As a child and into my teens I would rub the belly of a small gold statuette of Ganesh – the Hindu elephant god – for luck. This idol was my grandfathers’, found while he was deployed in the Burma Campaign during World War II, and retained by him and now my mother. As a result, or perhaps with no bearing at all, our family has an affinity with elephants and I was intrigued to come across the ‘Herd of Hope’ in Spitalfields Market. Twenty-one bronze life size sculptures currently grace the east London market, having migrated from their former dwellings in Marble Arch. The largest sculpture represents the matriarch and is flanked by twenty smaller orphan sculptures, all by Australian artist duo Gillie and Marc in an effort to raise awareness of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The elephants sit in juxtaposition to their urban surroundings; one in front of a coffee shop, another outside a takeaway food outlet, and others outside office blocks. Though perhaps the intention is to encourage us to question our relationship with our habitats, and the impact human tourism, poaching and conflict has had on wildlife. Each orphan has a name and personal plight, from Ambo who was found stuck in a waterhole abandoned by the herd, to Musiara who was discovered collapsed having lagged behind his herd, and Sattao who was orphaned as a result of poaching and found wandering by tourists with injuries from a predator attack. Using bronze as a medium allows for the cracks, creases and idiosyncratic textures of their skin to be highlighted. Several of the elephants are depicted standing, some are seated or lying down, some have their trunks held high and a scannable QR code enables you to learn more about each orphans rescue and rehabilitation. Deprived of museums, galleries and exhibitions until lockdown restrictions ease and arts venues can re-open, this troop provided a dose of outdoor culture.
I was an Elmgreen & Dragset neophyte until last autumn, then on a work trip to Paris I stumbled across the artistic duo’s 1,000 Starfish installation at Place Vendome. Once back in London I learnt that Whitechapel Gallery was hosting an exhibition dedicated to the Scandinavian pairs’ work, entitled ‘This is How We Bite our Tongue’… and with only a week left until it closes on 13 January, I was given the new year impetus I needed to go and view it! The entire ground floor gallery houses a new commission The Ghost of Whitechapel pool, which depicts a fictional empty swimming pool and using this now abandoned civic space the piece questions local government decisions to cut funding and close these shared spaces. The edges of the pool also play host to numerous other sculptures; a classical inspired male torso toppled over and lying on its side, bronze casts of a Mercedes car seat and cooling boxes, an aluminium meteor on a trampoline, and two urinals connected by interlinked twisted drainpipes. Moving upstairs a series of exhibition wall labels painted directly onto white canvas or carved in white marble pay tribute to artists who have inspired them, and are accompanied by an installation encouraging the public to sit at a desk, have a glass of whiskey and read through the artists’ diary. In the final room of the exhibition, each work features a somewhat anonymous figure, ranging from sculptures of a little boy staring at a rifle, to a pregnant house-maid and a little boy cowering in a fireplace, all finished in matte white with minimal features, to a judicial wig hung on the wall minus a wearer, the outlines of two portraits which were once hung on the wall, and two white pillows cast in bronze with the impressions of the heads previous sleeping there still imprinted into them.
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Eduardo Paolozzi is all over London; from the mosaics at Tottenham Court Road tube station to the sculpted head outside The Design Museum, colossal sculptures outside The British Library and on Royal Victoria Dock, and abstract pieces in Kew Gardens and Pimlico amongst others. It seems almost overdue that a London Gallery should dedicate an exhibition to the irreverent artists’ works – and Whitechapel Gallery have filled that void collating over 250 of Paolozzi’s artworks in their current retrospective. The ground floor focusses on his early career in London and Paris and his experimentation with various mediums as industrial bronze sculptures are displayed alongside pop-art inspired collages, screen-prints, tapestries and textiles, and moving film. Despite this diversity constant themes do emerge, evident in his fascination with pattern, layering and texture – and as the ground floor galleries come to an end, an inimitable Paolozzian style full of graphic prints and geometric designs emerges. His evolution as an artist is focussed on in the upper floor galleries which explore later developmental pieces in chrome and a playfulness with reflective surfaces and mirrors. It then goes on to draw out his obsession with the creative process itself, and it is interesting to view similar shapes through both two dimensional sketches and prints and three dimensional sculptures sharing the same space. Hints of the artist as a person – and indeed as a rebel – are also present in ‘Avant Garde?’ where each letter of the term is filled with a colourful cartoon figure, and ‘Jeepers Creepers’ which pokes fun at artistic terminology by featuring a row of plaster clowns each labelled with a different term. Iconic pieces mix with lesser known experiments, and the exhibition closes with the original sketches for the infamous tube mosaics. Get over to east London before 14th May to catch this exhibition and appreciate Paolozzi’s fun, colourful and incredibly innovative contributions to 20th century art!
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