At London’s National Gallery, known globally for its collection of masterworks by Late Medieval, Renaissance and Modern painters such as Botticelli, Titian, Vincent van Gogh, and J.M.W. Turner, visitors now have an opportunity to view a major new work by contemporary British artist, Chris Ofili.
In his latest offering – a large-scale, three-paneled wall hanging entitled “The Caged Bird’s Song” (currently on display in an exhibition entitled “Weaving Magic”) – Ofili narratively engages with classical themes of love, tragedy, and paradise, whilst simultaneously exploring how these may be recast into contemporary idioms of black, diasporic identity. The scene itself – a watercolour depiction of two lovers luxuriating in an Arcadian, tropical landscape reminiscent of Ofili’s adopted home, the island of Trinidad – also features a treed, serpent-like man (based on the media-sensationalised character of Italian footballer, Mario Balotelli), who, in the upper centre of the main panel, mischievously disturbs the tranquility of the scene by pouring a green, effervescent, and noxious-looking liquid into a cocktail glass held by the central, female figure.
This female figure is depicted, along with her musical lover, in the tapestry’s lower centre panel, and both are flanked by an additional pair of characters on two far side panels – a female on the left and a male on the right – whose representations directly reflect the title of Ofili’s wall hanging: on the right, we see the male figure carrying a caged songbird (a common sight in Trinidad, according to curator Minna Moore Ede), and on the left, a female figure whose hand dangles a sprig of seeds meant for feeding to the caged bird in order to sweeten its song.
Ofili, who discusses the making of his tapestry in a 15-minute, companion video also shown at the exhibition, says that the title of his wall hanging refers to the late poet Maya Angelou’s 1969 autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and that the image of the caged bird provides the “secret” to interpreting his tapestry, namely in its symbolism of the vulnerability and precariousness of humanity in the world. It is also significant that the central figures portrayed in the tapestry are black, and that their physical postures reflect a joyful state of innocence consistent with the tapestry’s paradisaical setting.
“The Caged Bird’s Song” provides viewers with a mural-sized translation of Ofili’s watercolour paintings, from small, preparatory sketches – some of which are also on view at the exhibition – into a large, jewel-toned wall hanging. For the Dovecot Tapestry Studio weavers charged with interpreting and executing Ofili’s design, their challenge was to both reproduce the formal subject matter, and incorporate the fluidity of line, colour runs, blooms, and puddling of watercolour pigments characterising Ofili’s original sketches. All of these watercolour effects are successfully captured throughout the tapestry, especially in the left-hand panel, where threatening blooms of storm clouds hover over the horizon.
Water is a dominant motif in Ofili’s tapestry; representing purity, life, and death, it recurs in his depictions of a waterfall, a sea in the background, an approaching thunderstorm, and a small, serene pool by which the lovers recline. The Dovecot weavers’ interpretation of Ofili’s watercolour effects further underscores the significance of this motif for the narrative, namely that of a paradise on the verge of being lost, flooded, or drowned.
For visitors to the Sunley Room, viewing Ofili’s tapestry is an immersive experience that the artist himself orchestrates with the aid of sophisticated lighting, and ceiling-height images of Indian temple dancers painted onto the surrounding walls of the gallery space. These dancers, depicted in greys and subtle browns, line the walls of the Sunley Room, and are arranged in rows by gender: female dancers appear on the left, while male dancers appear on the right, echoing the female/male couples depicted in the tapestry itself.
These gigantic images provide a neutral background for Ofili’s wall hanging, and they physically encircle the viewer, whose eyes are thus provided with sight lines for traversing the gallery, traveling back and forth from individual temple dancers to the scene depicted in the tapestry. On the far wall of the gallery, “The Caged Bird’s Song” gleams like a vividly-painted altarpiece, and viewers can reflect upon its symbolism and aesthetics from within a quiet, contemplative space that Ofili, in a creative departure from the traditional white cube gallery format, has specifically designed for this purpose.
“The Caged Bird’s Song” represents a three-year collaboration between the artist and the Dovecot Tapestry Studio of Edinburgh, Scotland. The tapestry was commissioned by The Clothworkers’ Company London to celebrate contemporary art in textile, and is on loan to the National Gallery until 28 August 2017. The exhibition is free of charge, and includes a catalogue providing additional information on the inspirations for, and production process of, Ofili’s new work.
