Published: STUDENT DIRECT, April 2008
Anne Desmet’s new exhibition at the Witworth is one of the most exciting displays of art I have seen since arriving in Manchester last September. Said to be ‘one of the most original talents in contemporary artist-printmaking’, her work displays a meticulous skill and eye for detail, while managing to capture the viewers imagination.
Working with wood engraving and linocut relief printing, Desmet’s prints, and mixed media collages, explore the wonder architecture can instil and the close relationship buildings can hold with our human aspirations and desires. The linear and graphic element to her work calls to mind the art of Jim Dine, while the layering, repetition and spatial exaggeration apparent in many of her pieces remind one of Esher’s ‘Procession in Crypt 1927’ or ‘Inside St Peters 1935’.
Most of Desmet’s prints centre round buildings that are connected to the past, be it the mythical Tower of Babel, the British Museum or the ruins in Rome. All the work in the exhibition has a wonderful sense of perception, Desmet’s depictions extend past the physical restraints of the building to show the sensations experienced when, say, looking down a crooked staircase in ‘Seeds of Change’ or up at a towering marble dome in ‘Pantheon tondo’. They create a fascination with transformation, time and how urban landscapes affect our consciousness and experiences. Our identity is formed by where we call home, our surroundings. Surroundings that hold, as editor Jonathan Schofield notes, a ‘historic inevitability’. They will degrade, be left to crumble; they will then be regenerated or replaced. For better or for worse we are within constant metamorphosis.
The most exciting and recent is her work created from Manchester’s Victoria Baths, which represents, at 29 pieces, the largest body of work Anne Desmet has made on a single building. The Victoria Baths built in 1906, is an exuberant building made in the peak of imperialistic confidence. Now left to terrible disrepair, Desmet’s work captures a still moment in development, before the new restoration of the building begins. Most poignant is the sense of isolation that is present in such huge vacant spaces (see ‘Mirror Image x1 Pools’ and ‘Light Stairwell VBM’). Looking at Desmet’s work, you can really experience the building’s echoing sounds, silence and devastating emptiness, when it once was filled with many bathing and noisy people.
Anne Desmet’s work is rewarding on many levels conceptually and well as being visually very beautiful. To anyone who has the chance, I strongly recommend it.