Culpable Earth

Steven Claydon sculpture

We didn't make it to the opening night of an old friend's exhibition, for a pregnant woman it seemed far too far for a couple of hours of standing and shmoozing. Hopefully we made up for it by taking the round trip to Colchester a couple of weeks later. Standing over the final plinth of Steven Claydon's Culpable Earth (lathed wooden cylinders resembling tins, a modular Euclidean cube in red on a recessed back-lit resin bed) another visitor struck-up conversation.

Like most awkward people, I tend to deflect suspected small-talk with a series of stock responses (you know the drill, every statement a light conclusion, never a leading question. Polite and trite in equal measure), and yet this energetic septuagenarian engendered something else entirely. Emboldened and enlivened by the work, we all spoke for a time about the stranglehold of Catholic symbolism; object/artefact/relic; transubstantiation and the appearance of matter; the pure becoming of life; the imperceptible end of a bell's open note; and his expansive hunch that some moments can never be truly lost in time but continue to unfold everywhere and always at once.

Constable seascape

On the train back to Liverpool Street we laughed at the way the stranger had become and integral part of the show... or at least our experience of it. It's a pity he won't be waiting there for everyone, an uplifting and interpretive tool for an artist who's often awkward and always engaging. Sure, Essex isn't the most glamourous destination but with an ancillary gallery pairing Constable's cloud studies with Carl Andre's infamous Equivalent VIII, there's certainly a stack of reasons for visiting Firstsite this season.

Carl Andre Equivalent VIII at the tate 1978

Steven Claydon: Culpable Earth, 4 February - 7 May 2012
Firstsite, Lewis Gardens, High Street, Colchester CO1 1JH

• from Steven Claydon's Culpable Earth, 2012 [Andy Keate]
• Firstsite, Colchester, Rafael Viñoly Architects, 2012 [Richard Bryant]
• John Constable, Rainstorm over the Sea, c.1824-1828
• Carl Andre, Equivalent VIII, 1978, Firebricks

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