Of the Irascible Calm presents a selection of objects from g. bridle’s collection the Retreat, an archive which the artist has discovered, curated and edited through a process of independent, private museology. As the name implies, the Retreat attempts a withdrawal or escape from the mainstream of art education and artmaking, but it can also be conceptualised as a place: a safe haven or sanctuary equally removed from the studio, the gallery and the academy, in which objects can exist, and be appreciated, on their own merits. the Retreat seeks such a position of outsideness or perspective, with varying degrees of success, but does not necessarily operate at a fixed distance from these institutional forces. The closeness of the Retreat to these other aspects of art practice, or its distance from them, approximates a cavity, a fracture, a void: but a fertile space, where the prospect of contact between these estranged surfaces promises the generation of new meanings and new possibilities.
Indeed, the Retreat persistently articulates ideas of surface, attachment and contact: the mechanisms by which objects can be connected to one another and to the viewer. In terms of the dynamics of the museum, surfaces are seen as elements which must be protected and insulated: they are varnished, placed behind UV-resistant glass, repaired, mounted, or restored. g. bridle’s engagement with the surfaces of objects in his collection is less didactic. Objects are often combined to form new groupings, or one object will be used as a plinth to display another, in this way acting as a vessel or container for the second object’s meanings and potential narratives. To this end, the artist has cut, chiseled, tied, cast and otherwise modified the objects of the Retreat, sometimes even creating new objects from scratch: an inverted process of conservation, which questions the meanings and values implicit in the activities of the museum and the gallery.
the Retreat is displayed in the form of exhibitions, and finds its fullest expression in the relationships created when objects interface with one another or with the spaces they inhabit. Fitting, shaping and assembling are important concepts: g. bridle’s practice positions the artist as a rogue archivist, negotiating between the demands of the objects under his charge and the spaces in which they are to be displayed, and attempting to articulate a logic which governs their selection and placement. This negotiation is linked to the use-value of the objects themselves, whether that value is practical or as part of a semiotic system. This latent functionality parallels the ways objects have historically been depicted in art, particularly painting, as having a metaphorical function which parallels their physical usefulness. In this sense, it is important that objects in the Retreat have a reason for being which is divorced from their aesthetic qualities. Many of the pieces displayed in Of the Irascible Calm were made with functionality in mind (a coat-hook, a shooting stick, an ashtray) but have been modified or repositioned so that their functions and histories are likewise altered or recontextualised. Nevertheless, they preserve an aura of usefulness, components and tools which have the potential to be redeployed or reactivated.
In the Retreat, as in more traditional museological projects, objects appear to be ascribed a value which is linked to their status as containers for historical meanings. However, their potential as carriers for narrative is subtly undermined by the quixotic nature of their display: the actual histories of these objects, the stories of their making, use, and survival, are blurred and absorbed into other, imagined histories, chimeric timelines conjured up in the space between object and viewer. There is an element of Romanticism in the Retreat, an inherent tension between its investigation of the complex dynamics of artistic production and its desire to return to the immediacy of engagement with materials for their own sake, and perhaps even to locate in them some elusive vestige of the sublime.