By Jenni Lomax
Buildings held in periods of change, perhaps emptied and abandoned, paused in a time of incertitude and flux or simply between one thing and the next, while be unsettling can also be magical and transformative spaces.
In March 2021, when the world was still in partial pandemic lockdown, the painter Antoni Malinowski invited eight artists to think with him and make work for the building that houses the Ragged School Museum in East London. This one-time textile warehouse, factory and Dr Barnardo’s school was suspended in limbo; the museum having been closed temporarily to the public while awaiting major refurbishment. It is a place layered in history with traces of the past embedded within its fabric. The colour and patina of the walls and remnants of industry, its worn stairways, echoing sounds and the movement of light, together with implied histories and evocations of personal memories, made the Ragged School a place to imagine and to dream.
Hélène Binet, Yong Min Cho, Alexandre da Cunha, Oona Grimes, Jefford Horrigan, Liliane Lijn, Kathy MacCarthy Antoni Malinowski and Katrina Palmer-artists working across disciplines and in a variety of media-used the materiality and the psyche of the building to create specific works that were intrinsic to the place. Sculptural objects, paintings and wall drawings, photographs, films and performances were sited in all rooms, on emptied shelves, on scuffed and footworn floorboards, between discarded pieces of furniture and upon paint layered walls.
These different interventions, threading through the entire building, were lit by the available light from its East and West facing windows and by the sunlight reflected off the surface of the adjacent canal. Through Which the Light Passes was seen by an invited audience over a period of a few days. The experience has become part of their memories while also having been absorbed into the body of the building.
A film made by Lily Grimes during the installation of the exhibition has captured certain fragments and glimpses of the artworks and the atmosphere of their situation. One year later, this was screened at the Coronet Theatre in West London, another liminal space with its history revealed through changing architecture and purpose; where the flow of music hall, theatre, film and performance has been disrupted at times by upheaval and forced change. For this event, the ‘Ragged School’ artists offered a new set of ideas to this space, adapting ideas to connect with the particular circumstance. Musicians, Vakahn Matossian and Max Bailie, joined the group to take part in the programme of live performance.
Another contemplation of space and place followed at Assab One in Milan, an old printworks, where the walls and floors retain the scars and drips of industry and production. Here, with artists, Sarah Taylor and Maurizio Goina added to the mix, performance, dance and film screenings were in active dialogue with an installation of paintings, wall drawings and photographs, all connecting with the dramatic space they were in. Showing the film Through Which the Light Passes linked Assab One to The Ragged School Museum via The Coronet Theatre.
This loose collection of artists will come together-possibly with others- in future times and within yet to be discovered liminal spaces, where their work will occupy and respond to the edges, the corners, the walls and floors, the shadows and the points where light comes into a building on the threshold of something new. The beauty of Through Which the Light Passes and its subsequent iterations, was achieved by the artists embracing and inhabiting a state of uncertainty.