Nothing Like This
Nothing like this, inIVA, edition of 60
1999

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book

Review - Art Monthly Jan 2000
"When I asked him what kinds of things he made, he cast his gaze exaggeratedly across the factory floor - Nothing like this." This quote from Clare Charnley's bookwork is the ambivalent reply from Marcus, a furniture maker working in the Lloyd Loom factory where the artist is in residence. His response is assumed to be verbal, yet it could equally be the artist's interpretation of a look.

To answer a question with the reply "nothing like this" is highly suggestive. It is an expression that reverberates in a number of ways: a statement that is a way of disassociating, or distancing oneself from the present situation. It alludes to past expectations, wildest dreams and disappointment. An artist using this phrase brings to it other ambiguities. These evoke the aspirations of art process, and the distance travelled from an initial idea to the final artwork, the gap between the completed object and the original intention. "Nothing like this" maybe a remark that is matter-of-fact in style, but it is far from straightforward in its substance.

Nothing like this is the perfect title for Charnley's book. Handmade with 30 pages of x paper, it has the appearance of an artist's sketchbook but is also a form of diary of her six-week residency within a manufacturing environment. The book's overall design is deceptively simple; the layout and typography are in keeping with the motif of the sketchbook/diary, in which page layouts vary accordingly, as do the extracts of text, plus sketches of prototypes with hand-written notes and occasional photo-based images. Nothing like this operates on the level of a sketchbook and diary made on a residency, but Charnley subtly brings another dimension. This is indicated by the book's first image: a snapshot of a group of men on a tea break, smoking, or reading the paper outside an entrance to a warehouse. The artist's interaction with this group of factory employees becomes central to the book. Since the original purpose of Charnley's residency at the factory, or its potential outcomes, are not disclosed in the book, this places all the emphasis on the experiential nature of residency, and how the processes of making art objects, industrial prototypes and social identities influence each other. Artist and production worker, art process and industrial production all intersect in some very unexpected ways.

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These themes and relationships are handled with great subtly through Charnley's use of image and text. The passages of text, often no more than paragraph-long, reveal the artist's observations about the people she is working alongside as well as her own ideas and plans for making objects. As the book unfolds, it becomes clear that Charnley is sketching ideas and making objects for people within the factory, based on the details that they reveal to her about their life outside the working environment. One sketch for a possible sculpture, entitled 'Sixty simultaneous bites' seems to be inspired by Rob, who makes furniture prototypes, but whose real passion is fishing for carp. In a section that is both funny and poignant, the artist sketches '3 legged modern style basket for an imaginary dog' for Simon who "breeds an obscure breed of Portuguese dog". In turn the artist recognizes the expertise of the production workers and the parallels between the processes of art making and industrial production. This means, "there are things I find I don't need to explain..." However one misunderstanding is wittily incorporated into the bookwork. A local TV company "assumed that an object near to where I was working was a sculpture that I had made." Across the page is an authentic-looking photograph of the artist at work alongside the object in question. The photograph is convincing enough for the reader to make the same mistaken association, but text underneath it belies the visual message: Charnley has borrowed the tools and overalls from Gillian "the only other person my size." Gender is implicit throughout Nothing like this, along with a number of dichotomies. Charnley is well aware of her position as a woman in a male-dominated environment, as well as being an artist among a group of factory workers. The processes of making objects are surrounded by images of fishing and porn, but mediated around these is the sense of the production workers' inner lives that lie outside the factory gates. Throughout Nothing like this there is a lightness of touch, but the book is far from lightweight - allowing the reader to look, read and think while following the artist in her residential footsteps.

Nicky Bird is an artist. Based in Edinburgh, she also lectures on Contemporary Photographic Practice at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle.