Frieze Review: Maurice Carlin, Castlefield Gallery

Carol Huston, March 2013

Maurice Carlin

Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, UK

Developed over the last 18 months, the work shown at Carlin’s solo show at Castlefield Gallery was loosely constructed as a response to Umberto Eco’s 1985 definition of ‘crisis’: a ‘moment of transition in which something that held before doesn’t hold any longer and there is not yet something new’. The Manchester-based artist’s practice addresses the wobbly bits of a society that doesn’t know what to do with the failure of institutions or how to deal with it.

This new body of work demonstrates Carlin’s continued interest in social and public spaces. Often replacing the studio with the street, his practice revolves around documenting the unknown or unfamiliar. Works representing a state of uncertainty hesitate to exist firmly in the past or present. Abstract forms serve as traces of found surfaces, whether they derive from the ground (Corrupted Images), television (Screenscans Havana) or the artist’s body (Manipulated Images No. 29, all 2012).

While many of the works appear abstract, they also reflect a relief map of the aforementioned subjects. Carlin’s prints resemble many things: photographs, digital scans, satellite heat maps, topographs and even paintings. The artist relinquishes some control over to the medium focusing instead on the environment and place in which the work was produced.

For Carlin, the past lives of surfaces reside in the present as psychedelic, amorphous abstractions. The large series of prints (Corrupted Images) laid out on the floor and hung high overhead in Castlefield’s lower space don’t fuse past lives with those from the present so much as occupy that awkward place in between – a space in continuous flux or crisis. As corrupted images trapped between two points, they render the supposed flawed process of relief printing, moderately akin to the ancient Chinese technique of stone rubbing. Some elements still remain, yet some are new, with others missing entirely.

The title of the exhibition ‘First… Next… Then… Finally…’ suggests Carlin’s dry sense of humour. (In 2009 he began Book Moving, an ongoing performance whereby he rearranged books in a local Waterstone’s according to the multiple contexts of books.) Perhaps this title refers to his performative printing or publishing technique, commenting on the gradual appearance of a figure on the surface. Or maybe it is a play on the experience of a patron viewing displayed baubles within a gallery setting. Nevertheless, the act of publishing remains one of Carlin’s points of entry into a wider dialogue of contemporary DIY art practice. Much of his work captures data through a fundamental technique of printing and arrives at the conclusion that this data received is in fact corrupted through the very process of translation. In The Self-Publisher (2009–present), Carlin compiles abandoned photocopies into a small, bi-monthly journal. An arbitrary mix of texts, these baffling journals confound the viewer and invite a closer look. Yet again, the artist points towards the crisis of objects in limbo.