Birdsong and billboards as Material Matters arrive at Chichester Pallant House

By Mark Sheerin | 06 May 2009
A picture of illuminated visions on screens in an art gallery

(Above) Charles Sandison, Cohesion, 2003, Projected installation using computer code & data programmes. Collection Chris Drake

Exhibition: Contemporary Eye: Material Matters, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, until September 2009

The courtyard of Pallant House Gallery is a place of contrasts. The red brickwork of the historic townhouse lies opposite the cool exterior of a modern exhibition space. It's a stone's throw from Chichester town centre, and today the birdsong is intense.

Something Going On Above My Head is a musical arrangement of 2,000 birds taken from archives all around the world. Columbian artist Oswaldo Maciá installed his sound sculpture in the loggia so that it connects with the garden. The sycamores look suddenly exotic.

A picture of a black and white patterned carpet on a large floor

Langlands and Bell, The Ministry (Health and Education), 2002, Brussels weave carpet. Pallant House Gallery with assistance from the Friends of Pallant House, the National Art Collections Fund and the V&A Purchase Grant Fund

Contemporary Eye: Material Matters is all about the challenges of collecting and exhibiting pieces like this. The ten artists here work in light, chalk stone, wool and even cake. It's a show which asks what it means to own works that change with their time or setting.

A picture of a white screen

James Turrell. Decker (white), 1967, single wall projection. Collection Lockhart

Two pieces look especially at home in the wood-panelled bedrooms of the house. Langlands & Bell have designed a black and white carpet based on photos of a government building in Rio de Janiero. The Ministry (Health and Education) is a dizzying, op-art creation which looks as if you could fall through it.

A picture of a chalk stone in a fireplace

Andy Goldsworthy. Hearth Stones (2002), incised chalk stone sculptures. Purchased with the assistance of the Friends of Pallant House, The Art Fund and the Resource/V&A Purchase Grant Fund (2003)

Elsewhere a folding billboard screens a four-poster bed. A Gucci poster has been mounted on MDF board and holes cut where the model and headline should be. Posters / Screen, Body and Text Removed by the late Angus Fairhurst is neither furniture nor advertising, but an objet d'art with dreamlike properties.

A picture of circular bits of porcelain suspended in the air and scattered across the floor below

WOKmedia: A New Breed (2006), installation in Porcelain. Originally commissioned byContrasts Gallery, Shanghai (2006)

The gallery's more modern rooms are better for showing projections. Cohesion by Charles Sandison fills a long wall with short text that coalesces to make figures, then dissolves. Only three words are used – "you", "me" and "us" – but behind the shifting forms is a complex, impersonal piece of software. It's mesmerising.

A picture of part of a white and green cake

Sarah Lucas, CAKE (2001), inkjet on 12 iced fruitcake. Table design by Precious MacBain, Vanessa Branson Collection

Curator Frances Guy says she is keen to promote collecting for the wider public. "There are ways you can spend your money, and you can buy an artwork which might not cost you too much now but that might increase in value," she argues. For those who can afford artwork like this, their display and conservation are both major considerations. The rest of us can but dream.

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