|Squid Bear - one of Theo Kaccoufa's GM Bears|
In a perfect world, we'd all be able to see the work of some of the leading lights of contemporary art, for free in South Yorkshire every day.
As it is, the Millennium Galleries exhibition exploring utopian ideals and dystopian realities brings together some internationally renowned artists and new commissions from emerging artists to create some unsettling and intriguing landscapes.
The troubling large format cinematic prints from Gregory Crewdson's Beneath The Roses series are an attention-grabbing highlight. The photographer stages each of his suburban scenes like film sets to produce richly detailed, but ultimately disturbing stills from some imaginary film in the visual language of David Lynch or even Hitchcock, to whom he is often compared.
|Detail of Michael Samuels 'Save What You Can'|
Crewdson's sense of filmic realism and the Lynchian overtones segue nicely into Pipilotti Rist's neighbouring dreamlike installation. 'Sip my Ocean' invites the viewer to step into a dreamlike underwater world to experience the suffocating experience of falling in love to the evocative soundtrack of the artist singing 'Wicked Game' by Chris Isaak.
Of the new commissions, Theo Kaccoufa and Katie Deith's work directly confront some of the darker fears of our age. Deith's luridly coloured landscapes are redolent of fantasy holiday brochure pictures from a distance, but upon closer inspection reveal oil slicks in tropical waters or a rural scene ravaged by molten lava.
Kaccoufa too is concerned with man's interference with the environment. "I'm inspired by the manipulation of nature," he says of his somewhat kitsch but slightly menacing GM Bears. "They're the toys of the future."
|Pencil-drawn tent: Sarah Woodfine's 'Newfoundland'|
His Cyber Flora sculptures, the largest of which is a flower which towers over the visitor and weighs in at around 20 kilos of steel wire, have a strange elegance and modernity. Pared down, the structures from the natural world resemble robotic hands, metal insects and fantastical molecular models.
Despite the dystopian billing of the show, not all of the art here aims to unsettle and disturb. Some images, like Mr & Mrs Ivan Morison's decaying versions of sumptuous 17th Century still-life paintings and Ged Quinn's topographical formal garden painting in the style of the same period, are more or less subtle subversions of canonical styles.
But there is also a proportion of work from artists who clearly enjoy the process of making their own worlds. In Sarah Woodfine's pencil drawings of peaceful places - like log cabins and tee-pees encased in various boxes and a snow globe - an almost childlike sense of joy in self-containment comes through.
|Flowers with Fish (detail), Mr & Mrs Ivan Morison|
It would have been good to see more of Paul Noble's equally intricate drawings of his imaginary city, Nobson Newtown - as it is difficult to grasp the nightmarishly spiralling scale of his meticulously detailed vision from two small images.
On a par for meticulousness, sculptor Michael Samuels' seascapes combine a "filmic sense of narrative with a manageable domestic scale and a DIY aesthetic," according to the artist. Perhaps just as intriguing as the azure blue tabletop film sets, are his furniture sculptures in which a lamplit car park or set of roadworks may appear grafted onto a homely table, bringing the imagination involved in the creation of utopias into a very personal focus.
The Real Ideal: Utopian Ideals and Dystopian Realities is at Millennium Galleries until the 11th December 2005.
See a preview of exhibition images in our gallery by following the links below.