May 20, 2017
Photo London is only in its third year, but this sprightly young fair does not disappoint in the quality and breadth of the work on show. Eighty-nine galleries present a diverse array of emerging artists and established names in this four-day festival. Here are some of our favourites.
1. Michael Wolf, ‘Tokyo Compression’
This series of uncomfortable, claustrophobic images depicts one of the many unpleasant realities of life in the metropolis. Catch it on display at the Flowers Gallery booth.
2. Stephen Shore, ‘Warhol and The Factory’ (1965-67)
A vintage series presented by Sprüth Magers Gallery captures glimpses of an “off-duty” Andy Warhol and his companions shot in and around The Factory.
3. Photo London Master of Photography 2017: Taryn Simon
Taryn Simon’s ‘Image Atlas’ is an interactive “work-in-progress” exploring the idea of a universal visual language. Using search engine data from around the world, Simon examines the fluidity of reference and the constant changing of meaning attached to images, in a work that interrogates the impact of censorship on our perception.
4. Discovery Galleries
This year’s edition of Photo London highlights the work of new galleries that are between one and five years old, with sixteen stands making up the ‘Discovery Galleries’.
5. Jacob Aue Sobol’s ‘Road of Bones’, presented by Leica Camera
Shot along the Kolyma Highway in Russia, Jacob Aue Sobol captures life in one of the coldest inhabited regions of the world. Using Leica X and Leica M Monochrom cameras, Sobol starkly portrays the bleakness of an area once notorious for its Gulag camps.
6. Michael Hoppen Gallery
Michael Hoppen Gallery presents an engaging selection including Siân Davey’s series depicting the innocent pleasures of youth over a British summer, and the timely “Brexit Wall” offering photographs capturing the essence of ‘Britishness’.
7. Alison Jacques Gallery
This year’s highlights from Alison Jacques Gallery include lightbox images by Catherine Yass from her ‘Decommissioned’ series and Juergen Teller’s brooding portrait of Kristen Stewart for System Magazine.
8. Galerie Johannes Faber
This Viennese gallery presents a selection of photographs from before the digital age, including works by Man Ray, Germaine Krull, Dennis Hopper and Horst P. Horst, among others. The elegant, more conservative compositions in black and white offer a sobering contrast to the abundance of technology-heavy works across Photo London.
9. Isaac Julien, ‘Looking for Langston’
At the Victoria Miro booth, Isaac Julien combines digital and analogue pre- and post-production techniques in a series of stills from his film ‘Looking for Langston’, which explore black queer identities.
10. Mat Collishaw, ‘Thresholds’
Mat Collishaw debuts his ambitious project ‘Thresholds’. The immersive, multi-sensory installation uses a virtual reality headset to recreate the 1839 exhibition of photography staged by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In collaboration with Blain|Southern Gallery –which simultaneously displays some of the artist’s recent works in The Centrifugal Soul–, Collishaw uses 21st-century visual technology to bring to life the cutting-edge photographic technology of two centuries ago and introduce virtual reality as part of the evolution of the photographic image. Collishaw’s work juxtaposes the scepticism that photography once faced with our modern anxiety towards new forms of technology and artificial intelligence. If you missed it at Photo London, ‘Thresholds’ will be on display at Somerset House until 11th June.
Can’t afford the price tag of an original print? A strong contingent of publishers, including TASCHEN, teNeues and Thames & Hudson, offer up their latest photography publications in the fair’s central pavilion. Check them out!
Photo London is at Somerset House, The Strand until Sunday 21st May.
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.
“The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945” -the exhibition currently on at The Barbican’s art gallery- is an immersive, multi-sensory experience in which the visitor is not simply a viewer, but is invited to become an occupant of the houses and structures themselves.
The exhibition comprises the work of 40 architects who worked to redefine Japanese architecture in the years following the Second World War. The work on show takes the form of photographs, video installations, maquettes and partial and whole structures, offering an all-encompassing snapshot of Japanese architecture and domestic life over the last seventy years. The exhibition explores a range of architectural styles which developed during an era of radical social change following the Second World War, beginning with the notion that modular and prefabricated structures were a solution to post-war housing crisis.
