Written by Kate Juniper
"Thin layer chromatography is a process used to identify the chemical components of solutions. A sample is placed on a stationary phase, usually silica gel, and is exposed to a mobile phase, which can be any number of solvents. The mobile phase is drawn up through the stationary phase via capillary action, carrying the solution with it and separating its components."
So reads the description of the process used to create Nicole Clouston's PHASE, the products of which stand tall but unassuming on the concrete floor of the fifty fifty this week 'til next. The above three sentences provide the only written information to be garnered from this immediately understated exhibit, and are found within the pages of a hardcover book, which also contains images of the larger body of this series of Clouston's work.
The very intentional silence surrounding the whitewashed standing structures and the works of art they contain is exactly what's necessary to convey the show's content. Here's why. On first contact, the work is pretty: pleasing to the eye in its various colours and shapes and writ sparsely across lengthy white expanses protected in plexiglass. But pretty can be repellant when you're out looking for art. Entering the space I searched erratically, looking for a page upon the walls or bay windows to guide my experience, but to no avail. It was a friend in my company who located the short and Spartan text within the well-bound, glossy book, and read it to me as I stalked a second time around the room.
"Thin layer chromatography is a process used to identify the chemical components of solutions..." Most often science escapes me. I admire it and only rarely confront it, my immediate reaction on hearing words like 'compound' and 'molecular' being to smile vaguely and appreciatively and wait for the end. In this case, though, the colors, the forms, and the behaviors of the works in front of me coerced me to listen. What I saw struck a chord that resonated farther back into my memory than I care, most days, to recall: to high school, as it's called on this continent; to litmus paper, and felt tip pens, and Smarties in a sterile-ish blue lab. To attempts to remove color from a single source and divide it into its origins upon another. Whatever the name of the process, or its sophisticated capabilities, I knew had seen it in some form before. More likely, we have all seen it, or can all identify with it, in one way or another.
This is all the more true for the fact that there are no hands active in the making of them. While Clouston has identified a process, adapting and utilizing it for her own artistic purposes, her role in it is and can only be as facilitator, rather than creator. The shapes, occurring in varieties of colors, took on, for me, characteristics of other organic substances: the purple and grey piece evoked billowing clouds of mushroom spores upon a bed of dark leaf litter; the cyan and yellow the edges of a living cell or bacterium; the green and purple the tendrils of a jellyfish.
The longer I looked, the richer the looking became. Once again at the fifty fifty arts collective I was presented with a show that outwardly said excessively little; and yet which inwardly spoke volumes to me by way of my instinctive understanding of things. I walked into the gallery feeling confronted by a collection of work which felt pleasant, but unsatisfying. However, with the assistance of an exceptionally short statement and a silent television screen showing slow and anonymous shots of the works being born, I was encouraged to see, with an informed yet open eye, physical relics of a natural process, writ large and in technicolor for all to witness. And it was beautiful.