Where's the frame
May 5, 2023 10:16 AM
Running until early May, Tommy Camerno’s solo show at Bexhill on Sea’s Flatland Projects features eight new works, made as part of his participation in the gallery’s early career studio programme. The works include a number of the London-based artist’s signature curled steel sculptures alongside smaller steel panels, mounted to the walls of the space.
There’s a simplicity to the works which shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of substance nor indeed for clarity. Rather, the show is an open book that brings everything out into the open. Cameron draws upon the thinking of the minimalists, if not their aesthetic, in treating the surface of his work not as the portal to a meaning buried somewhere behind it, but at the site where meaning is created and lives.
Take Rise Fall Rise 03 (2023). Suspended from the ceiling, a mass of wrought mild steel writhes around itself as cable ties dart out and long strings of rhinestones weaves through the metal. There is something theatrical, a little Brechtian, about this sculpture in its self-aware reflexivity. Like a mobius strip, following one of the steel curls inwards to the work’s core somehow brings us back out to another curl. Trying to dig into the work is futile, but skating across its surface is an intricate thrill. Even the title of the work reads as an invitation to consider its meaning from its cosmetics. The metal forms twist and turn and twist, they rise, fall and rise - in this alone, the title hints, is all you seek to find from the work.
Surfaces are even clearer a theme (and indeed, medium) in Camerno’s flat, wall-mounted panels. As with the sculptures, mild steel is again the main element in these works, with rectangular sheets of the alloy cut into, adorned with ribbon and spray painted. Especially striking out of these works is Winged Affection (2023), the only wall piece without any ribbon or paint. Inside a large cutout, a figure attached to the rest of the metal by the merest tip of a toe, grasps out at the hand of an angelic companion, perhaps a lover or a guardian who in a deft bit of metalwork, is at once seeming to be coming closer and heading away. The fragility of the embrace is made all the more evident by the large swathes of wall behind that the work reveals, as though reminding us that even this scene is a construction, a figment of our minds created from just a sheet of mild steel. It’s a little bit Michaelangelo, a little bit Tony Kushner - a tender, delicate depiction of farewell made all the more remarkable given the toughness of the material it is made of.
As already suggested, Cameron’s choices and use of materials is central to Stare-case’s success. Across the show, just a handful of carefully-combined materials, ribbon, beads, rhinestones, spray paint and the ubiquitous untreated steel make up all the works. Camerno’s palette is small, but effective. At the risk of making a morbid comparison, the combination of raw, cut and distorted metal with pastel-hued beads and ribbons reminds me somewhat of the weathered supermarket flowers one finds tied to lamposts near collision sites on too many of London’s main roads. As with these roadside tributes, Camerno’s juxtaposition of tough metal and the ornaments around it brings out a poignancy that’s difficult to pin down.
Photography by Jim Lineker/Lineker Photography @lineker_photography
There’s something camp in this strategy, not necessarily in the pop cultural understanding of the word but simply in how Camerno consciously embraces the superficial. In Susan Sontag’s essay on the term, she outlines how camp means taking the surface to be a rich, meaningful space for discourse - being skin-deep is not a shortcoming, but a new way of generating and conveying meaning. This is what I mean when I say Camerno’s work feels camp. Camp can be found in kitsch, excess and hyperbole but Camerno’s articulation of the concept is an altogether more subtle play with the idea of the surface-level and it is all the more refreshing for it.