Maddox Arts: About Time (until 22nd June 2014)

As a frequent visitor of contemporary art exhibitions, it is sometimes easy to think that themes such as 'identity' and 'time' have been utilised for as long as their life span can take them. However, Maddox Arts', W1, current exhibition, with its self-explanatory title, challenges such a notion. Focusing equally on physical and contextual impact although due to the universal theme, artist biographies and further details are perhaps somewhat unnecessary; the gallery has decided to focus on the artworks as opposed to citations, which often tell the viewer what they must feel, or think about the art. In addition to lack of citation, there is no doubt that the pieces have a significant physical presence.

Intriguingly, curator Laura Culpan has chosen to exhibit the most provocative, thought-provoking pieces towards the back of the gallery, further suggesting that the gallery is extremely honed in on the importance of the exhibition's theme, rather than the novelty of eye-catching visuals to draw in viewers.

Supporting this idea, the first artwork I will mention is located towards the back of the gallery space, in the form of Troika's 'Hierophany #2', pictured below, which borrows strategies from op-art in that the piece is something of an optical manipulation. The exhibition draws attention to the mystery and fear which surrounds time and mankind's constant endeavour to conserve it. This force from the exhibition's core theme makes the piece more powerful, especially as upon closer inspection the viewer finds that the piece is made entirely of strategically placed die. Naturally, the link between 'time' and 'chance' is made, yet it is somehow more poignant, considering that however much one attempts to regulate their life, the actions of other people and nature itself make such a thing completely impossible. Not only is 'Hierophany #2' both aesthetically pleasing and challenging, the title, implying a manifestation of the sacred, highlights the importance and fragility of time.

'Hierophany #2' by Troika
Image courtesy of www.troika.uk.com

There is certainly nothing timid about the pieces on display at Maddox Arts, and Glenda Leon's 'Wasted Time' is no exception. Placed in the centre of the room, Leon's large, pyramid-like sand monument creates a firm foundation for a timer, standing at the peak of the sand pile. While there is no doubt that the installation provides a talking (and physical) point as the central feature of the exhibition, there is something about 'Wasted Time' that is largely uninspiring; perhaps it is the banal use of the sand-timer as metaphor for time, or the size of the piece which demands attention yet does not have such a large amount to offer the viewer's contemplation. Even alongside the other contemporary pieces, 'Wasted Time' seems almost out of place, whereas works such as Miler Lagos' 'Circle of The Times (Green Leaf Rings)' brings a wider context with popular culture, and a message that just does not seem paralleled in this particular piece.

'Wasted Time' by Glenda Leon
Image courtesy of www.artforum.com

The piece that stood out the most to me is intriguingly also located at the back of the gallery, and following on from what I have just said about Leon's piece, is much less dominant in size. This is Bill Viola's 'Man of Sorrows', a 2001 work by the contemporary video artist. Having not encountered the piece before today, personally I was not expecting anything more than what I could see from the entrance of the gallery: a heartfelt portrait of a man. However upon closer inspection (a recurring value of the pieces in 'About Time') it appears that the image is moving. The delicate intricacy of Viola's piece shows us the potential to showcase  intimacy and real authenticity of emotion in video art. The piece then evolves so we follow its protagonist going through the physical signs of 'sorrow', in painfully slow motion, so that the viewer is impacted in that we reflect on personal pain that we have felt; the mirror-shaped screen allows this to be even more effective.

While 'About Time' seems to be a broadly themed collection of work, there is no doubt as to the extent of talent among the chosen artists, as they poignantly highlight the vulnerability and loss surrounding time, and how it affects us all differently at various points in our lives. I cannot end this blog post without referring to the 'Always/Never' sculptural canvas piece by UVA. For those unaware of their work, United Visual Artists are a London collective of artists working towards a vision of what they call "emotionally engaging work". Whereas we can certainly see how Viola's video piece is such, it is an interesting angle to claim their work as emotionally engaging. However with consideration to the exhibition's title, we soon see how this is possible, in an albeit abstract way. (If you are interested in the UVA's work, click here for information on their exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery, which continues until 1st June 2014) From observing the image, viewers are reminded that we often forget how repetitive aspects of life consume our time, whether we want them to or not. 'About Time' truly is a fascinating exhibition, featuring a high calibre of artists from around the world, addressing a universal message that we are living in. I wholeheartedly recommend all my readers to visit Maddox Arts before the exhibition closes on 31st May.

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