The exhibition brings to the fore the dichotomies of post-war Japanese architecture: traditional building methods versus industrial techniques, the home as a space for the imagination to run free versus a space dominated by technology to enhance its occupants experience, the notion of escapism and separation versus that of connectedness.
The imposing concrete Brutalism of The Barbican serves as the perfect foil for the light, airy, prefabricated structures of Japanese minimalism designed to exist harmoniously with the natural environment. Conversely, the interaction of the two contrasting architectural styles, as the temporary exhibition structures weave in and out of the columns and staircases of The Barbican, highlights the fact that they do share one thing in common: concrete. Not just concrete as a practical material to add stability, for example in the event of an earthquake, but concrete as a flexible, malleable material from which aesthetic beauty can be created.
This was the fundamental belief of architect and former mathematician Kazuo Shinohara (b. 1925) who, in 1962, proclaimed ‘a house is a work of art’. Shinohara rejected the commodification of architecture and instead focused for the majority of his career on the single family home, emphasising that homes are spaces in which to dwell, spaces where the inhabitant can be creative and thrive. This idea stands in direct contrast to the more prescriptive, modular megastructures of Metabolism.
The exhibition explores the identity crisis experienced in Japan’s built environment following the war, owing to the westernisation brought by the occupation of the allied forces. It traces the rise of Metabolism in the 1950s and 60s and its subsequent rejection by the following generation of architects and the shift in the perception of the home as a fortress in which the occupant is protected from the outside world to one of the home as being accepting of its environment and fundamentally connected to it.
The work of architects such as Kazuyo Sejima (b. 1956), whose structures are characterised by connectedness, demonstrates dialogue between man-made buildings and their natural surroundings, while the exhibits by the ‘Bow-Wow’ atelier show the recent return to vernacular architecture by anonymous designers.
The show’s centrepiece is a full-scale reproduction of the ‘Moriyama House’ by Ryue Nishizawa (b. 1966) and the accompanying film Moriyama-san by Ica Bêka and Louise Lemoine which presents glimpses of the life of the owner, an “urban hermit” named Yasuo Moriyama. By recreating the ‘Moriyama House’ to scale, visitors to the exhibition are invited to inhabit the sprawling conglomeration of single and multi-storey white cubes and experience the details that make the house so functional for living yet inherently entwined with nature for themselves.
In keeping with other recent exhibitions, such as ‘Do Ho Suh: Passage/s’ at the Victoria Miro gallery, ‘The Japanese House’ offers an altogether on-trend and immersive exploration of an important period in architecture, presented in a manner suited to the digital age.
This ambitious exhibition underlines how ideas surrounding architecture in the second half of the 20th century are still very much relevant to 21st century urban environments, resonating with modern city-dwellers who seek to live in balance and harmony amid the chaos of the metropolis.
‘The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945’ is on show at The Barbican Art Gallery, Silk Street, London until 25th June 2017.
A mass of colourful figures is scattered across the floor of the Lisson Gallery (London), resembling discarded children’s toys. On closer analysis, it becomes apparent that these “toys”, these silicone figures -the creation of artist Nathalie Djurberg- explore often repressed elements of the human psyche.
The figures are restless and chaotic as they eat, play with, and are tormented by anthropomorphic faeces, which sport human-like facial expressions and sprout cartoon-esque arms and legs. The composition of tiny sculptures creates a sprawling collection of tensions in a dream-like setting where animals wear clothes, houses can move and familiar childhood characters wrestle excrement.
A doorway leads to a darkened, purpose-built room at the back of the gallery where a larger-than-life video projection is accompanied by thumping techno beats composed by musician Hans Berg. Stop-motion animation abruptly juxtaposes debauched imagery with familiar childhood themes, creating an invasive, overwhelming experience that assaults the senses. The aural and visual combine to create a wholly immersive environment. Certainly not what one expects from a visit to the Lisson on a sunny, spring afternoon. This is the sort of art which cannot be read about or viewed in a photograph but needs to be experienced first-hand.
