Liliya Art Gallery presents A Material World, a group show of multidisciplinary artists making groundbreaking work through the innovative use of materials. The mediums artists utilise to make their work are often viewed as a secondary and at times coincidental element of their practice. Inspired by Marshall McLuhan’s 1964 essay ‘The Medium is the Message’, this exhibition highlights the meaning and significance of the materials through which the selected artists choose to communicate.
McLuhan’s essay presents the notion that the medium used to convey information holds as much, if not more, value than the message itself. Following this idea, the medium of the message can have a significant impact on wider society, with the internet seen as the prime example of this, coming to define so much of the world we live and exist in. A Material World will explore both the determinate role materials occupy in an artist’s practice, and how the use of these materials signify wider values in contemporary society.
Artists were selected for their in-depth consideration of how the materiality of their work can affect the meaning and experience of viewing the work, as well as a utilisation and disruption of the values their materials have come to be defined by. Blurring the boundaries between painting and sculpture, Manon Steyaert disrupts the regimented distinctions between mediums. Known for her silicone works in which pigmented silicone is wrapped around the traditional canvas stretchers. Steyaert challenges the perception of viewers, using the materiality of her work to ensnare the viewer’s gaze in glossy folds of silicone.
Other selected artists, such as Lindsey Jean McLean and Llinos Owen seek to utilise and disrupt the associated meaning and value of the materials with which they use. Owen’s work explores themes of identity and contemporary female experience by boldly using a historically maligned medium in the field of fine art: embroidery and rug hooking. In reclaiming this medium to document her experience as a woman, her work holds fresh relevance for viewers today. In a similar way, McLean harnesses the historically patriarchal medium of oil paint and reclaims its power by painting on velvet; echoing the strife of the suffragettes, who used oil paint on velvet for their banners to allow their messages to dry faster. This aide-mémoire to the feminist movement adds to McLean’s practice which strives to empower female figures today.
A Material World highlights an important shared artistic understanding of the importance of the materials an artist chooses to express themselves. Examining how McLuhan’s theory shows that a medium affects not only the viewer’s perception of the artwork but also the way in which the message of the artwork is conveyed. In light of McLuhan’s essay, perhaps the medium truly is the message when it comes to how we consume visual art.