Laura Morrison / Maite Zabala

Derry~Londonderry's Void gallery invites two artists to use their space, or not, as they wish

Laura Morrison and Maite Zabala, both emerging artists, are currently exhibiting in adjacent rooms at Void gallery in Derry~Londonderry. The two artists are interested in space, and the utilisation of space around their works.

Zabala completed her MFA in fine art at Goldsmiths College, London, in 2012, having first studied architecture and fine arts in her native Chile. That concern with architecture, form and occupancy can be seen in her work at Void.

The bareness of the room is striking on entering her exhibition, entitled Diamond in Octagon and Heptagon. The white walls seem empty and the floor – momentarily, at least – appears completely clear. However, in the far corner, in the space allowed by the walls and a pillar, is a three-dimensional octagonal structure.

Tall and wide, about nine feet by nine feet, it is expertly crafted, its panels made in plywood with a walnut veneer, with inner panels of plush orange velvet within. It tapers out from its base to its widest tier, then shapes inwards, with two more levels before reaching an octagonal dome, the roof of which rises to a point.

This piece feels self-contained and impenetrable – there is no means of access, certainly. It stands in complete contrast to the space around it, so that the space and the structure come to define each other, or jostle against each other for dominance.

The structure feels alien. It looks like a craft that Erich von Daniken might have described in his books on visits to Earth by creatures from other planets. There is a sense that it has just landed, and has interior sensors monitoring its new surroundings.

But there’s a familiarity too; the whole thing has the feel of a ritual structure. This is especially true of the dome at the top. It’s like a tabernacle, housing a holy secret or divine presence, perhaps. Except, of course, that there is no way of accessing it, so whatever is inside will remain unreachable.

The shape, like a diamond, conjures up a feeling of something hard, and cold and sharp. That same sense is there in Zabala’s other exhibit. This is the only thing on the otherwise bare walls. It is a cruciform teak frame, within which, on khaki cotton paper, is an etching of a diamond.

Again there is the sense of the religious with the shape of the frame – and of the ancient too, as if it’s a window in a medieval church. The coldness and mystery and many faces of the diamond seem to be important here, rather than its worth or the wealth it might represent.

Laura Morrison’s work, 'Anger, Java 2013', is in many ways more personal, more engaging than Zabala’s work. Whereas the latter seems to stand almost indifferent to attention and response, Morrison’s work was seemingly created to provoke a reaction, perhaps even to create discomfort and to stir memory.

Morrison is a Londoner. She graduated from Chelsea College of Art and Design and then, like Zabala, took her MFA in fine art at Goldsmith’s. For her work at Void, she has altered the space in the exhibition room.

Just inside the door, a large rectangular block has been constructed, maybe five foot wide and almost to ceiling height. This creates a corridor and a barrier, and, consequentially, increases anticipation too. At the end face of the block, as you turn into the room, sit two framed photographs, A4 size.

They hang side by side, only a small space between them. They are the first and last of a sequence of photographs of an articulated lorry turning off a main road into a delivery entrance. An estate car is parked on the main road, beyond which are farm fields.

The sky above is dark and threatening. There is a lamppost, wires to which are cut between one frame and the next. The cab of the lorry is in one frame; the very back of it is in the other. You almost feel you can pull the two pictures apart and the missing frames will emerge.

On the far wall to the right are two more photographs of a different stage of the same scene. In these, more of the rear of the lorry can be seen. And now you are faced with what is shown on the side of the lorry. There are letters: HERE; LP; m. There is an appeal ribbon.

There are four images of the same little girl’s face. It is Madeleine McCann, missing since 2007. Once her face was never out of the news. Now her story re-emerges sporadically, but it’s generally pushed to the side and forgotten, except by her parents and close family and friends. The pictures feel grainy and small and unreal.

Against the wall at the base of the rectangular block, away from the photographs, is a 16 by eight feet frieze. It is done in plasticine on board and is worked from an illustration of a stretch of the Indonesian coast struck by a tsunami in 1883, after the eruptions on Krakatoa.

There are palms trees and waves. There is destruction and damage. The predominant colour is a sand yellow, but the colours of the material change, and sickly greens emerge. The surface is rough and coarse. The images seem fossilised, lost and then rediscovered.

The images in this room are of tragedies – small and desperate, vast and sweeping, all-consuming and forgotten, recalled only when triggered, and then grainy and indistinct.

Both Morrison and Zabala seem to use space as a tactic, in terms of presenting their work, and in allowing room for the viewer to consider what is there. Thematically, the two rooms seem to have little in common, but each exhibition shifts and intrigues and repositions, leaving the viewer subtly unsettled. Bright and interesting futures seem assured for them both.

Laura Morrison / Maite Zabala runs in the Void, Derry~Londonderry until May 3.