By: Isabel Gilchrist
October 6, 2017
The South African artist, Jenna Burchell sits opposite me. Despite the fact we are surrounded by the creative bustle of the 1:54 (where she is currently exhibiting), she captivates me by the undeniable devotion she has to her work. Represented by Sulger-Buel Lovell, Burchell is fascinated with the theme of time and has used technology as a way to enhance her subject matter.
Burchell has a particular resonance with technology as her parents migrated from South Africa when she was younger, and thus programs such as Skype were her only forms of communication that produced an emotive response. She explains to me how technology not only helps to reveal previously hidden meanings and emotions but also connects and brings people together.
As a self-proclaimed anti-disciplinary artist, Burchell has designed her language to create a new form of art. When presented with the question of how she would describe her artistic practices, she explained how it is difficult to develop an idea that is unique; one can only improve what has already been conceived. The artist notes how what were once singular disciplines can now be joined and explored together to create something beautiful; for example, science and art can now work together to shape something new. She states passionately, “You must twist the ordinary on its head and question the conventional.” Her outlook of manipulating disciplines and borrowing techniques is especially prominent in her most recent project Songsmith (Cradle of Humankind), nicknamed ‘the singing rocks’ by her audience. Within this project, she has transformed a relatively ordinary historical object into one of beauty and functionality.
The artist has collected some naturally broken fossils and rocks from three ancient sites in South Africa. She then repairs the fractures following the Japanese method of Kintsukuroi in which gold lacquer is inserted into the cracks of the object. As a result, the piece becomes more beautiful from the destruction which it faced; it has been gifted with a new lease of life. Not only does the rock become a form of beauty, but it also encompasses a historical tradition. In this sense, Burchell has connected and interlocked cultures, communities and individuals in a single rock. She captures an essence of humanity, and our desire to be bound together, united as one entity. Her work, therefore, generates a cultural capital in which common ground anchors people.
Although the rocks are incredibly beautiful, they are also functional objects. Jenna Burchell has ingeniously uncovered the poetic voice of the rock by capturing the raw-electromagnetic readings beneath the objects’ original resting place. In essence, when you interact with the piece, the magical sound of the earth echoes around you. Captured entirely by mother nature’s call, the viewer has an undeniably personal and emotional relationship with nature (click here to listen). The enchantment we have with the work is amplified by the different sound each Songsmith produces, based on its weight.
Each Songsmith is a time capsule. The voice of each rock is infused by the place it came from, meaning each song has been sung for 2.2 million years (in the case of those from the Cradle of Humankind). So not only are we connected to nature physically by touching the rock, but we are also teleported 2.2 million back in time. We are part of an unbelievable collective experience; we breathe the same air, walk upon the same soil and are reminded by nature’s melody.
It is important to remember that Burchell would not be able to conceive her artistic concept without technological help. She argues that technology is like “the books of our age,” and in a sense she’s right. In the 21st century, we learn and adapt through the use of technology, so there is no reason not to embrace it. The only way in which this can be reached is through the specific technological technique called Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). The golden band running through each rock also aides our understanding. It is not only compositional but also allows the stone to resonate and the foundation to sing. Without technology, Burchell would not have been able to build the bridge joining humanity and nature together.
Carry with you the beauty of the Songsmith’s and let them be a reminder to interact, connect and build relationships with those around you. Replay the Earth’s song in your head and know that beneath you something genuinely incredible is happening.
Jenna Burchell is exhibiting at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in Somerset House, London until the 8th October. Find her on the first floor of the South Wing in room G27.
You may have been lucky enough to embark on the journey of a virtual lifetime by travelling through the extraordinary installations of Mat Collishaw.
Emerging from Goldsmiths College, London in the late 1980’s, Collishaw is a key figure in the important generation of the original Young British Artists. Although the YBA is not something that he particularly dwells on, he has established a provocative and increasingly intricate body of work since his first participation within the group. During his time at Goldsmiths, he started appropriating forensic photography, fuelling his interest in technology and his obsession with “the slightly morbid human fascination with the darker side”. He has exhibited widely internationally since his first solo exhibition in 1990, including at the Centre Georges Pompidou, The New Art Gallery Walsall and The Guildhall Art Gallery, London.
His new exhibition at Blain|Southern, London, titled The Centrifugal Soul, is a fantastical combination of illusion and haunting reality. He attempts to create “images that are awe–inspiring”, enveloping the human conscious into a world that is equally shocking and familiar, governed by our primal urges for visual supremacy. The exhibition is separated into two fragments; a freestanding sculpture based on the model of a zoetrope, and an evocative projection inspired by the Victorian theatrical illusion, Pepper’s Ghost.
Collishaw worked with evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller to produce the centrepiece of the exhibition, The Centrifugal Soul. This sculpture in the form of a zoetrope –a pre-film animation device that simulates the illusion of movement through the use of rapid rotation and stroboscopic light– directly comments on Miller’s theories. Miller postulated that the origins of art derive from our natural instincts of courtship and reproduction, hence why the birds in the sculpture are condemned to repeat a series of seductive routines.
The dancing birds of paradise and bowerbirds not only entice and trick the viewer into entering an optical world, but their aesthetic beauty comments on how humanity has an unquenchable thirst for visual stimulation. We have an undoubtable appetite to be noticed in a visual competition, much like animals do in the courtship rituals they perform. Perhaps The Centrifugal Soul exaggerates how we cannot escape our own primal urges; we must create art as an attempt to articulate our own frustration with courtship and reproduction. Ultimately, the human race, like any other species, has the fundamental goal to reproduce, and if this goal is not reached then the purpose of life is questioned.