The animation comprises three films shown in a continuous loop, seemingly with no beginning, middle or end, which adds to the intensity of the whole experience. There is no crescendo, only a constant barrage of complex and often troubling imagery.
These claymation films explore the often-repressed elements of sexuality which drive human beings. The first, Delights of an Undirected Mind (2016), presents a melange of fantasy, role-play and sexual awakening, while Worship (2016) explores ideas of voyeurism, scopophilia and exploitation. The third, Dark Side of the Moon (2017), takes on a different tone. Set in a dream-like woodland landscape, the film moves beyond infantile impulses and carnal urges towards connection and emotion.
Video and sound artists Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg have been collaborating since 2004 to produce interdisciplinary works exploring the human condition. The Swedish duo have now brought their distinctive, multi-sensory installations to London in an exhibition that is designed to awaken the audience to the salacious elements of their own subconscious.
Faeces is a recurrent image which pervades Djurberg’s work, yet its purpose is somewhat ambiguous. Perhaps it is intended as a criticism of capitalist society, shown to be literally consuming its own excrement. An obvious conclusion to reach is that they are intended as a condemnation of the state of contemporary art. Perhaps it is a comment on infantile scatological fascination, or simply no more than the result of a feverish nightmare. Regardless of the reading, the installation is designed at first to draw in, then to shock and finally to engage the viewer.
It is Djurberg’s mode of representation, rather than the themes themselves, which makes for particularly harrowing work. The juxtaposition of bodily functions and sexuality with the innocence of childhood is nothing new (ask Freud) and has indeed become a tired trope in art. However, the specific visual language employed by Djurberg to represent this medley of images is particularly uncomfortable. Cherished protagonists from childhood stories, such as My Little Pony, Pinocchio, or the Big Bad Wolf, appear in playful compositions which, on closer inspection, show them in compromising situations. The stop-motion animation and a vibrant colour palette are reminiscent of childhood television programmes. This seemingly innocuous mode of representation is subverted to present the brazenly perverse and depraved tendencies of human nature.
Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg’s exhibition Who am I to Judge, or, It Must be Something Delicious (2017) is on at Lisson Gallery, Bell Street, until 6th May 2017.
The Gutai movement set about to embody human creativity in material form. With an emphasis on radical experimentation, the movement has come to be associated with North America’s Abstract Expressionism and France’s Art Informel movements.
This Japanese avant-garde collective, which arose with the liberal mood of post-war Japan, is experiencing something of a resurgence. Works by associated artists, which have until recently been overlooked by the art market, are being featured in a number of European exhibitions and are fetching high prices at auction.
Gutai, which translates variously as ‘concrete’ or ‘embodiment’, originated in Osaka, Japan, and came into being in 1954 with the founding of the Gutai Art Association (GAA). The movement’s guiding principle was two-fold, with an emphasis both on the autonomy of the individual artist to be creative and on an international outreach. The global influence of Gutai is evident in the inclusion of works by artists such as Enrico Castellani, Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni in the recent Tsuyoshi Maekawa exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in San Francisco.
Born in 1936 in Osaka, Maekawa belongs to the second generation of Gutai artists, having joined the movement in the early 1960s. Following the groups’s disbandment after the death of the its co-founder Yoshihara Jirō in 1972, Maekawa shifted his focus from a radical rejection of artistic practices to a focused experimentation with his chosen materials: oil paint and hessian (burlap).
Maekawa’s work proved to be among the most popular from the Gutai movement. His first solo exhibition was held at the Gutai Pinacotheca, Osaka, as early as 1963, with his work having previously been featured in every Gutai group exhibition since he joined the collective. More recently, Maekawa’s work has appeared in major exhibitions such as ‘Splendid Playground’ at the Guggenheim Museum, New York in 2013 and his work now features in the permanent collections of international institutions including the Tate Modern.
A solo show comprised of Maekawa’s work from the 1950s and 1960s, at the height of Gutai, is currently on display at the Saatchi Gallery, London. The selection of works forms the inaugural exhibition of the Saatchi’s new space SALON, launched in February of this year with the aim of showcasing international artists to new audiences.
The exhibition, a collaboration between Saatchi Gallery and Lévy Gorvy, presents a group of works from Maekawa’s most productive period, including two pieces originally shown at Maekawa’s first solo exhibition, ‘Untitled (A5)’ (1963) and ‘Mountain with Lines’ (1963) and a selection of his work on loan from the Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Antwerp.
