Eccentric, fun, and an organised-hoarder are what spring to mind to describe American artist Mark Dion, having visited his retrospective at Whitechapel Gallery. Opening with ‘The Library for the Birds of London’, a new commission featuring live (yes live!) birds in an aviary with a tree at its centre and books littered across the floor and branches. This is surrounded by a variety of hunting lodges; each very different and filled with furnishings and belongings of their fictional inhabitants ranging from a librarian to a dandy. Several are off limits and you can merely peep in through the windows, whereas others allow you to climb the ladders and explore the miniature abode. Upstairs the idiosyncrasy continues with a recreation of a naturalists study complete with photographs, drawings, and prints as well as a unicorns’ horn half unpacked in a crate! The next gallery houses the ‘Bureau for the Centre of the Study for Surrealism’ mocking a museum curators office brimming with artefacts, archival material and ephemera which you catch snapshots of through office windows or the glass in the door. This is followed by a modern-day cabinet of curiosities where a set of wooden drawers is filled with neatly ordered bottle tops, discarded credit cards, broken plastic toys, bits of shoe, and other debris washed up by the Thames and collected by Dion and his team. As you push through heavy felt curtains to enter the last gallery, the dark space cleverly draws attention to the three glowing installations under UV light, each one filed with 3D sculptures of living and extinct animals, shells, bones and inanimate objects. After viewing a show which deliberately tries to classify animals, people and objects it would be interesting to hear how Dion views himself – as an artist, anthropologist, archaeologist, explorer, or a hybrid of all of those things. See what you think before the 13th May when the exhibition closes.
On a cold, wet and miserable Saturday afternoon I decided to seek shelter from February’s weather at Lydia Ourahmane’s first solo exhibition in London. As a regular visitor to Chisenhale Gallery, I immediately noticed the difference to the main doors and entrance of the gallery space which are typically wooden but currently have a dark-mirrored effect achieved by covering silver doors in black sulphur (which over the course of the exhibition will revert back to silver as visitors and staff entering and exiting the space rub the black sulphur off). Another peculiarity is a wooden floor running throughout the space, which again is specific to this exhibition and embeds ‘Paradis’, a sound installation of audio recordings made by the artist in her native Oran, Algeria. Once these differences were noted, it became apparent that there is very little actually on display, and all three exhibits are concentrated in the right hand corner of the room, furthest from the door. These comprise a narrow display cabinet showcasing documents referencing the artists grandfathers’ resistance to military service under the French occupation of Algeria by extracting his own teeth, an x-ray of her own mouth showing a missing tooth, and a single gold tooth pinned to the gallery wall. As you read more of Ourahmane’s story and learn that she purchased a gold necklace from a market seller in Oran believing it had belonged to her mother, melted it down and cast two gold teeth from it, inserting one into her own mouth to replace a missing tooth and putting the other on display as part of this project, the exhibits resonate with each other and come full circle. Artistic soundscapes are often lost on me, and this was no exception, but despite not having a strong visual impact, Ourahmane cleverly manages to create a meaningful narrative using very few words, and raises pertinent questions about displacement, absence, family and place.
The smell of paper, and more specifically warm paper going through a shredding machine is the first thing that hits you as you enter the doors of Chisenhale Gallery. Situated by the canal in east London, it’s not the typical scent of a cavernous warehouse, but a surprisingly welcome one at that! The introductory text on the first wall helps explains the smell, as the current exhibition is a new commission titled ‘Some Context’ by Manchester born – but now New York based – artist Hannah Black featuring a pile of 20,000 copies of a book and multiple shredders. Inside each of the copies of the book (entitled ‘The Situation’) is a different interpretation of a conversation between the artist and her friends about ‘the situation’ which will all be shredded at the end of the exhibition. The floor of the gallery is littered with a carpet of already shredded copies of ‘The Situation’, eight shredding machines, various small sculptures created out of modelling clay, and several “transitional objects” which look like cuddly toys. Through reading the accompanying exhibition notes, I learnt that the toys are also going to be shredded at the close of the exhibition – however I still failed to grasp their relevance beyond that. Black argues that the show “gestures towards the various potential uses of art’s uselessness” and so perhaps I (somewhat ironically) picked up on that in my view of the ‘useless’ cuddly toys. On a more positive note, a programme of events including a series of conversations where the public can come together to discuss a situation of their choice will also be taking place throughout the duration of the exhibition, complementing the commission nicely. On display until the 10th December I’d certainly suggest poking your head into this interesting commission, and seeing if you appreciate the inclusion of the cuddly toys any more than I did!
