Installation | Low Tide Wandering

Thomas Schutte, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester | 14 February – 19 July 2015

Forms of creative expression that go beyond the typical definitions of art and craft are a love of mine. Why can’t buildings be artistic, sculpture wearable, fashion architectural? The sooner we let art break out of its box, the better we’ll all be.

Thomas Schutte’s ‘Low Tide Wandering’ at the Whitworth Art Gallery is such a trans-category work (forgive me for making up a word). Made up of 139 etchings made throughout the course of 2001, displayed thematically and hung on wires crisscrossed along the gallery room, the piece is drawing, installation, diary, and thought process all rolled into one. An individual drawing is interesting, but made more powerful when viewed alongside its compatriots.

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Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seeds in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall back in 2010 was an extreme example of this point. Hundreds of millions of life-sized porcelain seeds were strewn on the floor, each one a beautiful piece of artistry in and of itself, but all part of a mind-bogglingly vast final piece. Originally key to Weiwei’s design was the idea of audience participation, but in the end this was impossible as it turns out crushed porcelain dust is dangerous to inhale (slight oversight).

In Schutte’s piece, while not quite to the same scale as Weiwei’s, he actually achieves the goal of art/visitor integration, with the strings of drawings at the perfect height to allow both easy viewing and movement around and between the sheets, with only minimal ducking required.

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Schutte made the images every morning throughout 2001, with the final 139 the best of the lot. This means that the series is a mix of the mundane and the significant; the view of his coffee table versus a drawing from the morning of 9/11, appropriately captioned ‘Holy Fuck’. The creative process itself embodies this contradiction. While a daily drawing suggests spontaneity, creating a print is laborious and more reminiscent of an Old Master than a sketcher. The drawings are grouped together into different colour sets, also suggesting a coherency across days and weeks.

Each etching is a unique and colourful artwork in its own right, but is within a collection which is greater than the sum of its parts. It is when the viewer steps back that they can appreciate Schutte’s piece as a whole. The strings of paper are like developing photographs hung in a dark room, and feels spontaneous and also casual, breaking down the typical staid formality associated with gallery visits. The art is without frames, without walls for that matter, and this helps to take the piece from the elevated heights of fine art and back down (literally) to eye level.

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Not the most intricate artwork in the world, not the cleverest and definitely not the sexiest, ‘Low Tide Wandering’ still manages to achieve that most elusive of goal of it art; it takes everyday objects and everyday experiences, and makes them interesting, for everyday people.

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