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There’s a current generation of young artists coming out of London who are obsessed with how processes and materials might become artworks. It would be easy – and lazy – to dismiss it as ‘skip art’, but there’s often something compelling about the act of cobbling something together from the meanest of means.
John Wallbank’s engaging sculptures manage to hold their own – partly because the shitty materials are somehow redeemed by the bizarrely counterintuitive methods of assembly, and the weird elegance of the forms that emerge. The largest of these is an assembly of warped Perspex sheets, chipboard struts, hardboard and polyurethane foam, forming a set of largish transparent enclosures, like an architectural model for some defunct futuristic city designed by a broke visionary.
The oddest aspect of this and another nearby sculpture, made mostly of chipboard and bits of steel bracketing, is that the edges and seams are held together with a ‘stitching’ of thick plastic strip, which can only have been worked under heat – it would have been impossible to achieve the elaborate twists and knots in their present solid state. This lends them a sort of baroque excess – you wouldn’t ever join any two bits of junk materials this way – and Wallbank’s methods signify the deadpan desire that art is all about turning lead into gold, investing the slightest, most fragile materials with a surplus of technical prowess, wrong-footing our expectations of what we think dumb materials are capable of.
A number of little drawings in the office area rehearse this precarious, hardly there game. In one, a sheet with a few inked lines that barely add up to any kind of image, is adorned with a little tab of paper, stapled on. It’s these unlooked-for moves that suggests that Wallbank is on to something – a poetry of the prosaic, maybe.