Spotlight on… Camden Art Centre, an imposing yet welcoming red brick building in north-west London originally constructed as a public library. Open as an art centre for five decades, it combines the original architecture with modern spaces and a serene garden, offering the public free access to exhibitions, courses, talks and events. Although currently closed due to Covid-19, this has not halted their programme as the new exhibition ‘The Botanical Mind: Art, Mysticism and The Cosmic Tree’ has gone ahead with a online offering to accompany the physical one postponed until later in the year. It explores the relationship between plants and humans in various religions, global cultures and civilisations throughout history via drawings, watercolours, photography, film, archaeological artefacts, textiles, ceramics, isomorphology, written texts and multimedia commissions. Collectively it spans everything from moss, to potatoes, flower formation, plant organisms, indigenous groups living alongside plant-life in rainforests, astrology, mandalas, the hallucinatory and stimulant properties of plants and much more. A virtual Family Art Club was launched at the end of May which will run until early July, led by current artist in residence Renata Minoldo and tied into themes related to the exhibition, with new activities released every two weeks on Sundays online. Their Youth Collective initiative which typically offers people aged 15 to 21 a space to engage with and discuss visual arts with their peers is continuing virtually, via weekly artist-led workshops and monthly digital events, with the hope of hosting the annual Youth Collective Curates exhibition onsite later in the year. They have also partnered with Central Saint Martins giving twelve students Instagram takeovers, offering an insight into how the next generation of artists are responding to and indeed continuing their practice during the pandemic, aptly titled ‘15713’ as this number represents the accumulative miles these students are from Camden Art Centre, either working from their homes across the UK or overseas. There is also a bookshop and café on site, and their café partner – Cantine London – fed frontline workers at the Royal London Hospital in March and have launched a delivery service where the public can order and donate a meal to NHS staff. In congruity with the “botanical” theme, their digital offerings are evolving and growing with new content added each week.
The term ‘urban jungle’ is never more true than when used to describe Oxford Street in the lead-up to Christmas; a mass migration of the UK population to one shopping destination, prowling the streets in pursuit of the ultimate gift, and shoving any opponents out of the way to seize their prey. In the relative calm of nearby Golden Square is Marian Goodman Gallery, currently host to an exhibition entitled ‘Animality’ exploring the complex relationship between humans and animals. Split across both floors of the gallery, it comprises seventy works ranging from early cave paintings through to emerging artists’ creations including pieces by Yinka Shonibare, Cartsen Holler and Peter Wachtler alongside philosophy and writing by Charles Darwin, Michael Foucault and George Orwell to name just a few. Upon entering the gallery you are greeted by cabinets of illustrated animals, a giant white stuffed squirrel by Mark Dion, an enormous black and white printed image of an elephant, a purple octopus sculpture by Carsten Holler, and numerous photographic images of birds and other creatures littered across the ground floor. A calf dressed in bright prints synonymous with Yinka Shonibare is suspended on a tightrope above the staircase, an albino camel sculpture by John Baldessari, and humanised wooden sculptures of a foxy Fox Lady and raincoated Raven Man by Stephan Balkenhol all continue to question what distinguishes humans from animals. These pieces are interspersed with film, including Fischli and Weiss’s humerous projection of a cat endlessly drinking milk from a bowl, Pierre Bismuth’s version of Disney’s ‘Jungle Book’ where each of the characters speaks in one of the many languages it was translated into it, and a dark cartoon version of Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ sponsored by the CIA who altered the ending. With only days to go before it closes on 17th December, I’d suggest a visit to escape the human crowds and reacquaint yourself with our animal counterparts.
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