Sean Edwards chased losses

  • 23 September — 13 November 2022

Further Information

Temple Bar Gallery + Studios presents chased losses, the first exhibition in Ireland by Sean Edwards.

Forgetting and remembering, inheritance, dependency, and moving away are all experiences unpinned with care and duty throughout Sean Edwards’ practice. Using intricate and labour-intensive forms of sculpture, collage and (most recently for this exhibition) digital modelling, his detailed work focuses on small moments of the everyday, and expresses value in repetition and routine. Edwards draws on recollections of his family and childhood growing up on a large public housing estate in Wales in the 1980s. His multi-disciplinary practice compiles autobiographical fragments alongside shared social narratives. He poetically conveys the atmosphere, texture and sensibility of neglected people and places, with a subtle political imagination that suggests paths out of an endless cycle of suppressed opportunity.

In this exhibition, Edwards specifically references such a moment from his youth. These works consider inherited absences and subtleties of character passed down through generations, whether through genetic or psychological disposition. Edwards returns to a profound visual memory of his grandfather throwing away his father’s darts trophies in a black bin bag, recalling the unease and upset caused by this abrupt removal of such personal objects symbolic of skill and achievement. The trophies (comprising shields and plinths with figurines) are represented in a grainy square snapshot from the 1980s, rephotographed on the artist's studio wall, a sparse white workspace, removed from the warmth of the family home (Dream of Him (2010)).

Two new works in this exhibition use a digital recreation of the bin bag and its contents, simulating the weight of the trophies and their effect on the elasticity and tension in the plastic bag as if it has been lifted and cast aside. The 3D model of the filled bag is then digitally divided horizontally into slices, each showing a cross-section of the trophies within – effectively excavating layers of memory and time. The cutaway sections of the trophies are represented by a collage made by the artist: a chequerboard overlaid on imagery assembled from Edwards’ personal archive. The 3D model is then interpreted through both physical and digital sculpture and film. In Untitled (2022) each cross-section of the model is cycled through an animated sequence, drawing to mind an MRI or an archaeological LIDAR scan. The cutout sections recede and expand as the outlines of the trophies are formed and deconstructed. The three synchronised monitors cycle, stutter and come to a halt, in a pattern that simulates the unpredictable rotation of fruit machine reels compulsively played by the artist’s father.

A physical interpretation of the bag has also been produced in Perspex layers (Inheriting Absence (Bag) (2022)). Each sheet has the trophies’ cross-sections printed onto its surface, ultimately building up a dense and compressed representation of personal history within this memorial device. The forms of the trophies are barely visible within the bag creating an implied impression of their presence. Edwards’ occupation with layers of transparency is reflected in Inheriting Absence (Glasses) (2021), a sculpture that repurposes the toasting glasses from the wedding of the artist’s parents. The usual cardboard separator for storage is remade in printed Perspex sheets with photos of the parent’s wedding day. The images hold subtle indications of imposed cultural pressure that has a generational impact. The noticeably absent sherry glasses allude to the passing of time and the gradual loss of people and the memories associated with them throughout life.

Stations (2022) is a major new work in the exhibition, a series of fourteen frame outlines made from thin cuts of MDF. The frames have curved corners with various gradients and interior cross-bars based on a grid of thirds and quarters. This similarity to layout guides for the design of books or newspaper columns, allows adjustment to form within pre-determined rules. These rounded edges are a reference to the distinctive window shapes of a shop unit in the Maelfa shopping centre, Cardiff; the subject of several previous works by Edwards, including a significant film (Maelfa (2010)). The facing edge of each ‘station’ is printed with a selective section of several larger collages, one containing a closely-set mesh of logos from different bookmakers that are widespread in UK highstreets and suburbs. These logos represent an unavoidable temptation for many people who are dependent on the gratification of winning and therefore also encompass the inevitable losses (sometimes monetary, and sometimes more far-reaching). Other surfaces are printed with segments of a large digital collage of scanned images, newspaper clippings, letters and betting slips accumulated by the artist over many years, foregrounding a personal archive that recurs throughout his work. The facing sides are drawn on and painted with graphical details, using closely repeated pencil lines and sections of coloured paint of different widths. These details represent fleeting glances and moments of recognition within Edwards’ process, as well as highlighting the principles of hand-made labour, concentration and recurrence. The fourteen structures culminate into the collapsing and looping of shapes within the framework, encouraging moments of stillness, pause, reflection, and moving on. When viewed as a close-knit group, as in this configuration, the sensation of stuttering, faltering, reprise, and persistence is even more impactful.

Edwards’ ongoing fascination with layering is reinforced by a painting on the gallery window, chased losses sessol desahc (2022). As a title and an exhibition, chased losses is a testament to gambling and chance, and perhaps a wider observation about unfulfilled betterment. The phrase is painted in reverse on each side of the glass directly facing itself. The lettering is applied with mirrored ink, which reflects the two iterations of the phrase back upon themselves. The resulting slivers of mirrored typographic appendages and letters are visible within the curves and spaces of the stencilled text. The mirroring effect causes a drop shadow, a typical signwriting technique, and one which opens the artwork to the visual language of the city street on which the gallery is located. Similar application of silver and mirrored signwriting was historically prevalent in antique shops and pawnbrokers, but more recently tattoo parlours – all of which connect ideas of legacy, permanence, and inheritance. The template for the sign also notably uses a font well-known as the headline typography for The Sun newspaper, which connects to the sensationalisation of the mundane and ordinary, and an allusion to a ‘working class’ voice. The duller side of the painted phrase, which faces away from the viewer is reminiscent of the surface of lottery scratchcards, perhaps gesturing to the promise of the precise moment before a potential loss (or gain). This suggestion of a scratchcard represents something that is just out of reach, and also reinforces a phenomenon that can be endlessly repeated, perhaps without ever experiencing a significantly different outcome.

Edwards’ re-inscription and memorialisation of a working-class experience exposes failures in social and political structures and an underhanded cultural amnesia that continues to haunt the present day. Edwards’ works are often composed of fragments or slices of imagery with indeterminate beginnings or endings, again gesturing to the circularity of social issues left unaddressed. Beyond affirming his specific personal history, these frameworks both withhold and extend, while responding to the artefacts of behaviour and memory we try to leave behind.

Sean Edwards (born in Cardiff, 1980) represented Wales at the 58th Venice Biennale (2019) with the exhibition, UNDO THINGS DONE, which toured to Ty Pawb, Cardiff; The Bluecoat, Liverpool in 2020, and the Senedd, National Assembly for Wales in 2021. He is Programme Director for Fine Art & Photography at Cardiff School of Art and Design. Edwards' recent solo exhibitions include distant borrowing, Tanya Leighton, Berlin (2021); Drawn in Cursive (parts 1, 2 and 3) at Chapter, Cardiff, Network, Aalst, and Mostyn, Llandudno (2014); Putting Right, Limoncello, London (2014); Resting Through, Kunstverein Frieburg (2012); Maelfa, Spike Island, Bristol (2011). He is included in British Art Show 9, Hayward Gallery Touring (2021-2022), was awarded a Turner Bursary in 2020, and has recently been shortlisted for the David and Yuko Juda Art Foundation award (2022). He has been commissioned by The Common Guild to make a public artwork that addresses libraries in Glasgow later in 2022/23.

Sean Edwards’ chased losses is supported by Arts Council of Wales, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff School of Art & Design.