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Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Approach Gallery: The Problem with Having a Body... (until 14th May 2017)

For this group exhibition at The Approach Gallery, E2, we are informed that its focus is providing a narrative on the ways in which the female body passes through and takes up space. Considering this and the fact that the curator, Nora Heidorn, is a woman, is it safe, or purposeful, to assume that it is a feminist exhibition? This ongoing question aside, the strong and varied content is implicit in its discussions as opposed to making bold statements about femininity, the female condition and the like, which not only makes for a timely touch upon postgenderism, but ultimately results in a relatable experience for the viewer.

As the works range from 1964 to 2017, it is clear that Heidorn has selected them based on pure critical and visual potency, rather than being made around the exhibition theme. Its full title is 'The Problem with Having a Body is That it Always Needs to be Somewhere', highlighting physicalities and labour forces in the art world and beyond. German artist Alexandra Bircken is the first to plant these ideas, as her sculptural piece 'Doris' initially appears minimal, yet upon further investigation we find that its shape, which is of a woman's body on its side, is comprised of wax, clothing and varnish. The clothing, which is trapped like a fly in amber seems to point to the fashion industry's dispensible consumption of women, whether this is through forcing models to lose weight, or targeting female insecurities and demographics to make huge profits. Given the artist's professional background as a designer in the industry, 'Doris' is a succinct marriage of fashion and art disciplines. The idea of a memento mori is something of a motif in the exhibition, where the body is presented as a means of creative reproduction and expression.

Juliana Cerqueira Leite, Summertime Blues #3, 2016. Cyanotype, 186.5cm x 125cm x 4cm. TJ Boulting, London.

Creative reproduction and distinct materialities are two elements prevalent in Juliana Cerqueira Leite's aesthetically stunning cyanotype 'Summertime Blues #3' and Kiki Kogelnik's 'Untitled (Hands)'. The curatorial decision to place these works side by side appears to be random but they certainly bear similarities, as they both depict the body in the context of women's labour and work. In today's era of precarious work, this becomes even more interesting, and Kogelnik's double-handed sculptural piece reinforces the pressures of the different ideas of 'work', whether this is holding down a career, child-rearing, creative endeavours, something in between or all of the above.

Shapes and (dis)figurements are important elements to intersectional feminism, enhancing the logic of the show packing a feminist punch. Another of Leite's works, a wonderful fleshy controlled mess, 'Transitional', resembles a melting candle and a smashed birthday cake. Its presence in the middle of the space is a display of chaos in itself and, in the context of the show, is a symbol of the imperfections in the female form created through rich, varied narratives and struggles. 

As the most recent work in the show, B. Ingrid Olson's photography feels exactly that: exciting, vibrant and as if it is documenting a brief moment in a fast-paced world. Conveniently, in an exhibition that is otherwise non-linear, Olson's work wraps up the show and places us firmly in the present. One photographic collage in particular is a real moment-stealer; 'Bulb and Socket Stripped Bare' references our reliance on electricity and electronic items, yet at the same time starts the conversation about postgenderism, where technology has infiltrated our lives to the extent that how we feel, perceive and experience gender is being drastically changed. As evidence of this, the image in question is undeniably phallic, which is of course the antithesis to the traditional female aesthetic, making its position in the exhibition even more notable. Olson's setting of interiors is also very much reminiscent of art historical depictions of the female body, where she is resigned to the domestic space. Though there is no sign of lack of freedom, the exhibition as a whole hints at the past and future of female representation, and how customs have changed both within the domestic sphere and the institution of the art gallery.

B. Ingrid Olson, Bulb and Socket Stripped Bare, 2017.  Inkjet print and UV inkjet printed matboard in aluminium frame, 61cm x 40.6cm. Simone Subal, New York. 

Kiki Kogelnik, Untitled (Hands), c. 1967. Acrylic on polyurethane, 2.5cm x 17.8cm x 76.2cm. Courtesy of Kiki Kogelnik Foundation. 

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Sunday Painter: Assorted Paper (until 13th May 2017)

The term 'assorted' sets this group show at The Sunday Painter, SE15, apart from other material-focused exhibitions, namely those boasting works on paper. Featuring several prominent names in contemporary art, 'Assorted Paper' explores the medium for its versatility, materiality, texture and quotidian uses, producing a far more thorough narrative than anticipated.

