There are soft echoes of the ‘happenings’ of the 1960s and 70s in Neil Fortune’s second solo show at Galerie 23 in Amsterdam. Amongst a selection of hung artworks, ‘participants’ encounter three cushioned floor installations, works that fill large sections of the exhibition’s actual physical space. They are opportune invasions into the contemplative gallery space with guests walking or sitting carefully upon the cushioned terrain like infrequent beach-goers enjoying the sensations of sand underfoot. However, unlike those earlier Fluxus experiences, there is an intentionality to these works that limits complete spontaneity or abandonment. It is rather the principle of ‘improvisation conforming to an environment’ that confronts the gallery visitor here. These works remain non-threatening, welcoming, almost playful in their approach to interactivity and space.
Social Sculpture. Textile,polyester staple fiber, differentiate from 6- 9 meters L, 1 – 2/50 meters W – Ongoing works from 2012-2016
While seated or standing on the floor installations, the gallery walls again become the focus. A number of paintings are included that depict white empty spaces with dark voids beyond, like white cube galleries or stage, sets waiting for a show. They are self-reflective, mimicking the very spaces we find ourselves in. Other paintings – including a central group of 18 canvases – show irregular compositions of rough wooden structural beams with open or filled housing joints. Like skeletons, these show an inverted reality – revelations of the concealed architectural structures that define our own built environments. The posts and beams, however, do not retain our focus for long as we are drawn to the alternating spaces behind them. These spaces vary from those that shimmer with organic strokes of colour to those left as empty fields of tone.
Along with these more formalist artworks is a single light-box work that illuminates the text, ‘I don’t understand much about you. Just enough to know that we don’t see the universe the same way’. While this work may appear an unusual addition, it could be the key to approaching Fortune’s latest show. It suggests that Fortune intends for these works to be ‘read’ as a narrative rather than a medial exploration or neo-fluxist happening. It prevents us from viewing them as minimalist or formalist studies on space, alerting us to an underlying textualisation for the exhibition.
Lightbox. Perception—wood, paper tube light, L85 x W 60 x D13 cm, 2013
When considering the roughness of his timber beam paintings, they become revealing and nuanced. They are neither accurately drawn nor abstractly simplified but rather liberal with conventions. The forms are unmistakably representations of a reality while simultaneously physically unconvincing. They taunt us as we try to complete them. They are appealing as well as perplexing.
Untitled wood composition. Acrylic on canvas, single panel 50x40cm each (installation L150xW120)
While not distorting reality they neither accurately represent it. This is a point that Fortune claims as unimportant, yet is revealing for this reading. He could, for example, have used photography, or digital media, or line drawings. The friction here is in the space between realities and illusions. We are being made aware that representations are flawed, that by painting a space it no longer exists. The organic strokes of colour or specks of light in the background suggest a delight rather in the existential idea of space, of the universe as he sees it. That what is substance is rough and unconvincing while what is beyond is free, if only able to be grasped at certain moments.
Untitled wood composition. Acrylic on canvas, L50 x W40 cm, 2015-16
Neil Fortune’s latest exhibition asks us to engage with a narrative within space. It invites us to delve into an existential ideology expounded through traditional conceptualism and modernist media. While walking over Fortune’s judiciously cushioned textile strips, we are made to consider how real illusions in art are. The physicality of the experience reveals Fortune’s determination to solidify space – to make it real. To convince us, and possibly himself, that there is substance to our reality. Rob Perrée writes ‘He wants the viewer to experience his works’, but isn’t all art, in any media, experienced? Fortune is rather asking us to engage with his ideas while we experience his work. This is what makes his work stimulating and at the same time difficult to comprehend, just as the universe really is.