russian Art and Design), the first thing you see is brightly coloured gravel on the pavement outside. Posing an unexpected challenge before we even enter — is this art? Are we meant to stomp all over it or not? — this unconventional greeting is part of Taint, a collaborative exhibition of contemporary artists from the UK and Russia.

Curated by Hannah Campion (London) and Katya Sivers (Moscow), the exhibition presents the work of Adam Burns, Anton Kuznetsov, Ekaterina Lupanova, Ivan Novikov, Lisa Plavinsky, Heather Ross, Jacopo Trabona, Claire Undy. Using painting, sculpture, video and installation, the artists present their interpretation of painting, dissecting traditional concepts and reinventing the idea of what a painting is and should be.

A bold and capitvating introduction from Hannah Campion, we follow the trail through to the open gallery space and are greeted with a swirling carpet of the same, decorative gravel. Mixed with white sand, these materials are normally to be found at the bottom of fish tanks; here, spread across the floor, they are transformed into flashes and patterns of colour that captured our attention and evoked pigments spread on an artist’s palette. Initially stepping carefully over the gravel trails, the audience eventually start walking through the gravel and it becomes an evolving interactive art work, mixing colours and creating new patterns.

“Perhaps the ongoing conflict will overshadow Russian culture and make similar joint exhibitions harder to stage”

The majority of the works here are displayed in more conventional ways — hung or projected onto the walls — but none could be considered traditional. Highlights include Katya Sivers’ monochrome metal lightboxes with ripped paper, reminiscent of rotating bus stop advertising. Ivan Novikov’s brooding canvases are washed with layers of dark colour and paired with plastic bottles (filled with washings of the same paint), and placed as if the canvas was being drained.

These are contrasted by bright, abstract works by Adam Burns, who has suspended oil paint on and between acrylic sheets and two large canvases (positioned in the gallery windows by Hannah Campion) with vibrant washings of paint, mixed with masking tape, and combined in a style reminiscent of German artist Isa Genzken.

This is certainly a collection of work that provides contrasts; of tone, texture, form and scale. The exhibition challenges convention and forces us to rethink what painting actually is, what it means, and leads us to rethink gallery etiquette in a broader sense by presenting works on the walls, yes, but also on the floor and hidden in corners.

This is also, more importantly, an Anglo-Russian exhibition, ongoing against a tense political climate and strained diplomatic relations following the annexation of Crimea. Russia seems to be entering a new political phase with an ambiguous future. Perhaps the ongoing conflict will overshadow Russian culture and make similar joint exhibitions harder to stage, but there is no shadow cast over Taint or GRAD. The exhibition presents a part of Russian society redefining their world in a creative rather than a destructive way and the results are certainly thought provoking.

Andy Minnis