Contrary to the intense whiteness, or blankness, one might expect from a show focused on the use of paper, The Sunday Painter's artists work in a wide range of media, and as soon as the viewer enters the space, we encounter movement, whether this is a flashing light, open water or a kinetic visuality in the form of unusual patterns. This is a fine example of the potential of group exhibitions: the theme is clearly manifested in each piece, yet there is no uniformity nor a set time period, as works range from Eva Hesse's 1961 ink piece 'Untitled' to Samara Scott's 'Bruise' from 2017, as pictured below.

Installation view: Samara Scott, Bruise, 2017. Toilet paper, cistern bloo block, packaging card, tumeric, 115cm x 115cm x 7cm. The Sunday Painter, London.

The latter is an aesthetically compelling piece where synthetic materials mimic the natural, while simultaneously working together to create a shallow depth in the form of a marshy micro-installation. Due to its placement on the floor and its unusual 'ingredients' such as cistern bloo block, Scott challenges boring, outdated media classifications to create a sculptural painting-cum-installation, while also emulating the inverse of 'the sublime to the ridiculous', as this earthy piece is meditative while at the same time the viewer finds themselves contemplating dyed, wet toilet paper on the ground. It is surreal but it is beautiful.

Away from the experience of fine art viewing, a great deal of the show highlights paper as a staple of Western life. Despite the seemingly simple premise, this soon overflows into a sharp commentary about consumerism and first-world waste, most notably through the work of Leo Fitzmaurice and Amalia Pica. The former artist has multiple works on show, and like 'Bruise', 'You Try to Tell Me But I Never Listen' is arresting in its position on the gallery floor. Hypnotising the viewer with pattern and repetition, the piece confuses the brain due to the chasm between the artwork's material, process and product. It is almost as if the brain does not want to acknowledge that the cyclical, striking pattern on the floor is merely a domestic object, in this case a found retail flyer.

Leo Fitzmaurice, Post Match, Salem (white stripe), 2003. Folded cigarette-packet top, 100mm x 90mm x 4mm. The Sunday Painter, London. and ~
Leo Fitzmaurice, Post Match L&M (red), 2009. Folded cigarette-packet top, 100mm x 90mm x 4mm. The Sunday Painter, London.

In another two pieces by Fitzmaurice, 'Post Match, Salem (white stripe)' and 'Post Match L&M (red), which were interestingly created two years apart, it is the turn of these tiny sculptural works to highlight the versatility of paper as a basis for further communications. The works have a strong storytelling ability without being explicit nor extravagant. A comical binary element persists in that where cigarette boxes are usually branded with slogans reminding us of their negative effects on the body, in these sculptures we find the boxes gaining vitality and, in a sense, coming to life instead of symbolising disease and death. As such, this is an ongoing metaphor in 'Assorted Paper' - where trees have been destroyed so that humans can momentarily enjoy paper, artists are giving the material a second life.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Space In Between: Nicole Morris 'Sisters' (until 8th April 2017)

For this uplifting show at Space In Between, E9, the fact that participating artist Nicole Morris is London-based does make a significant addition to the exhibition. This is due to the large factor urban life plays in Morris' work, particularly in 'Sisters', where fabric installation and moving image are used in a dominant and overlapping way for purpose. Additionally, whereas it is common for art industry writers to state that certain female artists work with and around "the body", here we find that it is the gestures made by these bodies which become the interest for Morris, and in making this distinction, we identify the body's gestures varying from significant to bearing architectural tendencies.

Nicole Morris, Scaffold, 2017. Relief print on fabric, 209cm x 644cm. Space In Between, London.

The scale of 'Scaffold', which is architectural in both name and form, is the artist throwing her arms around Space In Between. This is the first and most bold way in which we find this show to be unpretentious and warm, and Morris' ability to communicate the importance of relationships in all their forms. A protective arm covering the viewer from the gallery window evokes a feeling of calm and happiness that is easily associated with a sisterly bond. Additionally, as the artist's work also investigates these relationships in the urban environment, the title of the piece suggests a space under constant improvement, reconstruction and challenges, interestingly showcasing how relationships mirror architectural developments in the metropolis.

