3 July - 1 August 1998

Pistol marks the start of a whole new era for contemporary art in Wales with the opening of g39. Because it is an artist-led initiative, the project comes with a recognition that the artists themselves are the best people to crowbar their work out of the isolated museum / warehouse / studio space into the public arena in a bid to prove their professionalism and validity. The exhibition takes place across two gallery sites in Cardiff and showcases established artists together with emerging talent, giving scope for a wealth of ideological and conceptual exchange. On show is a cross-section of artists from the cutting edge of British contemporary art.

Stephen Brown has used rough scrap-wood and water tubes to support a water level above the floor. Like barometers, the pipes run up the walls and gauge the imperfections of the building that usually remain invisible. His work looks at the idea of perfection and tries to expose it as only one of several possibilities. Perfection can never exist, but when something differs from the ideal it is described in terms such as ‘falling short’ or ‘failing’ which suggests a hierarchy; a specific system of meaning within which the drive to attain the ideal creates an intolerance to other perspectives. It is where this line is drawn between tolerance and intolerance that informs the work. The realisation of the impossibility of attainment as well as the absurdity of the lengths that could be gone to, open up this area of intolerance for debate.

Jim Noble takes a sideways look at lo-fi techniques applied to technology. His Distant landscape coming closer is a pixellated close up of a silicone-chip. From a distance the chip transforms into a cottage or rural building as the viewer imposes his or her own sense of scale on the image. Alongside these are what appear to be camcorders on the floor looking back at the viewer. It is only on closer inspection that it becomes clear that they are juice cartons painted with the generic buttons, lenses etc that characterise modern technology. Using visual tricks Noble presents us with our own presumptions about what it is that we are looking at.

Philippa Lawrence seems to have been through the exhibition like a modern-day Midas, transforming unnoticed things into precious objects: a fly and a light bulb are gilded in gold leaf, and a nipple is cast in solid silver and set into the wall at light-switch height. These works are dotted around and both startle and seduce the viewer.

Wendy Swallow’s exhibits include two very enticing ‘glass books’ which stand out in the darkened space on the first floor. She has etched one hour’s worth of speaking-clock transcriptions onto glass, producing a weighty testament to a period of time. Also working with glass, Lucy Harrison’s paperweights and glass bottles magnify the text placed inside or underneath. Her work is concerned with language and often with how it fails; lack of communication or understanding. From Getxo to North Shields are bottles full of bits of language that don’t work properly, either through being in the wrong country, being unreadable, being questions with no answers or vice versa. Some of the phrases are referring to a detective story, as a lot of her work is carried out in that way: overhearing and magnifying small pieces of information.

Michael Cousin’s video diptych also looks at language but with Cousin it is the loss of a voice that he is concerned with. On each monitor the artist’s face morphs and fades as he tries to speak but the noise that comes out is that of tropical birds. The male mating calls seem ridiculous and inappropriate from the lips of the figure on screen. In the painterly tradition of the self-portrait, Cousin’s representation is well composed and executed but also appears pained and helpless, a relic of something past, something lost.

Jennie Savage’s Memories for the 20th Century have the quality of an old or discarded photograph. They could be imagined as our descendants’ last faded image of our own time, before photography becomes obsolete and the landscape unrecognisable. The overgrown and deserted townscape is echoed by disused plug sockets inserted into the canvas, which appear to have collected layers of paint over the years of disuse.

Andrew Hayes-Watkins’ work takes processes of surveillance as its starting point. He projects the ground floor plan of the panopticon building, whose design enables surveillance of all inhabitants from a central viewpoint. On the opposite wall he transcribes an outline drawing of the building, exposing its structure and revealing its function.

Pistol contains a mix of work, a slice of current contemporary practice from Wales and beyond, getting work out of studios and putting it in the public arena.