Art Review: The First Humans

‘The First Humans’ explores themes of pre-history, evolution and sci-fi imaginings of early man. Curated by Angela Kingston and organised by The Pump House Gallery in collaboration with Plymouth Arts Centre it features the work of Caroline Achaintre, Salvatore Arancio, Vidya Gastaldon, Andy Harper, Ben Rivers and Jack Strange.


‘That Thing Outside of The Thing Inside of This Thing’ Jack Strange. (photo Dom Moore)

Upon entering the lower gallery space, you are confronted by a large boulder, ‘That Thing Outside of The Thing Inside of This Thing’ by Jack Strange. A man made boulder inset with three videos of the artist juggling, as an ape, a caveman and an alien. Vidya Gastaldon’s surreal illustrations of possible ancestors, sit on the walls, almost like parts of an ancient frieze. Salvatore Arancio’s work, a ceramic geode formation, seemingly oozing with primordial marmite hangs high on the wall, sitting next to a highly detailed etching of a volcano.

Moving upstairs, Arancio’s etchings depicting volcanoes become more poignant upon watching Ben Rivers film, ‘The Creation as We Saw It’ which candidly depicts a creation story from a tribal village in the South Pacific. Shot on 16mm film, in black and white, it gives the impression of an educational film from the early 20th century, an impression which is broken when you see the villagers using mobile phones. This beautiful piece of cinema contextualises the rest of the work.


Still from ‘The Creation as We Saw it’ by Ben Rivers. (photo Dom Moore)

Caroline Achaintre’s ‘Fevver’ is a collection of tufted, wall hangings, that make the space cave-like, even more so placed next to more of Arancio’s ceramic rock formations. Loosely woven, they are obviously handmade, and evoke images of tribal altars. Kingston notes ‘(Fevver) has the look of something ceremonial’. Arancio’s ceramics are akin to fantastical stalactites, fossilized human waste or small wells, filled with dark pools of oil.



Installation view, Caroline Achaintre and Salvatore Arancio, Ceramic detail. (photo Dom Moore.)


‘The Threefold Law’‘ by Andy Harper (Photo Dom Moore.)

Andy Harper’s work, ‘The Threefold Law’,  a two dimensional piece, suspended over the mezzanine level of the Arts Centre’s space, is highly coloured, highly patterned and quite psychedelic. Something between a magic eye and a rorschach test, it gives of the impression of being spiritual and divine. Harper’s other works, a triptych of similarly swirling and psychedelic patterns, are more delicate.



What Do You Want More Of?, Jack Strange; paleolithic hand axe found near Dartmoor (Photos: Dom Moore)

A genuine locally found paleolithic hand axe, is amongst these works, kindly leant by Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery. The hand axe sits in front of Strange’s ‘What Do You Want More Of?’ – a wall of cardboard, punctuated with pairs of semi-precious gemstones, evoking something ritualistic – representations of people with ‘eyes’ of stone, or a formation – a dwelling or vehicle with ‘buttons’. The gemstones seem to have a magical importance, juxtaposed with the banal cardboard.Carefully selected, the exhibition gives the impression of a documentary museum display. ‘The First Humans’ playfully explores ideas of creation, evolution, and what just what it is to be  human.

Emily Watkins, Plymouth College of Art.

This article was first published at


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