Moving image and fabric coming together highlight intergenerational support networks, using fabric as a symbol for craft and pedagogical values in the family unit, reaffirmed by the homemade aesthetic of the artist's illustration in the film and the 'colouring in' of 'Scaffold'. Aside from this, 'Herringbone' features craft imagery again but this time it is brought up to date with the use of film and installation, whereby the colours of the film are projected through the initial sculptural piece onto the back wall, facilitated by small diamond shapes cut out of the piece. Again the title is an interesting one, as herringbone is a pattern found in fabric as well as being the formation for many road pavements, which effectively ties together Morris' themes of craft, in that it was always considered a lesser, female-dominated alternative to fine art and design, and urban infrastructure and design. 

Nicole Morris, Herringbone, 2017. Collograph print on fabric; digital video projection, 123.75cm x 277cm.
Space In Between, London.

Lastly we encounter the film piece, 'Together'; although it is a focal piece of the exhibition, the viewer's attention is fought for in equal parts but for respective reasons: the imposing scale of 'Scaffold', the visually stunning element of 'Herringbone' and the charming subject matter and centrality of 'Together'. Interestingly, it seems to be the latter which rather pleasantly concludes the exhibition, therefore I did not dispute the order by which I was drawn to each piece. 'Together' features a series of child-like drawings, with a xylophone-based soundtrack which evoked the feeling of being in a school playground. Bringing the viewer back to this moment in their own history is the catalyst for identifying the seemingly simple, pure relationships women share. Of course it is not this straightforward and a scene in the film where two illustrated hands are clasped before drifting apart is a minor but moving symbol of the complex web being unpacked by Morris in this wonderful and cosy show. 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Waddington Custot Gallery: Colour Is (until 22nd April 2017)

While the new show at Waddington Custot Gallery, W1S, has a strong focus on the modernist period, many of its prolific artists are still producing work post-millennium, yet those works which would not be considered as 'contemporary' still feel exciting and fresh. In marrying the two periods, the gallery places emphasis on the ongoing themes which artists as infamous as Donald Judd and Josef Albers have explored, yet not closed to their contemporary counterparts.

Its core theme, as is evident from the title, is the artists' use of colour and how this is profiled and used for purpose. Interestingly, and fortunately, the curator has elected not to include Yves Klein, nor Anish Kapoor, who would have been the obvious addition to the conversation. Instead, we are presented with a mixed-media collection of highly desirable and canonised works from the past one hundred years all using colour to different effect. Hélio Oiticica's 'V6 Spatial Relief, Red', for example, extends its narrative to art as object, as its overlapping geometric shapes could hold the viewer's attention from any angle, yet that they are hanging from the gallery ceiling shows the life in colour, and its ability to form part of our landscape, however artificial this may be, proving the smooth link between the sculptural and the architectural.

Anthony Caro's work has always been famed for captivating audiences with its bright colours, in the hope of creating a unique, individualised interaction, yet where Oiticica's piece hangs at head height from the ceiling, Caro's 'Floor Piece Hè' is self-explanatory in its positioning, its disruption of the viewer's navigation around the space moderately arresting in itself. Given the promise of colour in the exhibition, Caro's work certainly stands out for defying the expectation, which in itself makes us inquisitive about the artist's chromatic choices. Its dark and aggressive appearance is reminiscent of both a sea anchor and the chains and locks of sadomasochism. Whereas colour can certainly possess its own characteristics and assumptions, much like negative space the lack of bright colour can speak its own story. 

Anthony Caro, Floor Piece Hè, 1972. Steel, painted matt blue, 49.5cm x 124.5cm x 73.7cm. Waddington Custot Gallery, London. 

Whether you follow the history of art or not, 'Colour Is' ends up being an inclusive and at times, dare I say, crowd-pleaser of a show, without being gimmicky. While several of the works are Instagram-friendly and will appeal to a young audience, such as Joseph Kosuth's neon light installation 'II 49 (On Color / Multi #2' and David Annesley's 1965 sculpture 'Orinoco', there are other works which require a secondary level of contemplation from the viewer's imagination, especially given the aesthetics-heavy focus of the show. I found another contemporary piece, Sam Gilliam's 'PARADE I' to be a strong example of this, where it is positioned as an almost counterbalance to the bold palettes of other works, using the artist's distinctive watercolour, a medium which is highly underused in contemporary art; while this is often with good reason, Gilliam's technique presents a calm and weathered effect, implying the piece has its own narrative.

