Veronica Ryan “Along a Spectrum” Spike Island / Bristol

June 25, 2021

Spike Island presents a major exhibition of new works by British artist Veronica Ryan (b. 1956, Montserrat). Supported by Freelands Foundation through the annual Freelands Award, this is Ryan’s largest and most ambitious exhibition in the UK to date.

Veronica Ryan came to prominence in the 1980s with a number of prestigious exhibitions at venues such as Riverside Studios, London (1988) and Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge (1989). Best known for her sculpture that is evocative of shapes, forms and objects from the natural world, Ryan’s work defies easy categorisation. Over the years, she has experimented with scale, material and technique while remaining focused on the interplay between conflicting opposites: revelation and concealment, container and contained, absence and presence. Her work sits at the intersection between materiality and idea, and enquires into the processes by which objects carry and construct meaning.

Made during an extended residency at Spike Island in Bristol, the works in Along a Spectrum examine environmental and socio-political concerns, personal narratives, history and displacement, as well as the wider psychological implications of the current pandemic. Cast forms in clay and bronze lie directly on the gallery floor; sewn and tea-stained fabrics hang loosely from the walls; and bright neon crocheted fishing line pouches filled with a variety of seeds, fruit stones and skins stretch down from the walls and ceiling to the floor. Arrangements of handmade objects lie alongside assortments of fruits and seeds on metal shelving units; contrasting elements that when brought together acquire a symbolic and emotional dimension.

A number of clay works cast from medical foam pillows deepen Ryan’s investigation into ideas of recovery, rescue and restoration. Devoid of the nurturing qualities that provide comfort to the aching body, these uncannily shaped pillows are placed on the floor or stacked to their tipping point in precarious arrangements. Throughout the exhibition Ryan alludes to earlier works in her processes of making, such as the accumulation and stacking of various food containers, resonating with some of her most emblematic works of the 1990s that were lost in the 2004 fire at the Momart warehouse in east London.

In other works, cocoa pods, soursop and orange skins, drift seeds, mango and avocado stones are cast in clay and bronze or simply left to dry. Fruits, seeds, plants and vegetables are recurring motifs in Ryan’s sculpture. They show a concern with where and how plants germinate, what conditions enable them to take root across different environments and how they travel from one location to another. They function metaphorically for Ryan’s own sense of dislocation, and more widely they allude to a history of trading across the globe. In Ryan’s work, personal experience is often conditioned by a sense of location. An important focus of her research is on the history of Montserrat or Alliouagana – as it was known prior to the arrival of the Europeans – and on trying to identify its early culture. As such, a group of soursop skins has been cast in clay and glazed with volcanic ash from Alliouagana.

Elusive and beguiling, the works in Along a Spectrum consider the attachments that we form with the materials and objects around us; hinting at the connections we make between the landscapes of our interior and the exterior worlds.

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