Writing: Jonathan Baldock for CGP & Dilston Grove, London

I’ve written a text for Jonathan Baldock’s exhibition ‘There is No Place Like Home’ at CGP & Dilston Grove, London. More information HERE.

There’s No Place Like Home

The wind is blowing through my thin cotton jumper. It’s early June and the summer air is tempered by a cool breeze. The rubberised soles of my shoes soften the concrete under my feet as I walk into town. Liquidity abuts solidity — my body insulated and concealed under cotton, denim and leather. Materials that come up hard and cold against the body and others that are pliable, yielding to it. To the right of me, the Humber River laps against the concrete tidal barrier. To the left, shrubs and weeds sway in the wind, their convulsive movement reminds me of a throng of impassioned football fans or perhaps angry protesters.

We all anthropomorphise our environment, seeking human-like attributes in plants and animals. The city becomes populated with inanimate faces hidden in doorways and windows. I wonder what Jonathan Baldock would see in these weeds and hedges? His work dissolves the edges of the body and its environment. He uses materials such as hessian, felt, wax, salt-dough and ceramic — soft and hard, pliable and playful. Figures merge with objects, building’s take on bodily attributes — a door becomes mouth-like, the windows are eyes. Baldock makes things we want to touch and inhabit — but the softness here is both material and conceptual. It is the softness of a cotton jumper and the warm wax of a burning candle yet it also a softening and dissolution of boundaries.

Baldock’s fecund formalism moves forwards and backwards in time. Biomorphic Modernism meets Butoh dance. Folkloric motifs are conflated with Russian Constructivism. The human form is mutated, scaled up and down, fragmented and stylised to a point of abstraction. There are rarely any edges in Baldock’s work, only curves and constant movement — ideas and image remain mobile. The persistent use of fabric offers a similar dissolution and resistance to fixity. Clothing is a barrier that enables skin to breathe, and its porosity — felt on my walk into town— allows wind and water to move through it. Textiles can be penetrated easily, offering a particularly vulnerable threshold.

If these objects could speak, what would they say and how would they say it? How would they move and who would they move for? Baldock’s sculptures, of course, don’t breath and no matter how much we want to give them the kiss of life, their softness isn’t warm — their clothing conceals steel and foam; not blood, organs and muscle. The figures are non-binary — conveying male and female attributes. The sculptures are often literally (and metaphorically) put on wheels.  They take up many physical and symbolic positions. Gigantic candles and miniaturised bodies — scale is utilised to disorientate the spectator and estrange them from common place items. How large does a sculpture have to be to hide a body? Large and small, these objects use the entirety of the gallery from the ceiling, to the walls and the windows. They are often full of eyes, or larger than life eyes. Baldock’s eyes are more like mouths, that omnivorously digest the visual world, chewing it up and wresting every last flavour from it. Outsized hands also appear recursively. Lips, ears, eyes and hands; body parts that are contact zones with the world around it, receiving and sensing it. Baldock makes tautologies — faces within faces, organs piled up on each other and limbs extruding out of various orifices. Everything feels and is felt, as if Baldock is affronted that parts of the world remain out of his reach and he wants to desperately bring it into his grasp.

There is no Place Like Home. Say the phrase to yourself. Do you notice that the sharp sonority of the word ‘like’ is formed by the stiffening of the tongue as it clicks against the alveolar ridge (the top of the mouth). Hard and soft surfaces coming together to form a third (sound) form. Baldock’s work similarly heightens an awareness of our own body in the environment, weaving subject and object, soft against hard. Like a needle through fabric. Like soft bodies moving through hard spaces. Like the wind blowing through a thin cotton jumper.

George Vasey

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