Exhibition review: Silence Is So Accurate at Turf Gallery

By - Friday 10th February, 2017

Silence is golden, the saying goes, and the exhibition looks that way too

Photo author’s own.

There’s a man who works in the Sistine Chapel whose job is to say “shhhhh”. That’s it: it’s all he does. When the tourist chatter gets above a certain level, he’s on: “Shhhhhhhhh!” he goes. And silence falls. For about a minute.

I’ve never come across this in any other church, cathedral, temple or mosque. People fall silent either because the place is spiritually meaningful to them, or because they can see that it’s spiritually meaningful to others, or just because ancient peace, like that of a cave or a mountain at sunset, makes it restful. You pause. The calm flows around you, stilling you. You don’t need to be shushed.

I wonder if the Sistine Chapel management committee (or whatever) discusses why, of all the places of religious assembly in the world, the self-silencing process fails only in theirs. I doubt it, because it suggests that the Sistine Chapel is not an entirely successful building.

‘Silence Is So Accurate’, a display of artwork by Agnes Calf currently on at the Turf Gallery in central Croydon, made me think about all of this for the first time in seventeen years. Like the famous Vatican chapel, it’s a room with a great deal of gold (silence is golden, you see, and so are the exhibits) which is all about silence. Also like the Sistine Chapel, it doesn’t really work.

The children’s worksheets have sticky-out ears

Photo author’s own.

I like lots of things about Turf Gallery: its imagination, its willingness to take risks and push the boundaries… all of that. I love how family friendly it is: its exhibition worksheets (with sticky-out ears cut in) to occupy and engage visiting children were a joy to behold. But not all risks pay off.

I read the information, which was fairly short. I thought that this was good. It contained the word ‘entablature’, though, which I didn’t think was good. The show is all about silence, and puts a fairly interesting question: is it to be understood negatively, as our ‘pre-logical’ state, or is it, as it’s more commonly experienced, relief and respite from incessant aural overload (did someone say Boxpark?) that’s increasingly denied us? I expected to see this explored in the exhibition.

Earplugs blocking the way through a maze

This didn’t really happen. A golden pizza topped with pebbles is a great image, but how it was part of the silent treatment I’m still not sure. A number of pictures featured bones: I reckon one was intended to look like the tiny malleus in the inner ear, one of the three bones – malleus, incus and stapes – which vibrate as part of the process of hearing sound. (I genuinely recognised its shape from my GCSE in human biology, immovably lodged in my brain. I knew this would be useful one day!) So – that was clever.

One picture used ear plugs to block the way through what might be a maze… or at least, that’s the sense it gave me. (I was trying pretty hard by then.) I think that I could see where the artist was going. There were also coloured eggs with an oddly disgusting texture. They felt like big balls of ear wax.

Photo author’s own.

I did like the blocked up letter boxes. There were quite a lot of letter boxes, distributed unevenly across the artwork’s surface, and their randomness has a feeling of panic, as though a person who just couldn’t handle the bombardment of modern communication had rapidly slammed them shut to keep the world out. You could almost imagine them frantically nailed from the other side of the wall. Silence can be so urgent.

I love a bit of immersion: 3D shows, shows in which everyday materials are re-interpreted, shows where you walk around something, examining it from different angles to work out what it’s saying, and really feel that you’re getting somewhere. You leave with more interesting thoughts. I’ve had that experience at Turf, and I’m sure that I will again.

Not this time, though. I just wasn’t hearing it. Maybe I had my fingers in my ears.

‘Silence Is So Accurate’ is on at Turf Gallery, Keeley Road, Croydon CR0 1TF until Saturday 18th March. The gallery is open 11:00am – 5:00pm Tuesday to Saturday. Entry is free.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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