Karsten Schubert, LondonFrieze, Issue 25, Nov-Dec 1995
Pattern recognition is one of those skills that our brains are 'hard-wired' for. We don't have to acquire this ability; it happens without troubling our cerebrum. We are very good at pattern recognition and able to pick familiar faces out of a crowd even though actual, measurable differences in physiognomy are so small as to be negligible. However, faces are something that we are all specialists in; other things can be altered without most people even noticing. Liz Wright would notice, though. Her shrunken Yellow Pages shares an office desk with a 'straight' computer and tries to look blasé. But if it wanted to appear ordinary then it really ought to keep better company than the elongated packet of Polos - regular in diameter but about a metre long - that sits alongside it. Other assorted items include a stretched Kleenex tissue box, crisp packets, beer cans (in abundance) and a week's worth of shopping in plastic carrier bags. Getting into her stride, Wright also includes items, such as newspapers, that have been distorted into perspective; a box of Black Magic chocolates that stretches itself along the floor, hugging the wall so tightly that it actually performs a 90-degree turn on the corner; and, somewhat incongruous with the other homely specimens, a Le Corbusier chaise-longue reduced to 65% scale.
The whole gallery bears the ambience of virtual-reality - the white walls and mixture of spartan domestic and work environments (the living-room, the office). And, like most VR, we cannot touch the objects: l'oeil is easily tromped, the other senses are not. A further similarity to computer space is the loss of information: although the telephone directory's pages have been reduced on a colour photocopier in two dimensions, the only way for Wright to reduce the book in the third dimension was to tear out the requisite percentage of pages at random. Surface over substance: the illusion must be preserved. Vision has always been privileged within our society.
Wright's work can be read as a celebration of the versatility of human cognitive abilities: we can recognise all of these sculptures as familiar products, no matter how distorted. But our senses are so insistent about the ordinariness of the items before us that our wildly screaming perception of scale is mugged, gagged and bound to a Hornby railway track. This collision of senses results not in bewildered confusion, as one might expect, but in a slight - yet drummingly constant - feeling of unease. Realising that all is not quite right, desperation sets in when you end up having to search for mutations in the more subtly affected objects. The jacket that begins at one cuff as a size 8 and ends at the other a size 11 is a good example, as are the equally distorted shoes which accompany it. The most difficult to grasp is the photograph depicting a perfect young family at home: perfect except for the fact that all of their clothes are ever-so-slightly too tight. But to some - Jarvis Cocker of Pulp, perhaps - ill-fitting clothes are not a conceit of conceptual art, but actually a top fashion tip. And so the photograph slips just too far from art towards its nemesis: reality.
However, another of the more believable items - the sofa with a tight cover - speaks volumes on our relentless quest for perfection and the way we ultimately get by with second-best. It works because we have to wonder where the standard or 'control' objects are in this experiment. We know what Stella Artois cans look like because they are mass-produced. But what does a standard sofa cover look like? This piece has a delicacy of touch that would be lost without the other, more forward, works.
Gregor Muir suggests in the catalogue to the exhibition 'General Release' at this year's Venice Biennale that Wright's work twists these familiar objects back into the realm of vision, making us comprehend as images what are more often considered as denizens of the physical or, more forcefully, social domains. Even the crushing of her pristine cans does not fracture the heat-shield surface of mass production that usually protects such objects from our penetrative gaze. But how close can we get to a straightforward reading of Wright's work, at least in such a complex exhibition as this? The readings attainable are general, but the objects are highly specific yet - crucially - essentially jumbled. We jump from messy domestic, to office, to Le Corbusier. We have to contend with enlargements, shrinkages, distortions and losses of information (sounds like television news to me). Then there are is a whole other body of work consisting of objects, unaltered in scale, with common comestibles illusionistically incorporated into their photocopied covers: A-Z with sausage roll, telephone bill with bread and jam... you get the idea. Not to mention the fairground trickery of the red wine bottles with invisible can, which is worlds away from the rest of the work. Wright would do well to remember that some of her raw materials are not so raw: they carry highly constructed meanings of their own, which can overpower attempts, no matter how sly or elegant, to use them as hosts for parasitical meanings. Remember: spreading too much jam on your photocopier can blur the focus.
text copyright david barrett
images copyright the artists