The canvases are presented uniformly in the windowless lower-ground floor of the Saatchi Gallery. No context for the works is offered to the visitor because none is needed: Maekawa’s creations can be enjoyed on a purely visual level.
The artist’s work is preoccupied with the dichotomy between flatness and three-dimensionality. The viewer is confronted with undulating folds of hessian cloth and ejaculatory spatters of paint in an explosion of colour, which call attention to the surface of the canvas and undermine the notion of a painting as a two-dimensional plane. That said, Maekawa does not wholly reject the representational, and the viewer could be forgiven for picking out recognisable forms in his Pollock-like canvases.
Many of his compositions seem biological, evocative of flesh wounds or of the human circulatory system. Nonetheless, Maekawa’s primary concern is with the materiality of his work. In the case of an untitled piece from 1967, the smooth surface of the painted hessian rolls is abruptly interrupted by a gap in the composition, emphasising the tactile physical nature of the fabric. Maekawa’s visceral works, punctuated by rips and tears which are sewn and stuck back together again, raise questions about temporality as well as space. The experimental cut-and-stick creation process, resulting in works comprised of fragmented parts, has led his work to be likened to that of Joan Miró, Paul Klee and Alberto Burri.
This Tsuyoshi Maekawa exhibition represents just one facet of the resurgence of interest in Gautai, with exhibitions featuring the work of Kazuo Shiraga (b. 1924) at Lévy Gorvy, Old Bond Street, in February and March, and at the Axel Vervoordt gallery, running concurrently with the Maekawa show at the Saatchi SALON.
Tsuyoshi Maekawa is on display at SALON, Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York Square (London) until 14th May 2017.
In Say Hello to English, his second exhibition at the Tyburn Gallery London, multimedia artist Moffat Takadiwa presents a compelling new series of three-dimensional wall hangings, or object sculptures, that aesthetically engage with problematics surrounding postcolonial constructions of Zimbabwean national and cultural identity.
Born in Haroi in 1983, and practicing in the capital city of Harare since graduating (B.A. Hons) from Harare’s Polytechnic University in 2008, Takadiwa has consistently devoted his work to critical explorations of how material, environmental, and social factors impact the reality of contemporary Zimbabwean daily life. In a previous exhibition entitled Across Borders (on display at the What If The World gallery in Cape Town last year), Takadiwa examined the nature of Zimbabwean-Chinese economic and trade relations, and their deleterious effects on the natural Zimbabwean environment. For that show, Takadiwa created a collection of intricate, highly textural wall sculptures using post-consumer waste materials, such as bottle caps and disused computer and laptop parts.
In Say Hello to English, his current exhibition at the Tyburn Gallery, Takadiwa shifts his (and our) gaze to a critical reassessment of post- and neo-colonial aspects of the English language, a legacy of Zimbabwe’s colonial past as the former British Crown colony of Rhodesia. For Takadiwa, the English language is problematic because of its tendency to create class divisions (i.e., English-speaking elites) in Zimbabwean society, and its power to both shape and undermine contemporary constructions of Zimbabwean cultural identity. For Takadiwa, language and culture are inextricably intertwined –especially in the context of post-independence Zimbabwe–, and this standpoint is reflected throughout his oeuvre.
For the sculptural objects on view in Say Hello to English, Takadiwa makes use of a radically different medium to portray his ideas, namely: lettered, Roman-alphabet keys taken from post-consumer laptop and computer keyboards. These computer keys appear to have been woven together like traditional Zimbabwean textiles, but are here recast into a more contemporary, high-tech idiom. In an amusing and daring act of subversion, Takadiwa deconstructs and subverts the English language itself in these objects, by arranging the keys seemingly randomly (in effect scrambling them) so they are not legible in any way. Moreover, the artist has turned most of the lettered keys upside down, so that all viewers can see are their bottom ends, with the lettered crown rendered invisible. This aesthetic strategy powerfully conveys the struggles contemporary Zimbabweans experience with the English language, and how important it is, at least to some extent, to say “goodbye” to English in order to preserve the Bantu languages, as well as other aspects of pre-colonial Zimbabwean culture.
