Hexagon Monkey Puzzle

Adrienne Millwood

Showing 29th July 2014 - 16th August 2014

Exhibition Information

Hexagon Monkey Puzzle - Adrienne Millwood

A grainy black and white photograph shows a group of children climbing on a steel framed jungle gym in a grassy playing field. The boys and girls in the image are clad in the same uniform: black gym shorts with white singlets, ankle socks and T-bar shoes. At an initial glance, they simply appear to be playing with one another, swinging from the overhead bars or dangling upside-down by their spindly legs. Upon closer inspection, how- ever, the children seem to be staging a variety of different movements and positions with their bodies, as if to demonstrate their own flexibility.

This image appears in Hoop, a painting by Adrienne Millwood included in Hexagon Monkey Puzzle, her first solo exhibition at Chambers Gallery. Here, the photographs have been transferred onto board and layered with transparent washes of colour and opaque, brightly coloured painted shapes. In Hexagon Monkey Puzzle, Millwood has repurposed photographs from Moving and Growing and Planning the Programme (1952) a two-part manual for physical education in British primary schools. Centred on educational gymnastics and dance, the series was the result of post-war state intervention in popular recreation in the early 1950s. During this period, widespread concern for social order, particularly in relation to the leisure activities of working class youth and inner city children, encouraged the government to develop a new physical education curriculum for primary schools. By promoting participation in wholesome and physically beneficial activities, the state attempted to invest in the development of healthy and dutiful citizens. Additionally, the introduction of this curriculum was intended to contribute to the nation’s cultural prestige by cultivating an untapped pool of sporting talent.

In the pages of these instructional booklets boys and girls are shown leaping, dancing and jumping, surrounded by trees and open spaces. Grass and vegetation borders almost all of the scenes, a decision reflecting new state policy that sought to ensure all children would also have access to playing fields regardless of class or socioeconomic status. Children are frequently pictured climbing to the top of various rope and metal structures, reinforcing a sense of physical achievement as a foun- dation for confidence and future success. Through the process of layering different media, Millwood is able draw out some of the gestures and politics of her aspirational source material. For example, in Mountain King, groups of dancing boys and girls are overlaid, highlighting the subtle differences in body language between the male and female children. Painted forms obliterate and obscure different parts of the image while highlighting others. A peachy-coloured shape across one boy’s ribs exaggerates the movement of his torso as he reaches up into the air to bang a drum, while girls hover in the background, arms calmly outstretched as if performing pirouettes.

Through her use of media, processes and technologies, Millwood is able to explore our collective faculties of memory and perception. Her multilayered compositions can indeed be read as memoryscapes. In works such as Hoop and Boy the overlaying of different images creates the effect of a multiple exposure photo- graph, Here, a certain ghostliness or blurredness implies a departure from the idea of a photograph as static and isolated fragment of memory, instead suggesting the ability of these images to evoke a range of ever-shifting associations – political, emotional or otherwise. Her painted shapes, meanwhile, become gaps or placeholders, suggesting omissions or blind spots in the pro- cesses of remembering.

Hexagon Monkey Puzzle explores notions of ‘pastness’ and ‘presentness’ attached to painting and photography through various processes, both social and material. Looking at Millwood’s painting, we are confronted with our own expectations of her chosen media, deeply ingrained in art history, popular culture and everyday life. In her work, conflicting understandings surrounding the experience of painting come together in conversation with one another. Specifically, the Modernist position that paintings are distinguished by a certain ‘wholeness’ or timeless quality is juxtaposed against a recent interest in the relationship between contemporary painting and other time-based media. Millwood invokes some of these complexities in her ‘palette’ works (Circle I-V), a series of glass plates used to mix her colours. Transferring images of dancing children on top of thick skins of dried paint, she simultaneously brings to mind the presentness and immediacy of certain tactile associations with paint – going back to childhood – and the process-based ‘choreography’ of building up and developing her works.

Like the found images she works with in this exhibition, Millwood’s art practice is concerned with movement. In her works, gestures and moments become fractured and reconfig- ured, echoing our own understandings of memory and artistic media – as fluid and mutable.

Sophie Davis 2014

Full Exhibition Works

Hexagon Monkey Puzzle - Adrienne Millwood

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