Hidden in plain sight, Anne Deeming’s sculptural objects emerge to quietly disrupt busy walkways in Bristol. i didn’t see you there is the result of a discerning commission by Bristol-based curatorial collective Hand in Glove, displacing Deeming’s practice from the gallery to the public realm.
The project was launched with public tours led by Deeming and the curators, and a short meander through the pedestrian highways of central Bristol quickly revealed the sites and appearance of the sculptures. However, the preceding blind search through the streets – the act of looking for the unusual – reveals much about the project. Without knowing what one is looking for, every object on the street becomes extraordinary – an abandoned jacket on a bench, peeling stickers on a lamppost, ornately-patterned plastic bins. Deeming herself is an avid collector of these sightings, keeping a photographic record of ‘#100thingsfoundonthestreet’, which acts as visual research for future work. i didn’t see you there invites the viewer to navigate the city in a state of the heightened awareness – before any of the sculptures are even sighted. This experience comes tantalisingly close to the psychogeographic encounters advanced by the Situationists in order to re-examine urban space. The viewer participates in a kind of ‘Dérive’, as Debord named it: a mode of journeying undetermined by habitual work and leisure activities, but which allows for wandering, new possibilities and chance discoveries in the rich tapestry of the city.
Once discovered, Deeming’s curious objects remain ambiguous and rather inscrutable. Stacked yellow cuffs curve around steel bike stands; blue oblong blocks with circular holes are wedged into bins, and dimpled pink silicon wraps around benches. The soft pastel palette echoes those colours appreciated by Karla Black in her gallery installations, but out on the street they add more than a hint of artificiality. After all, these sculptural works presently borrow their hues from children’s playrooms, toys and clothes. i didn’t see you there is sited in the domain of adult life: commuting, lunch-on-the-go, bike-locking, car-parking, and snatched cigarette breaks. This world is concrete-grey, scrub-green, and hazard yellow, with the dense blue of road signs. Deeming’s objects trigger the same mild horror of the discarded stuffed toy, abandoned by the roadside. The pallid colours disrupt the visual grammar of the street: it is little wonder that these objects seem alien, and out of place.
Street furniture is generally ignored and dismissed from the user’s vision, due in part to their utilitarian aesthetic, but also because their function is quickly identified. The sculptures of i didn’t see you there occupy a gap between functional and decorative categories and they neglect to fulfil their duty as purposeful objects. They are wholly unresolved, evading easy interpretation, and thankfully, aren’t accompanied by an artist statement or plaque. The disquiet of the work is perhaps best evidenced in the reaction of the public. Some passersby attempted to find uses for the work: the blue bin pieces became clumsy ashtrays, and the silicon wraps became bench cushions; while others reacted with harmful curiosity: several pieces were stolen or damaged over the course of their exhibition. The actions of the public highlight the provocative and unsettling effect of the objects, which are affected themselves by the city and its inhabitants.
In the postmodern cityscape, where to be situated means to be displaced, the project occupies the space of flux and movement, the commuter throughways. Fittingly then, i didn’t see you there is not a series that invites, nor withstands prolonged attention. The objects are at their most effective in the pause, the second look, the backward glance, the double take. In that split second of perplexity, the viewer sees something that cannot quite be quantified, something that is strange, and in turn, the street and the city itself become suddenly less familiar.