The Shock of the Now Issue 74
Featured Exhibition Text
Baggage Claim
Group Exhibition, curated by Georgia Stephenson & Rosalind Wilson
Staffordshire St
22nd February 2023

‘Baggage Claim’ at Staffordshire St serves as the spiritual sequel to curator Georgia Stephenson’s previous exhibition ‘The Potion Room’, presented at Subsidiary Projects in early 2020. The latter similarly included a generous forty-six artist line-up, a mixture of invited and those selected from a free-to-apply open call, and responded to the turreted architectural properties of the erstwhile gallery space, featuring a shelved selection of small sculptural works each imbued with an air of mythic mystery and potentially potent transformative properties. Three years and three pandemic lockdowns later, with our collective emotional baggage at its heaviest, Stephenson returns in partnership with artist-educator Rosalind Wilson to share an assortment of antidotes.

Each artwork is installed atop, aside, astride or within a prodigious arced plinth that perfectly replicates the revolving carousels that await you at an airport’s baggage reclaim. Many will have fond or fraught memories of encounters in the baggage reclaim arena, theories about where best to stand in order to secure your bags first, anecdotes of eyeing up the shrink-wrapped shapes and sizes of obscure air-travelled objects, observations about the peculiar peacocking array of ribbons, tags and tassels denoting obvious ownership and, of course, fears of the ever-present possibility of lost luggage. To me, a baggage carousel recalls one particularly shameful childhood memory when, aged around thirteen or fourteen, I was charged with collecting our family’s stash of suitcases following a long day of tedious return journey travel. Waiting beside the carousel I eyed one of our bags making its way slowly towards me, before it was rudely interrupted, picked up by a middle-aged man, a competitor in the reclaim roulette. I approached and, initially politely, informed him that he had incorrectly laid re-claim to one of our suitcases, alerting him to the affixed label. He apologised, relinquished the purloined luggage and I returned to my selected carousel-side spot. A few minutes later I spied our second, admittedly identical, suitcase rotating towards me. Again this unfamiliar father erroneously intervened, but this time began to walk towards the exit. I gave chase and made him away of his recurring error before uttering - under my breath but just loud enough so that he could hear - an insulting inference as to his intelligence. He was rightly enraged, snitched to my own parents and I received a dramatic dressing-down while passing through Nothing To Declare.

But back to ‘Baggage Claim’, where each artist has been invited to take an emotional inventory, to respond to the individual burdens that weigh on them, and present in response the tools they equip themselves with to lighten the load. Personal favourites include Bo Sun’s marriage of the organic and mechanic, where an aluminium exoskeleton is adorned with pleasing 3D-printed perspex florets aware of the irony of their own means of production and herbaceous impersonation; Cora Sehgal Cuthbert’s interlaced padlocks engraved with ‘love lives in grief’, ‘love lives in antidepressants or ‘love lives in loneliness’, exposing the overlooked omnipresence of love in life’s hardest moments; and Jemma Egan’s elongated felled lumber luggage stuffed with shredded paperwork pertaining to her partner’s attempted emigration from Canada to the United Kingdom, as well as other evidence to an overwhelming world of document redaction, red tape and the headache and heartache of bureaucracy (note the logs numerous handles that suggest a team of administrative assistants, a problem shared is a problem halved as they say). Elsewhere, in a hidden nook, Billy Crosby & Siân Newlove-Drew’s celestial extension cable of ornate nightlights form a constellation of the idiosyncrasies, in-jokes and intimacies of their own romantic relationship; Campbell Mcconnell’s ceramic books satirise the snobbery of overblown art theory, his own irreverent tomes bearing titles such as ‘going off-grid and celebrity chefs’ or ‘germs in relation to the future of the radio’; and Katja Larsson’s baseball cap cast from Jesmonite and portland stone is emblazoned with the slogan Materially Superior, its enlarged size reflecting the overactive ego of any willful wearer while exposing the insidious implications of brand loyalty. Finally, Matilda Mercer offers up a touching tribute to her local laundryman Leroy, in the form of coin-laden detergent boxes from which she whispers her affection and appreciation for the act of washing her unmentionables.