Magazine article Art Monthly

John Newling: Ecologies of Value

Magazine article Art Monthly

John Newling: Ecologies of Value

Article excerpt

The Exchange Penzance 20 July to 14 September

I imagine that what John Newling would like most would be to change something, to make poor people better off, or to affect some area of social policy. There is a panel below one of the pieces in this show which reads, 'perhaps another revolution is needed, he seems to imply'. I like this piece. It is in a glass case on a plinth and consists of a pyramid of earth balls, cannonball sized, on a platform of books: nine copies of Thomas Paine's Rights of Man and Common Sense. The earth balls have been made from copies of the books. Perhaps at this point the piece seems overworked, but 'constructing' soil is one of the things he does; he is also a nature artist. And the long processes that produce his works ('I grow everything from seed') are probably more important than the finished objects. A little of that can be seen here: he is growing plants, hydroponically.

His sculptures--if that is what they are--have something of the nature of drawings or diagrams. And he always seems to be dealing with surfaces (often beautiful) even when he is at his most 3D. Leaves, money (paper or coin), communion wafers, book covers, glass, copper. Even the way he uses the walls. But Newling is a social artist. His work is about, and for, other people, and it is about the processes of thinking. It was pointed out to me by someone who knows Newlings's work well that some of his more performative, socially engaged projects are poetic in conception, and they singled out The Preston Market Mystery Project, 2006-07, in which he provided insurance 'against loss of mystery'. 'When he does these projects he lets others take over, and it works. People genuinely want to get engaged and do.'

It was suggested to me that Newling's writing might be more important than his art. Much of it is about his Christianity and, in a way, his politics. It is possible to say that Newling is not making Christian art (whatever that is) since judging from his writings Christianity and art are similar, parallel and equal disciplines for him. At his gallery talk I wanted to ask about this. And I wanted to know if he really would like another revolution. …

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