Art Review: Lagoon West

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Matthew Houlding’s Lagoon West is at Plymouth Arts Centre until July 18.

Lagoon West is an exhibition that doesn’t believe in playing coy. Big, bold and ambitious, it is, in every sense a multi-dimensional piece, taking over both ground and upper-floor galleries.

The installations are hand-crafted by Houlding; wooden models with Perspex panels sit next to wall collages of cork and plasterboard. Painted cactuses in vivid orange and green add to the exuberance of Houlding’s palette of blues and yellows. It creates an exotic dreamscape; a playground where the traditional mixes with the fashionable; Lagoon West comments on how affluence expects history and tradition to bend and shape itself for contemporary comfort and ease. With the viewer on the outside, tinted panels partially obscure our view as we peer inside.

Dotted around the exhibition, are left artefacts; a pair of sunglasses, a woman’s scarf. Houlding says that “every work reads as a short story”, and it really does feel as if you’ve wandered into a story half-told; the owner of the sunglasses has gone – where? Disappeared? About to return? Life appears halted; and with the humans gone, Nature emerges from the cracks. It creates a tension to a piece that, at first intake, exudes summery associations.

Houlding not only layers concepts, but the textures he employs keep the eye constantly moving. Geometric shapes are created in Mondrian-blue Perspex and driftwood panels. The crisp, angular lines and abstract patterns of Houlding’s collages pair the constructed (a neatly folded T-shirt) with the organic (a seashell).Influences are everywhere in ‘Lagoon West’. Houlding’s use of everyday objects sees its kindred spirit in Pop Art pioneer Robert Rauschenberg; the repetition of themes and motifs owes a direct debt to 1960’s Minimalism.

Lagoon West’s preoccupation with the impact of time, Nature and reclamation on a physical space, invites you to delve into a lost kingdom. It is a world simultaneously in flux as it is in stasis; stillness and movement may seem contradictory states, but in ‘Lagoon West’ they co-exist by necessity.

It is this notion of contradictoriness that gives Lagoon West its playful underbelly. Houlding deliberately moves away from conventional art on walls: his work is literally bursting out of the floor, coming at you from every angle. It is dynamic and colourful; challenging us to look, think and wonder. The Constructivists created works of art that would make the viewer an active participant, and Houlding’s exhibition likewise encourages us to explore and roam, to devise our own narratives. Houlding crafted these pieces, but after creation, the rest is up to us.

This explorative quality I think is central: Lagoon West takes us to a number of locations, both literal and introspective. It takes us on a tour of the artists and movements that have influenced Houlding on his own journey. This exhibition is not just a story being told, but an autobiography. Visual clues are dropped like a discarded pair of sunglasses; the influences that have resonated with Matthew are never far from the surface. Houlding blends the guiding principles of his creative life into a space that is intensely personal.

Just as the layout of Lagoon West travels over several areas, the heart of the piece takes us on an expedition. Houlding has built a thought-provoking show that pays homage to the ideas and techniques that have shaped him as an artist. Lagoon West is the perfect exhibition for high summer; a generous, expansive exploration of some of art’s most important ideas. It has the capacity to transport you: let Houlding take you there.

Helen Tope

Helen works at City College Plymouth, and has been writing for arts & culture, film, beauty and fashion blogs since 2009. She has a blog at

Twitter:  @Scholar1977

Photos by Dom Moore


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