Sam Gilliam, PARADE I, 2015. Watercolour on rice paper, 185.1cm x 97.2cm. Waddington Custot Gallery, London.

In its title's ambiguity, the show will certainly attract a great number of visitors, as ultimately whether or not one is interested in art and its histories, colour is an unavoidable, and indeed exciting, part of life and culture. Despite this, Waddington Custot Gallery have decided to exclude any representational works, (selecting a quote from Judd declaring that "the necessities of representation inhibited the use of colour" to touch upon this omission) therefore it is highly likely that the show will garner a wide interest from critics and art lovers. A wonderful show has been put together in the space, and bringing modern masters such as the works aforementioned to younger and more diverse audiences is equally as impressive as the curation and thought behind the exhibition.

Hélio Oiticica, V6 Spatial Relief, Red (V6 Relevo espacial, vermêlho), 1991. Painted wood, 98.4cm x 78.1cm x 10.2cm. Waddington Custot Gallery, London.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

GRAD: Irina Korina 'Destined to be Happy' (until 28th February 2017)

Site-specific installations are always an interesting concept for contemporary art galleries, as the value of an artist's project is thrown into the visitor experience, as we are left wondering what will become of the work(s) after the closing of the exhibition. At GRAD, W1W, (Gallery for Russian Art and Design), Irina Korina has produced exactly this, an installation which inhabits the space so effectively that its tones of film set design transform both the gallery and the viewer's sensory experience entirely. Part of this transformation takes the form of the rule that the viewer must enter through the gallery's fire exit. From this point, a dark tunnel, resembling a bomb shelter, leads us into the main exhibition, where sound, sculpture and installation come together to form an unsettling yet familiar realm.

Corrugated metal paves the path, and this material is used again in an upright position to disorientate as we try to understand and navigate Korina's work. A jarring soundtrack, to the point of often being excruciating, has equal presence to the transfixing sculpture. As the space draws you down a narrow route, the almost-reflection of the metal fixtures provide a bizarre illusion that again still feels highly familiar. It is at this point of bewilderment that we find the sculptures, positioned and curated in such a way that coincides brilliantly with the surreal environment and soundscape.

Installation view: Irina Korina, Destined to be Happy, 2016. GRAD, London.

Each sculpture is comprised of a shape or element bearing a human expression with hyperreal legs highly reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz. Similarly, Korina's influences from fairytales and folklore are evident, although they are subverted and made increasingly sinister with the updated reference of the desolate post-internet world. There is also a strong criticism on mankind's attitudes to nature, as we can infer from the stripped trees heavily present in the space and the various sculptures. 'The Tear Drop', for instance, lies with the back of its head resting on the ground and a cigarette in its mouth, almost the ultimate sign of submission and despair, on a micro level. Although the exhibition feels like a fantastical, dystopian bubble, there are constant reminders of the deeply problematic reality of our contemporary world. The cigarette in the mouth of 'The Tear Drop' is a small reflection of the various toxic elements of the human condition, whether it is addiction in its various forms, our lifestyles creating catastrophic climate change, or precarious working conditions, to name a few.

Installation view: Irina Korina, The Tear Drop, 2016. Upholstery foam, wire frame, spray contact adhesive, glue, mixed fabrics, dimensions variable. GRAD, London. 

Another of Korina's sculptures is 'The Heart', which is being widely used on the show's promotional material. Its wide-eyed, cartoonish expression, alongside the exhibition's title, makes the viewer wonder what happiness means to the artist, or more importantly what it should mean in this microcosm at GRAD. The addictions 'The Tear Drop' contends with do not convey pleasure of any kind, likewise with the naive smile on the face of 'The Heart'. We are left with the feeling that the technological age gives the facade of its people having a vast expanse of knowledge, when in fact much of this information is not legitimate or, indeed, useful; the 'post-truth' world is certainly hinted at, without explicit references. Equally, Korina's alternative entrance into the gallery via the fire exit suggests that the artist is transporting us to an alternate universe, yet along with Sergey Kasich's complementing soundtrack which is filled with typing and clicking sounds and techno scores, we are constantly reminded that this monochromatic world is very real today. 

Installation view: Irina Korina, Destined to be Happy, 2016. GRAD, London.