Although all of the works included in the exhibition Say Hello to English deal with problematics surrounding intertextuality, language and culture, one work in particular provides a paradigmatic example of Takadiwa’s philosophy, namely “The Falling of Rhode/sia.” According to the press release issued by the Tyburn Gallery, this work takes its inspiration from the “Rhodes Must Fall” social movement that was formed to contest Western-oriented education in Africa. “The Falling of Rhode/sia” also makes direct reference to the arch-imperialist Cecil B. Rhodes, whose statue at Cape Town University was recently removed from the campus as a result of student protests. In “The Falling of Rhodes/ia,” Takadiwa essentially reimagines Rhodes as a new, post-colonial creature, whose persona is both fierce (signified by the long red tongue and bared claws) and friendly (suggested by the creature’s loose and amorphous shape). For this viewer, Takadiwa’s “fallen,” reincarnated Rhodes is a likeable, positive figure who successfully reconciles Zimbabwe’s colonial past and post-colonial present.
Say Hello to English is on view at the Tyburn Gallery, London until May 6, 2017.
The work of Richard Serra has become synonymous with a fluidity of form and meaning.
Serra, born in 1938 in California, first encountered steel while accompanying his father, a pipe-fitter, to a San Francisco shipyard. Serra said of his experiences at the shipyard: “all the raw material that I needed is contained in the reserve of this memory which has become a reoccurring dream”. And, indeed, metal has recurred throughout the artist’s later works.
Now Serra’s works feature in the collections of world-renowned institutions such as MoMA, Tate Modern and the Guggenheim Bilbao, among others, but this hasn’t always been the case. In the early days of his career, Serra took to working in steel mills on the United States’ West Coast to support himself, becoming increasingly familiar with the raw material that would, from the 1970s onwards, form the basis of his monolithic sculptures.
Although Serra has produced a prolific number of works on paper throughout his formidable career, it is his sculpture which has captured the imagination of both the artistic establishment and the general public alike. His undulating masses of steel, contorted in ways that make them appear almost weightless, seem to defy gravity. The sheet metal that characterises Serra’s work mimics rippling natural forms. To create them, the artist takes many tons of this solid material and transforms them into towering vertical planes.
In his work NJ-2 the viewer becomes immersed in the meandering curves coated with a rusty patina, the amber tones reminiscent of the Golden Gate Bridge of his native San Francisco. The viewer is invited to walk not only around the piece but through it, as if lost or wandering among winding rocky outcrops and crevasses, with snatches of white-hot desert sun penetrating from high above.
Serra’s forms bend and twist, often striking a stark contrast to their environs. These monumental monoliths seem almost malleable and are open to a variety of interpretations. His sculpture is concerned with ineffability and expresses the unsayable through visual means. The works simultaneously point to recognisable forms whilst also bewildering the viewer. It is no surprise, then, that Serra counts Roland Barthes and Gilles Deleuze among his notable influences. The artist’s sculpture transcends pre-existing linguistic systems, stepping outside of the constraints of human language. Serra could be described as reticent: his minimal sculpture gives little away, leaving it to the viewer themselves to derive meaning. His work could be interpreted as the visual counterpart to that of the great philosophers and poets of the twentieth century, who struggled to represent meaning as they negotiated the world.
A key facet of Serra’s sculpture is its relationship to and dependence upon place. This site-specificity quality characterises his art and ascribes meaning to it. In fact, the work’s purpose relies so heavily on its environment that Serra himself said that to remove it from its intended site would be “to destroy it”. This is evident in the case of his infamous commissions for the Federal Plaza in New York City and the California Institute of Technology. Following a controversy, the former was removed while the latter was never installed, and so the works were “lost” or at the very least not realised in their intended capacity. Though the locations of Serra’s pieces vary enormously, ranging from east to west, city to desert, public space to private gallery, the gently undulating yet imposing metal facades, tarnished with a rusty patina formed naturally over several years, remain recognisably Serra nonetheless.