On a weekend where London’s hosting Fashion Week, Design Week and Open House activities, there is something delectable about escaping the crowds and enjoying some quiet culture rather than squeezing your way through an overcrowded architectural gem, enduring a contrived tour of an institution, or spending so long in a queue outside a venue you fail to see anything at all! So that’s exactly what I did… hidden down a cobbled street off Old Street you’ll find L’etrangere gallery showcasing a changing programme of contemporary art exhibitions. Currently a trio of artists (two from Germany and one from Hungary) are on display in a group show entitled ‘Contact Zone, air blob-no bones’ which mixes sculpture and painting through delicate glassworks alongside industrial ceramic installations. Marie Jeschke and Anja Lager have created a series of glass plates which are balanced against the black floorboards and white walls of the gallery, with sharp irregular edges and decorated with shots of painted colour and small objects. The third artist, Istvan Szabo’s ceramic creations are displayed on the floor enabling visitors to view them from above, and combine pieces of brick, metal, nails and an assortment of other materials found on London streets and scrapyards. The glass plates and ceramics mingle throughout the gallery in much the same way as different materials coalesce within each artwork. The exhibition is certainly challenging for the viewer, but I appreciated the simplicity of their display and the tactile quality of each piece. Fragile materials are fused with durable elements and you find yourself getting closer to the artworks to try and identify what object has been fired, glazed or melted into the original material. Nothing is framed or has straight edges, and this further increases your interest in the process behind how these works are created.
What more could anyone ask for than cacti with nipples, a mannequin dressed in a policeman’s uniform with his head under the floorboards, a pear rather than a bulb in a light socket and blown glass sculptural installations?! This is exactly what visitors to Herald Street Gallery are currently presented with in Klaus Weber’s eclectic ‘Kugelmensch’ exhibition which loosely explores erotic desire and society’s restrictions. The concrete floor of the galley is unusually replaced with rickety wooden planks (which despite a warning from staff, I still managed to trip over!) distorting the typical setting for artworks. You are greeted by a life-size mannequin dressed in a policeman’s uniform on all fours with his head hidden under the wooden planks and his helmet to one side, in an overtly sexual position despite representing law and order! Numerous cacti are dotted across the floor of the space, which are deliberately breast shaped and correspond with the two spherical glass sculptures which also share the space. Both are fragile and look as if they may break or topple over at any moment, and continue the sexual theme as the molten glass melts into each other and the concave versus convex components blend into one and other. One sculpture (‘Mechanics of Youth’) is distinctly androgynous but certainly phallic in shape whilst the other (‘Snow Woman’) is recognisably female with dried tangerine breasts. As you look up from this scene, the German artist presents you with a final simple yet surreal light fitting where the blub has been replaced with a pear. Accumulatively this creates a deliberately surreal scene, consciously evoking the anxiety and unease of the current political climate as interestingly 2016 saw Merriman-Webster Dictionary name ‘surreal’ their word of the year following a spike in the term following several acts of terrorism, shootings and the election of Trump. Provocative, humerous and thoughtful I’d suggest heading to Bethnal Green before the end of July when the show closes.
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!
Situated on the ground floor of an old Permanite factory down in a side street in Hackney Wick you’ll find Dye House 451, a contemporary art gallery still in its inaugural year dedicated to showcasing works by emerging artists. You enter the current ‘Mute Ottakes’ exhibition by Rob Lye through the side door – a conscious decision by the artist so that the glass doors at the front of the gallery become a window to see the exhibition. Once inside, the floor is covered in black sand which unifies the different rooms within the gallery and also adds both an “audible trace to the spectators movements as they walk through the space” as well as a “visual trace, there is a history imprinted into the sand of previous visitors”. As the show’s title (specifically through the use of the word mute) suggests, this exhibition has been curated around a series of works that focus on sound, or indeed its absence. There is a silent outtake from BS Johnson’s TV programme ‘Fat Man on a Beach’ as a starting point accompanied by a looped piece of music made through degrading tape, three speakers which play a real time feed of the electromagnetic frequencies generated by the wireless router, empty beer bottles on the balcony filled with liquid to differing levels which play the theme tune to ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ if you were to blow over them, and less explicitly the main image ‘Hania swimming’ depicts a woman in a pool distracted by something audible but out of shot. All of these intermingle with the sound of the sand underfoot and are crucial to this exhibition, as the artist puts it “music, sound, silence, the act of listening, etc. it’s everything really”. On until 19th February, I’d strongly recommend a visit for a dose of east London culture.
With thanks to Fred Howell (Director of Dye House 451) for taking the time to meet me, and to Rob Lye (the artist) for kindly answering my questions.
