What do you think of when you see the Rad Cam? If you’re a frequent visitor to its collections, sadly, it’s probably work. Essays. Drudgery. All the more reason to visit the enthusiastically-titled ‘Rad Cam!’ show at the O3 gallery, with two local artists’ interpretations of the Oxford icon.
You won’t able to look at it the same way after the vibrant colours of Emma Dougherty’s plasticine and found-object constructions. Her work lends itself to the gallery’s unusual layout, which offers many different perspectives from which to look at a particular image. On one stairwell is a series of Dougherty’s pictures, each in a saturated block colour, which from far away make the library look like it has spires and minarets. It is only when you get closer that ‘Rad Camblage’ (2010) reveals itself: Dougherty has used candles, dice, iPod headphones and many other objects of the same colour to create a refreshingly innovative interpretation. Gone are the damp greys and browns of a typical rainy day’s ‘Bodding’. Dougherty’s work instead reminds us of the Rad Cam’s harmonious proportions and graceful vertical lines by reproducing them in a way that is unexpected, eye-catching and fun. This is even more the case in ‘Poly Cam’ (2010), a collection of tiny hand-made clay images on a brightly-coloured circular backgrounds which plays with the building’s status as an Oxford landmark, multiplying and reducing it to resemble a child’s badge.
Tim Steward, the other artist on display, undertook classical training in London before returning to draw from the architecture of Oxford. Steward’s black and white pieces in graphite or media contrast well with the vibrant hues of Dougherty’s design. His drawings use fragmented lines and discontinuous areas of shading to evoke the form and size of the building whilst not entirely delineating its structure. In some of his pieces the frenzied mark-making becomes almost an end in itself, so that the Rad Cam seems to be exploding outwards. In ‘Rad Cam 50’ (2010), one of the most successful drawings, Steward uses loose but delicate lines to evoke a moment within the architecture: the outline of one window, the intersection of a pilaster with the edge of the dome.
At times it can seem like the only people interested in Oxford architecture are the passing hordes of camera-laden tourists. This is exhibition is pleasing proof that this is not the case, and challenges us with representations that play with what we expect.