In contrast to Serra’s usual site-specific works, installed in public squares or national parks, three recent works were nestled in a gallery by London’s King’s Cross station. The large-scale steel sculptures, each on display in their own room of the Gagosian gallery, were disconnected from the natural environment and instead presented in a vacuum. Here, prevented from interacting with external influences, their ambiguity and uncertain meaning was intensified. This mode of display bridged the gap between Serra’s site-specific sculptures, created for and bound to their environment, and his two-dimensional canvases displayed on the distraction-free spaces of contemporary art galleries.
In 2011 Ryan Stanier launched the Other Art Fair. Eliminating the middleman (galleries), Ryan created a space for artists to come and show their talent. Tremendously popular from the very beginning, the fair attracts more than 40,000 visitors and exhibits over 100 artists. The last London edition opening featured 130 contemporary artists, art investment tours and the much-anticipated Virtual Reality project, Underworld, by the Guardian. I met with Ryan in the hip part of Coven Garden last week to discuss how it all started and what we can expect in the future.
How did you come up with the idea for the Other Art Fair?
I don’t really have an art background. I got interested in art by being constantly surrounded by friends who are artists. And then I saw my friends struggle to produce an exhibition: it could be an amazing show, but nowhere accessible. That was the problem; it is so expensive to rent a space that artists have a little way out. They have little exposure; dealers and publicists don’t usually visit this kind of shows.
I thought, what if I create a show of the kind, but in Central London? It came out naturally, out of love for my friends. And that’s the thing: unless it comes out of your interest and passion, it has low chance to succeed. The material part was completely irrelevant at that stage. I looked for a space for a while, browsing around London, calling agents, and after hundreds of calls, I found one. I set up an informal gallery in Coven Garden in 2009. It was good timing, as after the financial crisis a lot of spaces were empty. We stayed at that place for a while putting up shows, selling art…
I realized after a while that I don’t want to be a gallerist. It wasn’t something I was interested in. My background in events gave me an idea to create a fair for artists, without galleries being involved. And so, the fair for the artists who don’t have an exclusive contract with a gallery was launched.
Did you think about the competition, big shots like Frieze?
Yes, but it’s a completely different market. We created a space where new collectors can come and buy art. We all go to big art fairs, but we don’t buy anything. There’s an experience, for sure. With that in mind, we decided to create something more accessible, more fun, and equally aspirational. We always knew how we are different with a unique position in the market. It’s all about the artists. People like Gordon Ramsey visit, we’ve been working with UBS for a while to create artworks for their offices… We’re also looking to launch an art prize. We promote our artists and a lot of them make contacts through the Other Art Fair. It’s the same cost to rent a stand for everyone, so it comes down to the artists to make the most out of the fair.
How does the selection process work?
The upcoming fair had 1100 applications and we only have 100 slots. There’s a panel that selects artists, simply saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. We’re interested in different types of mediums, so there are no specific selection criteria.
Who is your target customer?
It varies. We try to create a unique experience like nowhere else. We have a guest artist each fair, usually a known figure in the arts. For example, last year we had Tracy Emin create exclusive work for us in editions of 500, 50 pounds each. So, someone who has never bought art before could afford to buy an Emin. More than 50% of our audience has never bought art before, so we’re focusing on this ‘new collector’ type. The Other Art Fair is also interesting, it’s not intimidating. It’s never the same. What breaks all the barriers, I think, is that anyone can talk to artists and not a gallery sales person.
Tell me about your recent partnership with SaatchiArt.
It started last July. SaatchiArt is the biggest platform for artists, so we created the partnership where all the Other Art Fair artists are now available on SaatchiArt all year round. It came from my initial idea of how to help artists sell their work and create opportunities throughout the year.
Your first international edition was in Sydney last year. Why go to Australia first, and not, say, New York?
The city like London has around 30 art fairs a year, New York – twice more. In Sydney, there are only two art fairs every other year and such an enthusiasm for the arts from the public. It was a natural decision.
This year you’re expanding to New York, but not during the Frieze Week. Why?
In London, we run fairs both during the Frieze Week in October and one in the spring. The thing is, we haven’t noticed a large difference in visitor numbers and sales between the two. So, in NY we decided to develop a clear message about who we are and see who is interested in joining. We’re also expanding to Europe next year with 11 art fairs throughout the year.
Do you personally prefer museums or art galleries?
