Emma Stibbon: StadtLandschaften at The University of Brighton Gallery

15Jan10

The GDR did not exist. So reads the graffiti which greets visitors to StadtLandschaften, a new show by Emma Stibbon. This scrawl appears in the foreground of an ink drawing which, like much of the artist’s work, shows the brick and mortar evidence that in fact the GDR did exist. But the Soviet era building beyond the wall drips with various shades of grey. It does indeed look as if you could wash away the entire history of a nation.

Nearby are a row of memorials in watery ink. The passing of time has made a joke of the supposed permanence of stone. A plinth sits empty and bears shrapnel scars. A statue for the fallen of WWII floats away from the earth; the soldier peers from behind the wintry branches of an overgrown tree.

German-born Stibbon has found a surprising degree of poetry in these recent ruins. They are after all only two decades old. Her black and white studies are as atmospheric as faded newsprint, and just as realistic. It’s a pre-digital look which lends both weight and mass to her subject matter.

Many of the works on display have been etched on blackboards using chalk. Schlossplatz is a brooding epic in which a dark palace presides over some ruined bunkers. Karl Marx Allee is a brilliantly drafted aerial shot of a major boulevard which, as we are informed, led pointedly East.

The artist’s white lines are so fine and her medium so dusty that you get a sense that a single puff of air could blow both landscapes off the map. Elsewhere she depicts a rainy runway at Tempelhof airport. The chalk is smudged and looks like the scene could dissolve.

In room two of the exhibition, Stibbon takes us further afield to Antarctica. Most of these scenes are just as transient. Her Whaling Station on Deception Island is in collapse. A watercolour called Drift Ice is a scene whitening into non-existence.

Fixed on the wall is a photo of the artist. She sits on a plastic chair on the deck of a boat somewhere in the freezing ocean, sketching. Emma Stibbon exists, but had there been graffiti it might suggest otherwise.

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