Despite Brexit, Trump’s victory, and the lamentable loss of David Bowie, Prince and George Michael, 2016 has been culturally rich. It has been a joy reviewing such a plethora of exhibitions across London, Europe and further afield – and it feels odd to now be writing my final piece of the year, but equally a pleasure to end on a high with William Kentridge’s ‘Thick Time’ exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery. The gallery’s spaces are utterly transformed by the South African artists’ six large-scale immersive installations, all recall early cinematography and theatre but explore different themes from the concept of time, to colonialism, revolution, exile and politics (with a notable interest in his native apartheid). Upon entering the darkened space you are greeted by his first creation – a metal megaphone powered by bicycle parts, with its silhouette painted onto the wall behind it. A mechanical cog and churning noise lures you further into the exhibition where you are immersed into a black white projected film of a procession containing choreographed dancing figures who move across each wall of the gallery. Beyond this, Kentridge’s imagination and creativity are palpable in an animated dictionary containing illustrations which evolve with the turn of every page, a mechanical and puppet inspired opera, and even the staircase which cleverly contains a male figure created from black electrical tape up each step! Hand woven tapestries depicting horses galloping across ancient maps of southern Europe, a tribute to French filmmaker George Melies where seven different films exploring the directors experiments all play simultaneously in one room (some played in reverse), and a satirical take on Trotskyist Russia depicting a secretary taking dictation from a megaphone against a backdrop of political slogans all add different layers to the fascinating world Kentridge has created for visitors to explore and moreover get lost in!
Tongue-in-cheek, intelligent and provocative, the ‘Natalia LL Probabilities’ exhibition at Roman Road Gallery poses questions that are as relevant today as they were when the artworks were originally created in the 1970’s. The two main walls of the gallery are dominated by two grids, each host to twenty black and white portrait photographs from the artists Consumer Art series – one is titled ‘Blonde Girl with Banana’ and the other ‘Blonde Girl with Sausage’. In-case your imagination has failed to conjure up an idea of what these images depict, allow me… all forty photographs feature the same blonde female, innocently framed with her hair in bunches, suggestively fondling, licking and biting either a banana or sausage (as their titles suggest). Far from cheap pornography, Natalia LL is making a feminist comment using phallic shaped objects to show men as a mere product consumed by the girl. This resonates further when put into context, as Natalia LL was a female Polish artist working in a male dominated Communist regime whose works were then used as a political tool to fight for equal rights and challenge masculine domination. These photographs are accompanied by two retro television sets playing different films, both depicting young, attractive females eating sexualised objects or writhing in their remains once they have been consumed! Finally a text based vinyl piece spanning the entire height of the gallery, plays with the artists own name ‘NATALIA!. Originally the letters were rearranged into over 5,000 new possibilities; a more succinct version is currently on display but still manages to achieve its’ goal of revealing that a persons’ name is just a fragment of their identity and the multiple variations of it highlight the subjectivity of women and how they are portrayed and indeed interpreted. Feminism is certainly having a moment in London galleries, and I’d advise a visit before it closes on 14th January.
Wouldn’t it be great if someone combined a contemporary art gallery with the additional bonus of a licensed bar?! Well someone has, and it can be found in Stoke Newington courtesy of Hang-Up Gallery. The Gallery has been on this site specialising in Banksy sales since 2008, but last week opened a lower-ground space, reached via a secret door and corrugated iron staircase, aptly named ‘the bunker’. Whilst the ground floor gallery continues to be dominated by Banksy’s (though there are other noteworthy artists represented including David Shrigley, Ben Eine, Peter Blake and KAWS amongst others), the bunker is currently host to neon creations by Lauren Baker. Her solo show ‘Lightvisions’ comprises a dozen original hand blown neon artworks and limited edition prints featuring provocative slogans such as ‘Everything is going to be fucking amazing’ and ‘Just kiss me, we can talk later’. These neon statements are an expression of Baker’s thoughts in her own hand-writing and hold different meanings; some highlight her positivity (‘Everything is going to be fucking amazing’ is the artists’ daily mantra!), others are tongue in cheek (‘Be kind to animals of I’ll kill you’), whilst others explore her spirituality or deeper sentiments relating to love and lust (‘You blow my mind’). The nature of these works and the stimulating impact of the light emitted from them lends itself perfectly to its home in a dark basement – or indeed bunker. Baker chose neon as a medium for exactly that reason, admitting to getting “a kick out of the energy that oozes from the glowing tubes” – it also ties back into her spirituality as neon is also reminiscent of the invisible aura of living beings and through neon this becomes more tangible and visible. So as the winter weather kicks in, I’d suggest heading over for a drink, illuminating artworks and a night that might just be ‘fucking amazing’!
Thanks to Lauren Baker for answering my questions, and to Laura at Sprout PR.