To present a solo show in a venue as dynamic as the gallery spaces on offer at Oriel Mostyn is a task not to be underestimated. Very recent custodians have included David Nash, Anselm Kiefer and presently Mali Morris. So to take on not one but four gallery spaces, as Fred Langford Edwards now does, is no mean feat.
Apothocaries, Archives, Icons is an exhibition that presents to us an amalgam of cultural, religious and medical related items using photo based media, sourced during the artists time at work at the Estrella Museum of Medicine in Quito, Ecuador. As a compass cue to the shows rationale, the accompanying narrative tells us that:
His work investigates historical and contemporary aspects of science, exploring the cultural forces that drive changes and directions of thought and study.
Does this rationale translate? The answer is most certainly yes. This translation revolves around the centrepieces of the show, two monolith-like assemblages on offer in gallery 3, each dominating opposing walls. The first piece, a vast collection of medical jars, vials and containers, presented row upon row. Bold, awe-inspiring? Most certainly, but where this piece succeeds is in its sincerest simplicity. The viewer is immediately reminded of how, through its culture, society seeks to classify, categorise, measure, and identify objects around us to create a sense or order of things. From this we can interpret meaning, sequences or patterns of events. We impose organisation, a hierarchy, group, and partner. Identify families and relations. Having done so, we are then able to shine the spotlight of curiosity on those objects that don’t quite fit the norm or pattern.
The second assemblage presents dusty, moth-eared texts and notes: a very personification of knowledge. What is compelling about this piece is the way the subject matter is presented to the viewer, an imposing array that is itself a statement, a self-justification, trophy-like, the end product of the pursuer’s efforts. However, there is no end product here, only a deeper, more meaningful truth. Simply, that through a thirst for knowledge, once we bring it into existence, it then takes on a life of its own. Its own existence becomes its reason for being. Un-satiated.
The occupying piece in gallery 4, also an assemblage of smaller, almost-index card like categorisations, works equally well, although on a smaller scale, as its cousins in gallery 3. Up to this point the show hold its own.
The one draw back here is that there seems to be rather a lot of ‘telling’ going on in this show, if not in the brief narratives that punctuate tweet-like on the gallery walls, then the forty plus framed photographs depicting culture, religion and science in galleries 1 and 2 certainly do so. The key images they depict, the very DNA of the show, take full stage here, in a pure, almost repetitive, barrage-like fashion. One almost senses that having pulled off the visual spectacles in gallery 3 and 4 with aplomb, that the remaining space on offer may have necessitated a desire to make full use of it. Overstating the effect.
Through the artists work we travel far only to realise a truth far closer to home. A thought provoking show that gets its point across and, having done so, leaves a mark. There is poetry at play here. I just wish it could have been subtler in its delivery.