Collishaw continues his commentary on the ways in which we consume imagery whilst struggling with our own biological conditioning with Albion, a new installation in the form of a laser scan of ‘The Major Oak’ in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham. This hollowed-out tree trunk is supposedly the hiding place of Robin Hood, and it is because of this mythical significance that the tree and it’s limbs have been supported by an elaborate system of scaffolding. Collishaw’s rendition of ‘The Major Oak’ is a glowing ghost-like skeleton that slowly rotates on its axis. The eerie presence of the tree is a living representation of an object that is eternally trapped to present the illusion of life. The artist states that “the tree is interesting because it wants to die… it has chains internally holding it up. It’s very sad. It becomes a portrait of England -this mythical idea that everyone wants to believe in, which is perhaps something we should let go”.
Collishaw’s intuitive use of one form of illusion to illustrate another, observing how delusion is drawn out from the optical, is an unreserved refection of ourselves. The dying fragments of ‘The Major Oak’ embellish everything that we believe we are; what we perceive through our eyes, the things we consider to be true, the past, and everything we think we want. He therefore not only explores the tension between the beautiful and the wretched, but also how this tension relates to our own origins. The human race is a vacant shell, filled with memories and past experiences that cannot be escaped; the internal chains that support ‘The Major Oak’ are the same supporting elements that sustain our own thoughts and feelings. We all want to believe that there is a component of Robin Hood in us.
Mat Collishaw’s The Centrifugal Soul is on display at Blain|Southern, London until 27th May, 2017.
March 11, 2017
“I see life as a passageway,
with no fixed beginning or destination”
– Do Ho Suh
Humanity is often focused upon the destination of life rather than the journeys travelled. These journeys are the ones that result in a life worth living, instead of a life in which the centre of attention revolves around the end result. To be obsessed with the end result of an endeavour, as opposed to living in the present, is the very premise that the artist Do Ho Suh (b.1962, Seoul, Korea) challenges in his new exhibition, ‘Passage/s’.
Currently on display at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London, Suh’s body of work questions the boundaries of identity as well as the global connection between individuals and groups. After growing up in South Korea, the artist has moved and lived in many different countries, immersing himself in the culture of each one of them. In his work he aims to create a global connection between his identity, his previous destination, and his current journey. He establishes that his own understanding of ‘home’ is both a physical structure and a lived emotional experience. In this sense, the physical structure of a ‘home’ can only be described as the building or property in which one has lived, whereas the home as an emotional experience is documented in the adventures and memories of life. I
Beginning upstairs on the First Floor, the visitor is immediately transported into the many ‘homes’ of the artist. Each independent aspect of a home, whether it is a simple light bulb or a complicated fuse box, has been carefully replicated by Suh’s meticulous hand. Polyester, which is both a fluid and a translucent medium, is the main choice of material for Do Ho Suh. He uses to replicate everyday objects, and its translucency amplifies the importance of concentrating upon the ‘passageways’ of life: you must be able to travel through each destination in order to continue growing and developing.
This concept is heightened in ‘Passage’s: The Pram Project’, a video installation recorded from the perspective of three different cameras. Taped from the comfort of his daughters pram, the video removes the viewer from the controlled environment of the gallery, and places them into the charming streets of Islington and Seoul. Surrounded by the child’s adoring laughter and babbling, we are reminded of the innocence of humanity and the importance of ‘home’ as an emotional connection, something which provides stability and safety.
Continuing on the Lower Floor, Do Ho Suh displays large threaded drawings replicating doorways and stairwells. Each entrance has been accurately copied from the multiple buildings in which Suh has lived, exaggerating how the outside exterior of a ‘home’ does not necessarily reflect the individual immersed within it. For example, not everyone who lives in a London home is British – the immersion of cultures is the most important aspect to create a global identity.
The exhibition arguably concludes with the most impressive component of Do Ho Suh’s work. His series ‘Hubs’ occupies the entirety of the Upper Gallery, where nine reproductions of the apartments in which Suh has called ‘home’ are on display. The transient polyester spaces are connected by threaded doorways and moving doors, enticing the viewer to walk through and experience each room. Although interactive, ‘Hubs’ removes the practical function of a home: door hinges and handles remain motionless while electrical outputs and pipes are frozen without power. By referring back to Suh’s original premise of the home as a physical entity, as well as an emotional experience, we are placed in this complex structure as both ‘private’ and ‘public’ viewers. In one way the elongated home visualises the ‘private’ life of an individual, while the ‘public’ global identity seeps into the design through the fragile material.
I encourage you not just to see the exhibition first-hand, but to interact and engage with the artwork. The unfortunate irony of this brilliant collection of work is the influence of present day technology, and our infatuation and dependence upon our mobile phones. The majority of people visiting exhibitions today try to capture every moment and work of art into a single photograph. This degrades the original intentions of Do Ho Suh and his exploration of life as a journey, as a photograph destroys the steps travelled in order to take it. Life is about the experiences seized by your eyes, not the artificial screen of a phone or lens of a camera; rather than living through your phone, live through reality.
Do Ho Suh‘s ‘Passage/s’ is on display at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London until 18th March, 2017.