A relatively marginalised space in a number of senses of the word, Test Space at Spike Island sits in an odd position within Bristol’s contemporary art scene. Essentially a corridor adjoining a couple of different pockets of studios within the building (also requiring both a request and a guide to see the exhibited work outside of the opening nights), Test Space appears an uncomfortable space to present work. Certain things work within it, and others do not (e.g. large skylights make any projected work a challenge). If inclined towards giving the benefit of the doubt, you could potentially argue it’s a good use of small means.
This aside, Hayley Lock’s show, Passing through the mother hole, at Test Space, is a testament to its modest potential, bringing smaller presentations of work into the city - that ever important part of feeding a city’s culture. This show was my first experience of Lock’s work, an enjoyably fresh insight. American Indian imagery, Art Deco designs, neo-classical sculpture collages, references to the third-eye, glyphs that look vaguely like abstracted graphs, all set in that, currently, ever-pervasive colour palette: Pastel. The paintings immediately stood out, if not quite as precisely executed as I would have liked, they are playful, almost comical compositions of geometric shapes recalling multifarious symbology, rendered in ice cream flavour colours, cartoon-like in their symmetric unreality.
The writer Carlos Castenada’s fall from grace as an ‘authentic’ source of knowledge on an obscure tradition of South American Shamanism he named ‘Toltec’, is referenced in the press release, and coupled with Lock’s claim about her susceptibility to hypnotism, there emerges (at least in the contextual constellation the show proposes) a notion of doubt, a kind of spiritual placebo. This odd note of cynicism, or, at least, interest in the persuasive powers of spiritual doctrines and our own emotional desires for them, sits askant to the work within the show for me, the underlying need for purpose and externally defined direction absent from the works. Critics (in particular from the field of anthropology) have argued Castenada’s teachings couldn’t possibly be real, their general arguments being contradictory, and I was struck by how this could play out within the work. For example, at times the paintings feel slightly anachronistic, and perhaps this is quite precisely the point, for the work to have enough of a sense of the familiar by borrowing from traditions to make just the right signals for you to almost believe. I think the difficulty (though, in equal measures, this could also be its strength), is that the work seems by no means obviously skeptical itself, and though Lock talks about her susceptibility to hypnotism, the work feels sincere.