Museums. There’s no pressure and, you know, there are more impressive shows.
Do you have an advice for someone trying it out in the art world?
Don’t get overwhelmed by tradition. Don’t buy into it. Everyone will have to adapt to innovation.
P.S. Keep an eye on the place, in a few years it could be in your town.
At a first glance, Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s current exhibition at Blain|Southern (London) evokes a surprising feeling of nostalgia. The large twisted bronze sculptures remind me of summer evenings spent with my family on holiday in Croatia. My favourite pastime was to wander through markets filled with hand-made goods crafted by the locals. I always found watching the artists sitting at their stalls and contorting thin strands of wire into a menagerie of animals and human figures rather extraordinary and strangely soothing. However, the feeling of nostalgia fades as fast as it emerges, as does the dense blue Adriatic Sea and its warm glow reflecting the summer sun. It is the end of February, it’s freezing cold outside, and I am surrounded by the sterile whiteness of Blain|Southern. The title Sticks with Dicks and Slits could hardly get more literal: the exhibition consists of pairs of gigantic stick figures endowed with humorous genitalia, engaging in actions such as lactating and urinating. This new series of work might seem raw and crude –because, quite frankly, it is—, but it can also be seen as toys with a more playful and whimsical side, its naivety lending a certain charm and innocence to these clumsy figures.
The duo met while studying together at Nottingham Trent University and became friends due to their shared love of music. They have been creating together, as a couple, since then, and have challenged the notion of self-portrait and portraiture throughout their series of well-known light and shadow sculptures. Just as their previous works, these double portraits explore the nature of relationships and identity, but they seem to open up a new chapter which allows us to see a different side of the artists.
In comparison to their self-portraits built from trash and waste, these stick figures are surprisingly light-hearted. Earlier works, such as Wild Mood Swings (2009-2010), Masters of the Universe (2000), and Dirty White Trash (1998) scrutinize certain aspects of human relations, from anger and rejection to pleasure and desire. Dicks and Slits focuses on the cheerful, comical side of Noble and Webster. A lovely Pair (Standing) portrays stick-Noble chasing stick-Webster with an erection, while another figure seems to be urinating on the viewer. While sex and bodily fluids are returning elements in the duo’s work, in this case they are paired with the charm of immaturity. The large stick-figures are celebrating our inner child, and act as a reminder of the joy of not taking ourselves too seriously. Childishness is still often considered an undesirable personality trait, and to portray vulnerability and flaws is rare in a world where the artist is still so often seen as an impeccable genius. Noble and Webster, once again, go against the notion of immaculateness to explore natural human attributes so often condemned.
It is refreshing to see the duo stepping away from their usual light/shadow technique to experiment with new materials and methods. The bronze sculptures seem weightless and spontaneous, and it’s interesting to learn that they use the old and difficult method of lost wax casting to create them. Sprezzatura, to conceal the difficulty of production, was considered as an art form in the Renaissance and it was essential to possess it in order to be acknowledged as a great artist. Noble and Webster have been considered the power couple of the art world, but they divorced in 2013, they said, for the sake of their work. As I see it, these sculptures could be the results of an emotionally exhausting period. It might not be wrong to assume that there’s a parallel between the choice of using the troublesome wax casting technique and the hardships experienced in personal life, which are both being concealed by the overall carefree appearance of the figures. This exhibition marks a new period in their relationship, just as in their professional life. Stick with Dicks and Slits portrays two people co-existing in a harmonious and joyful manner, which is a kind of revelation after the intensity and violence that characterizes most of their earlier works.
I can’t tell whether this exhibition has left a deeper impression on me than the market artists sculpting their wire pieces or not. It is fun, yet I find it a bit superficial. The figures seem to get lost in the sterile whitewash of Blain|Southern gallery. The antiseptic environment doesn’t do justice to the works’ potential, as the figures seem awkwardly out of place. On the one hand, the repetition of the same motifs, although it serves as a link between this new body of works and Noble and Webster’s oeuvre, it also makes things predictable. On the other hand, this exhibition might be just the start of a progress through which we will be able to see the pair’s work developing into something very different.
Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s Sticks with Dicks and Slits is on view at Blain|Southern, London until 25 March 2017.