The artist Cornelia Parker had the British army blow up a garden shed in 1991. She recreated this moment of obliteration for her work Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, hanging bits of dispersed wood from the gallery ceiling in the loosest evocation of what once might have been a shed.
“My work is all about the potential of materials,” said Parker, “even when it looks like they’ve lost all possibilities.”
It’s a statement that could be applied to the obsessive, collecting streak of the Ras Al Khaimah-based artist Rebecca Rendell, and her show, The Continuous Cycle, which wraps up today at the studio-hub and gallery Tashkeel.
The artist accumulates constantly, scouring RAK’s hinterland for finger-shaped stones, taking sharp teeth from roadkill and collecting plastic tat souvenirs that are, eventually, destined for landfills across the world.
A bead from a snapped key ring, an anonymous button, a crab claw, a little plastic burger, a stripped sim card – this detritus is used to create large, unmounted assemblages on the gallery wall, arranged into a circle and pinned with thin nails. These are objects that lie forgotten, dormant and broken: “lost at the bottom of a handbag”, she says. “I consider them portraits. I accumulate these things over the course of a year, and they are a record of where I have been and whom I have met.”
She looks for objects that are subtly biographical, like totems to a passage of time in a person’s life. Dentition Cabinet, for instance, is a rather eerie collection of teeth, presented in small glass bottles and arranged in oppressively formal rows. “Teeth are the things that last the longest after we’re gone,” she explains.
Handwritten and illustrated notes alongside detail where teeth have come from – camels, desert foxes, even humans. We feel a strange repugnance for them, with their tarnished surfaces and flourishes of rot. “Yet as individual objects, I find these teeth both beautiful and grotesque,” she says. “That contrast connects them with the plastic trinkets that I’ve used elsewhere in the show. They may look beautiful, but underneath is a social reality of abundant plastic and waste.”
It’s no coincidence that the exhibition has a hushed and reverential atmosphere: it’s a show about returning value to the objects that we accumulate and then shed without thought every day. A very modern frivolousness is explored here. While the physical result of this may be a tide of discarded plastics on a coastline, perhaps this tat speaks also of a wider flippancy about things, materials and, consequently, the environment in which we live.
After the exhibition closes this week, Rendell will move her studio into thejamjar in Al Quoz. She is the first artist taking part in the gallery’s new residency programme and will be working in there until March 19, after which she’ll exhibit what she has created in that time.
“My educational background is conceptual textiles, and I’ve previously worked on pieces that incorporate textiles into sculpture, digital media and glass. For the residency, I’m going back to weaving and my interest in tools, and the loom, specifically,” she says. “I am inspired by the tension needed to produce an object, and so the pieces that I hope to create will be balanced objects that, in combination with others, create a certain tension.”
Rachael Brown, head of special projects at thejamjar, says that allowing interactions with the artist to happen are at the centre of this programme, and she encourages people to visit Rendell while she works: “The aim is to create a space where interaction, dialogue and education can shape the artist’s practice and the community’s knowledge of the arts.”
Thejamjar is currently looking for applications for its next residency slot in April, with the only stipulations being that artists must be based in the UAE and hold an undergraduate degree in Fine Arts or similar. “We hope that this opportunity will progress an artist’s career to the next level,” says Brown, “while inspiring and influencing young artists in the region.”