By Pauline van Mourik Broekman, 10 January 1997

Review of Stephen Elson's Background installation

I doubt that hearing the title of this installation would enthuse even the most critical décor artist. It's obviously deliberately unassuming, but somehow deadens the piece before you've even seen it. And it doesn't deserve that. Stephen Elson has pushed the now tediously fashionable revisionist interpretations of the canons of minimalism on. Rather than remake Carl Andre floor pieces in chewed up gum, crochet a Donald Judd to comment wryly on minimalism's phallocentrism or * slightly more subtle * disrupt its permanence by using chocolate or flowers, he has cleverly pushed the forms to the point where they flip round completely. Elson uses minimalism's often geometric foundations to create highly illusionistic effects. He has changed the concrete, material object (blue tiles arranged in a grid) into a representational device simply by extending it to the wall. In the process, he has managed to incorporate computer graphic tools to uncanny effect and draw parallels between interpretations of sculpture and Virtual Reality. The tiles used for Background were modelled on a computer and then factory-made. From afar, they look as inviting as a swimming pool, yet their unnaturally high herring-bone ridges make them a nightmare to walk on. Elson mines this juncture of seduction and denial to great effect. With one nod to VR and the other to James Turrell, Background makes the eye still seem unreconciled with the rest of the body.

Background is at 30 Underwood Street till 23rd February 1997

Pauline van Mourik Broekman <pauline AT>