The word portfolio might imply that the latest exhibition at The Bluecoat is quite a simple collection of work. The dreaded P word, ever the bane of the developing artist, might hint that Portfolio NW is the lucky chance for a number of up and coming artists to finally have their work shown in a more public-centred gallery. From reading Jack Welsh’s excellent accompanying notes and wandering around the, at the time violently leaking, space, the obviousness which accompanies the word may be far more inward looking than first appears.

These are mini-portfolios of what is currently happening on the North-West but the methodology of putting together the work as such almost implies that there is no way of escaping these current trends and in fact it is entirely plausible that, like the best of portfolios, its attempt to showcase a scene or oeuvre of an artist will actually be more likely to create one within itself. Rebecca Chesney’s room goes against this but other artist’s work does indeed scream of a stylised, inescapable movement.

Chesney’s work is interesting in that it balances haphazard, almost random objects with a deeply personal connecting stem. This stem is only apparent with the knowledge and thought behind the works but in some cases the work is interesting enough to stand on its own. Chesney travelled to Romania, more specifically the area of the Carpathian Mountains in a Herzogian journey to find the abandoned village of Vadu Zbor. With this knowledge, the seemingly nonsensical collection of a dead blackbird, photographs, video and pieces of ceramic become a more melancholic day-dream back to the past of this abandoned village, now only in existence through broken objects and obscure memories.  However this story is worth taking with more and a fair pinch of salt.

Hannah Wooll’s work in oil and ink is more in line with the term portfolio, being a literal collection of papers and boards that all stylistically fit and represent where the artist is currently poised. The artist has forty works on display all of which carry the distorted sense of character and proportion. They seem more of a satire upon the romanticised portraits of classical women, deliberately bringing out their fragility in the most ironic of ways. Most of the women painted look most surprised at their existence within each canvas, just on the cusp of a quiet dawn of realisation that their whole emotional make-up is at the hands of a painter, forever destined to be portrayed as docile.

The photography work of Tadhg Devlin also captures the artist’s current interests perfectly; being stuck in a perpetual limbo dictated by location and its effect on identity. The photographs themselves have a character driven aesthetic typical of a more gritty photographic persona but it is again about the shadowing foreknowledge that brings a more emotional resonance to the work. These photographs play off well against the sculptures of Dave Evans where the shambolic collides with the solid photographic work. Evans’ sculptures seem inexplicably linked with time, as if each accidental looking crease has created a butterfly effect manifesting itself into a huge sculpture of paper and wood.

The work of Kai-Oi Jay Yung in the backspace of Gallery Three felt a little more unintentionally unfinished. It’s almost a given that the space and work will improve greatly when the artist’s planned activities are happening (various dance themed events) and, exempting some interesting photographic work, is a random collection of objects that create only the slightest of correlations.

There are plenty of other points of interest at Portfolio NW (alongside Claire Weetman’s Vide installation which is a separate but interesting entity) but here, there is enough discussed to understand the workings of Portfolio NW. It isn’t simply a showcase but a curatorial experiment within the very idea of display and communication between artist, gallery and viewer. It matters little that the visibility of these artists is being increased (at least in a creative sense, probably more so in a tedious, financial sense) but more that these artists have a chance to develop their work within an environment that has in depth relationships already inbuilt in the viewers that enter the realm. It is about space and not simply about advertisement, promotion, endorsement or any other buzzword often associated with portfolios.

Portfolio NW is on at The Bluecoat until the 15th of September.

Adam Scovell

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