Exhibition review: Refraction at Boxpark

Originally published on The Upcoming on 3rd May

For readers not familiar with Boxpark, it’s the “world’s first pop-up mall,” made from refitted shipping containers and jam-packed full of fashion stores, eateries and galleries.

This month, Boxpark plays host to Refraction, a unique joint exhibition by ten budding artists from the MA Fine Art programmes at Camberwell College of Arts and Chelsea College of Art and Design. The exhibition is set one floor above the pounding asphalt of London’s East End, the buzz emanating from the street and practically oozing out of Boxpark’s walls of steel.

The artwork itself unassumingly adorns the walls of the long, thin shipping containers in spaces that resemble corridors or walkways; people are constantly passing through. This doesn’t make for the most engaging experience with the art, encouraging you to walk past it at a much faster pace than you would a traditional gallery. The combination of this, the “mall” setting and the shiny finish of each of the works actually makes them seem like adverts, which is probably doing a disservice to the artists.

Refraction refers to the bending of light when it enters a medium whereby its speed changes and “addresses how the material constraints of a specified format can alter the received image”. As such, all ten works are presented in exactly the same format: large portrait reprints with a glossy finish. As a result, the works have no texture, no layers and they’re all a bit two-dimensional.

While this gives the exhibition a common thread that weaves the pieces together, it also has the undesirable effect of homogenising them, despite the fact that their content is so varied. This tension between choice and uniformity is a microcosm of consumer culture, which advertising epitomises.

Kim Thornton’s piece appears to depict a glamorous older lady, but on closer inspection her hair is made of wire-wool and her painted expression is less than pleased. It seems a clear comment on how women’s domestic labour is still for the most part under-appreciated. This sits nicely alongside Sasha Morris’s piece which simply spells out “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous” in shocking pink lipstick.

Other highlights include Cadi Froehlich’s photograph of stripped-back wiring which bizarrely resembles children’s sweets and Alice Kelway-Bamber’s clever play on shadows, shape and perspective. The brilliant colours of Robina Doxi’s striking portrait look to have suffered from the lack of layers/texture.

All in all an exhilarating, if not hugely artistic, experience.

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