AFTER last week’s coincidence of three simultaneous local groups shows, here comes another – Settlement at the Young Gallery features collections of household bits and pieces, just like at Salisbury Museum.

At both venues, the shows involve responses to the archives, and this is probably no coincidence at all given that money has become available for such projects through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Young Gallery has been doing this for some time now, and the first impression of this new show by David Davies is that of the layout and design. I it looks fabulous. Cabinets and plinths are well-used, along with giant images hung from the ceiling.

Davies is a poet and so I must declare a disinterest. I have no feeling for poetry and no way of judging whether it’s good or bad. I suppose journalists and poets are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but I do have an appreciation of evocative writing. I’ve read prose by writers like WG Sebald that have moved me greatly, but mainly because of the clarity and directness of the communication.

Settlement is an ambitious project which, at its heart, appears to be attempting to find a visual equivalent to the poetic word. The artworks are either taken from the archives or assembled by the artist. And here lies a problem. Davies is not a visual artist and displays little feeling for his materials. One "poem-form" almost comes off, but they all suffer from overcomplexity.

Assemblages work best when associations between elements can be formed through a simple visual theme and here it seems that Davies is trying too hard. The artworks from the archives do their job well, in particular those with a metaphysical slant, such as Paul Nash’s Ghost In Shale, or God Has Flown From This World by Cecil Collins.

A show with such high ambitions can be allowed to fall short in some areas, yet still be applauded. What seems clear to me is that what Davies has produced here is a template for future work that brings together material and artists from different disciplines. The National Gallery’s current exhibition Soundscapes shows another way: composers responding to the visual art with sound pieces.

The essential element is collaboration and I wonder how much more successful Settlement might have been with a visual artist on board. There are quite a few who could have made a contribution – Julia Atkinson, Henny Burnett or Linn O’Carroll for instance.

Bringing specialists together is the key to the modern gesamtkunstwerk (total artwork), rather than one individual trying to master many disciplines.

Readers who submit articles must agree to our terms of use. The content is the sole responsibility of the contributor and is unmoderated. But we will react if anything that breaks the rules comes to our attention. If you wish to complain about this article, contact us here