Summer in storage

I've been to the odd private view in my time, but this is the most private, the oddest. My affable guide leads me from the local pub into a Barbican housing estate, the prototype, if you take away the towers, for the more illustrious development around the arts centre. By a circuitous route we arrive at a row of municipal, underground versions of the garden shed. One of these opens to reveal a shrine to the eighteen year old that the artist may or may not have been.

Perhaps more accurately titled īLate spring and early summer in storage', Ella Johnston's installation is a great idea, well-executed. It recasts the supposed freedom of legally admissible adulthood as a period when your time was not your own, restricted as it was to the desk or table at which you performed - more or less scrupulously - your studying and revision.

Encircling the room at eye level are a series of ten centimetre square canvasses depicting flowery doodles on the blue-ruled paper that we all used for writing essays in the days before affordable home computers. Below these, another series, this time of index cards filled with revision notes. The key facts about the Dissolution of the Monasteries send a chill down this particular spine. On the floor, positioned around the walls, the significant / insignificant objects and artefacts that you'd find in the average artistically-inclined eighteen year old's bedroom - sketches, love letters, pillow, duvet, cosmetics, photographs, postcards, tapes, sundry other keepsakes, vodka. With a curiosity that the absent occupant would not share, you are invited to pick over these relics (and drink the Smirnoff). A static hum from electrics or ventilation helps to promote the feeling of claustrophobic tedium that is the inevitable by-product of training the mind to jump through examiners' hoops.

It's increasingly difficult to remember what it was like to be eighteen, or sixteen, as Tangents' Mass Observations invite us to do. If I follow a time-travelling telepathic connection back to my own mind then, what I sense are broad swathes of yearning, resentment, excessive brooding over my misadventures, inexplicable joy, defiant energy. Yes, I can remember events, moments even, but perhaps only a work of art can come close to recreating the whole of a life at a certain point in its past. Ella Johnston's unusual choice of space and the tiny reminders with which she has packed it give you fleeting glimpses of your former self that are as stirring as they are bittersweet.

© Daniel Williams, 2001

To arrange a viewing of the installation, which runs until Christmas, or for details of the Sloganeers group's next exhibition, ībanco internacionale de sloganeers' at the New Foundry, Great Eastern Street, London, March 2002, send an e-mail to

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