I spent much of the third lockdown with the weighty logistical load of organising, alongside Billy Fraser, the exhibition Old Friends, New Friends, a forty artist extravaganza at Collective Ending HQ that sought to celebrate and spotlight a selection of artists who we had worked with in the past, and who continue to excite and inspire us. An overdue opportunity to reconnect post-pandemic, the exhibition also allowed us to engage with our ever-expanding community of emerging and early-career artists, as each Collective Ending alum was allowed a plus one, an open invitation to invite an artist we had yet had the pleasure of working with. One year on, we wanted to replicate that exhibition’s curatorial concept, albeit on a more intimate scale and with closer artistic collaboration. Therefore, we recently ran our first internal open call, inviting proposals for two-person exhibitions that united artists from our prior programming with artists we again had yet to exhibit. Overwhelmed with the quantity and quality of applications, and after a process of democratic decision making, Meal Deal emerged as the first exhibition selected collectively from those submissions and sees Niccolo Binda‘s smooth, glossy sculptural reliefs, their polished factory finish instantly aesthetically enticing, juxtaposed with Donal Sturt’s multicoloured molten tableaus of treasured trash, an ongoing sculptural series shown here for the first time.
Binda’s work, previously included in 2021’s ‘squeezebox’, engages both our nascent nostalgia for stylised children’s playsets or simplified jigsaw puzzles and our innate ability to be intuitively instructed by often-overlooked civic architecture or street furniture. They shine a light on the unknown and underappreciated craftspeople, their shapes, structures and silhouettes echoing a daily disregard for the efforts and endeavours of anonymised urban planners, designers, inventors, architects, engineers and fabricators. Throughout, seemingly apathetic slogans satirise the oppressive omnipresence of clichéd catchphrases, tired taglines and mundane mottos, expressing a witty world-weariness towards stale advertising adages.
Sturt’s motley crew of mud pies serve as the sculptural parallel to a painting practice that takes as its primary point of departure the inherent innocence and naivety of children’s drawings, readily referencing Rhoda Kellogg’s psychological studies into diagrammatic development. Similarly circling around concepts of play and improvisation, the artist adopts both the instinct of a survivalist scavenger and the intuition of an Abstract Expressionism painter, salvaging and stockpiling collections of urban detritus (plastic toy parts, food packaging, loose change, scrap metal) before creating his caricatures of crass commercialism and wanton wastefulness. At once gleaming and grotesque, lavish and lurid, plenteous and perverse, they offend our inborn insistence on order - as we attempt to identify individual objects within - while appealling to our enduring attraction to pleasing plastics and tapping into our primal, evolutionary id.
Both artists, in their own way, feed off of the urban environment that surrounds them, hence the exhibition taking its title from that rhythmic repast of choice for city slickers, metropolitan hustlers and rat race runners. Binda and Sturt act like vultures, picking apart the corpse of a slowly collapsing civilisation - where empty promises, hollow hopes and dead dreams are kicked to a perfectly curved curbside - ready and waiting to archive the archaeological, societal and emotional remains.