Sarah Mayhew-Craddock gets lost in an exhibition of geographical artwork by Emma Moxey
Inviting visitors to dance between picture planes and skip through various geographical scales, East Oxford artist Emma Moxey’s exhibition in the gallery at the Old Fire Station off Gloucester Green is nothing short of sublime.
Like a trip to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, All the Familiar Landmarks is an exhilarating adventure that allows viewers to lose themselves amidst unknown worlds that possess a vague sense of familiarity, yet in which nothing is as one might expect.
Emily Marston, shop and gallery manager, said: “We were drawn to Emma’s work because it transports you to other worlds and you can enjoy it on different levels; you can appreciate it for the striking and beautiful piece it is, or delve deeper into its meanings.”
Describing herself as an abstract explorer and quasi map-maker, Moxey’s work reminded me of the sensation that I frequently encounter on a trip to London; where, not knowing the city terribly well, I tend to scuttle around underground with the other mice and small creatures using the tube.
Upon surfacing I feel insignificant in the bright light and grand scheme of my surroundings. I recognise landmarks, but they’re disjointed and I struggle slightly to piece them together and find my way.
This theme seems to underpin Moxey’s work in All the Familiar Landmarks. She moved to Oxford from Bristol five years ago and, not knowing the area, felt uprooted in her unfamiliar setting.
Moxey became obsessed by maps, detached from the reality and physicality of the landscape it was through her kitchen table-based, Ordnance Survey adventures that she gained a slightly warped view of her location, and consequently became fascinated by the existence of these places in the mind rather than as real entities.
She said: “To this distancing, I brought a question that I had been exploring in previous works... what is it that defines a place, and how does a place differ from space? This is a big question, but to be short, it is the stories and relation to its inhabitants that sets it apart. Places are selected for their purpose and these places then build over time to form places that are layered and complex.”
For this exhibition Moxey has drawn upon two different landscapes that she feels connects us to the past, present and future.
One is a landscape of her childhood, a New Forest post-glacial finger of moorland that is surrounded by an inaccessible bog, the other is the local landscape of the Wittenham Clumps, just south of Oxford. On the significance of these landscapes Moxey said: “Both landscapes connect to the past, present and future… through wide skies and far reaching views, through stories and myths, through memories and connections, to the hugeness of our being-in-the-world.”
Moxey has an inescapably poetic turn of phrase, and as one traverses around the gallery space it becomes apparent that both her works and their titles possess this same poeticism. I learn that the exhibition title, and some of the titles of her works in this show, relate to Michel Foucault’s writing.
At other times it’s a certain phrase that acts as a trigger for a new approach to her work, or serves to bolster a specific approach, either way she allows these phrases or excerpts from texts to be interpreted into her work.
While Moxey uses a changing language of signs, symbols, and lyricism in her work don’t venture to this exhibition expecting to encounter anything linear or resembling an illustrated Alfred Wainwright walking guide. This exhibition is an adventure into the ideas of place that unfold to reveal fantastical worlds.
These magnificent, abstract landscapes are scale-less, organic formations, stripped bare of keys and place names, but bound only by the viewers’ imagination and the constraint of the support that they’re executed on.
In an exhibition where nothing is dictated, or etched in stone one encounters bodies of works hung around the gallery’s various twists and turns.
Set in Place is a series of six small-scale compositions with each work possessing a very different identity. Each work has its own organic palette and set of sculptural forms, some popping out of the picture plane, others pushing into it, other patterns rest flat like ancient cave paintings. Contrastingly, Set in Place I reveals flashes of bright, tropical colours that give the impression of fish darting around the light splodges of coral and deep dark voids of unchartered waters in an underwater scene.
While Set in Place V feels more urban with its compacted myriad of monochrome lines punctuated with bright red spots reminiscent of a cityscape by night.
The Emergence of Order I shows a complex galaxy of what appears to be water and landmasses, but deciphering between the convex and the concave forms is beyond me; and just as the Where’s Wally?-esque paths in Play Ground appear to float in space like candy canes searching for anchor points in a sand-pit it is this nonsensical feeling of being at sea that is the delight of this exhibition.
Possessing all of the frustration, uncertainty, mystery and new-found charm of a foreign excursion All the Familiar Landmarks is a visually stunning and conceptually sublime adventure in artistic mapping, and I urge everyone to lose themselves in it.
All the Familiar Landmarks is at the Gallery at the Old Fire Station in George Street, Oxford, until Saturday, March 29.
See artist Emma Moxey at work at a pop-up studio on March 15, 10am to 5pm. See her techniques in action, her works in progress or just pop in for a chat and ask her questions.