Emma Geliot's picture

Big Bad Weld, Nicola Ellis 2015 Big Bad Weld - Nicola Ellis 2015

What structures lurk behind the white washed walls of our galleries? What do we intentionally hide? Nicola Ellis confronts aesthetic perfection and champions disruptive irregularities. Francesca Donovan reviews her show at Arcade Cardiff.

Exposed wires, unsmoothed corners, round pegs in square holes. Visible structural irregularities don t sit well in our projected visions of the ideal reality. Loose floorboards and cracks in the ceiling evoke thoughts of structural collapse, erosion, decay. They send most of us running to B&Q to buy a spirit level and WD40. Cover up the imperfections! Out of sight, out of mind!

Perhaps this is a concept Nicola Ellis, the artist responsible for More Room for Error, neither uses nor cares for. The exhibition forces us to look beyond the perfect by placing disruptions and surface breaks directly into the most preened of public spaces: the art gallery. Arcade Cardiff, to be specific.

Nicola Ellis - More Room for Error, Installation View, Arcade Cardiff 2015 Nicola Ellis - More Room for Error, Installation View, Arcade Cardiff 2015

On entering, you are confronted by metal sculptures jutting out of white walls and laminate wood floor, like wonky paving stones and unruly doorstops. Double Whammy (2014) and Tall As It Is Long (2015) stand strong, ready to trip you up and force your path through the gallery, willing you to fall head first into the crescendo of the exhibition; Big Bad Welds (2015). This sculpture a mass of grey and tarnish and mild steel protrudes from the walls, escaping its plaster captor. Its dark tactility comes from the visible connects between small metal sheets welded together to form an intimidating whole. It makes its presence felt from the moment you enter the gallery and looms over the other works. King of the workshop. Majesty of the weld.

There are moments of fragility, weak links, in the narrative that become endearing among the hard steel. Ellis drapes a length of grey and red upholstery vinyl on the gallery wall, so delicately that it could have been used to clothe The Three Graces. The contemporary version situated in our IKEA-obsessed era, perhaps. Stitched vinyl series: Grey and red (2015), as with the other works, lifts often overlooked materials to a higher plane of consideration.

Stitched Vinyl Series Grey and Red -  Nicola Ellis, 2014 Stitched Vinyl Series Grey and Red - Nicola Ellis, 2014

Ellis asks what makes us dismiss these unfinished, crude structures. (Other than health and safety bureaucrats, of course who extend a gloved authoritative hand, commanding:Halt, watch out member of the public, you may smother yourself with that soft grey insulation material. Keep out of reach of idiots. ) Why are we are programmed to smooth over cracks and put plasters on scratches, to actively avoid these imperfections?

The sculptures respond to this dismissal by bursting out from behind walls and floorboards with a vibrant physicality. They are Ellis s fascination with the irregularities of raw laboured metal made manifest.

Nicola s practice is about reversing traditions. She conquers the rulebooks of technical crafts such as welding and fabrication and utilises these skills in an entirely new, creative manner. Her skill allows her to explore mass, scale, lines and planes; the theses of sculpture and structural form.

Mark Devereux who curated and commissioned Ellis' show recalls the long hours she spent in the workshop after dark, techno music pounding, sparks flying. Looking at the bumps and curves and sinews of Big Bad Welds, you are transported into that gloomy workshop. You can sense the hot electric process of creation through the tactility of its once molten material. You can picture Ellis toiling over her welding iron, working with the malleability of the metals under extreme heat. Her creative process is fluid. She allows the materials to guide her hand and her next move.


Big Bad Weld (detail) Nicola Ellis, 2015 Big Bad Weld (detail) - Nicola Ellis, 2015

The organic process is surprising when you see the stoic pride of the finished works and the resulting tensions they create in a gallery space. The sculptures, the space and the viewer are at loggerheads. All elements are forced to question their roles within the schema. The gallery and the viewer become the passive while the sculptures, representing imperfect rawness, hold court over their surroundings. Artistic traditions themselves are questioned as Ellis works traverse the boundary between structure and sculpture. After all, isn t sculpture simply structure plus artistic logic?

The space and the philosophies of the artist s work are serendipitously aligned in their championing of the irregular. Arcade Cardiff is no standard cubic space, nestled into a subterranean nook in Queens Arcade. Ellis art and the gallery space come together in a conversation about the importance of what lies beneath; theugly beneath the smooth.

More Room for Error is a two-week touring exhibition. The sculptures will move onto &Model (Leeds) and Bloc Projects (Sheffield). Although the objects are not site-specific, with clever curating, Ellis commentary will remain true. What happens when we take a closer look at the brackets and the screws that hold the structures of our lives together? Can we perceive something beautiful in the strength of material and the process of its cohesion and connection?

Ellis sculptures acknowledge the internal structures that exist hidden behind MDF and poly-filler, showing their definitive place within all constructed spaces and in turn their inherent note-worthiness. They are crucial. Essential. Absolutely necessary. The artworks bridge the gap between the fa ade and the structures working behind the scenes to literally keep the roof over our head.

The exhibition was at Arcade Cardiff 30.05.2015 13.06.2015

www.nicolaellis.com www.arcadecardiff.co.uk