Dream Works: Kate MacGarry

On a humid London afternoon, the cold concrete space at Kate MacGarry offered some welcome refreshment… albeit with a sweating watermelon and various other surreal sculptures, installations and paintings which litter the gallery! The current ‘Dream Works’ exhibition is dedicated to four artists; two from the UK, one American and one Dutch who all explore ideas around surrealism, shape and form, and irrationality through a variety of mediums. The first of three concrete sculptures of oversized cucurbtia (google informs me this is a root vegetable akin to a squash!) is displayed on the floor as you enter, and a series of acrylic paintings by Luke Rudolf unified by their use of similar repetitive shapes in different colour palettes line the wall. As the corridor opens out into the gallery proper, a floor to ceiling wallpaper of a sweating watermelon and installation entitled ‘Bolobo Lamp’ both by British artist Jonathan Trayte dominate the space. These are joined by two prints of original watercolours by Dutch painter Madelon Vriesendorp and an oil on canvas work by American artist Jordan Kasey. Vriesdendorp’s piece ‘Flagrant Delit’ comes from an animation film made for French television and tells the story of the Statue of Liberty’s visit as a tourist to New York city, and her second work similarly offers an unusual take on city-scapes entitled ‘The City of the Captive Globe Revisited’. Jordan Kasey’s painting echoes the greys of the concrete sculptures and detail in both Rudolf and Vriesdendorp pieces, and zooms in on a small section of a staircase, making something mundane appear far more surreal. There is something overtly fun, arguably silly, and quietly challenging about all these works and I left the gallery smiling to myself as I re-emerged into the clammy city-scape of my own.

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Mark Dion: Whitechapel Gallery

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.

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Lydia Ourahmane: Chisenhale Gallery

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.

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Hannah Black: Chisenhale Gallery

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!

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Evans, Janssens and Ortega: White Cube, Bermondsey

Three exhibitions for the price of one! In fact three exhibitions for the price of none if you head over to White Cube Bermondsey who offer free admission and are currently host to three different artists across their north, south and 9x9x9 gallery spaces. The first space you enter off the main corridor contains Cerith Wyn Evans’ huge neon installation ‘Neon Forms (After Noh IV) which is suspended from the ceiling and almost reaches the floor, combining single lines of light amidst chaotic overlapping assemblages. The north gallery space compliments the first show, as Ann Veronica Janssens’ sculptural works similarly play with light and perception; including halogen lamps, venetian blinds covered in gold leaf, reflective and mirrored surfaces and a spillage of glitter across the floor. The final (and largest) south gallery space is dedicated to Damian Ortega which again includes large-scale sculptures and installations alongside two-dimensional pieces. Orange infographics are pinned to the white walls, and although the imagery relates to a camera manual, the workings of a gun, or the planets within the solar system, closer inspection reveals that the labels are philosophical and comment on the impact technology has had on people’s faith and belief. Within these two-dimensional works are a series of industrial and mechanical sculptures such as the coliseum created from concrete blocks in concentric circles, and the clever ‘Deconstructing time’ sculptures which comprise the inner workings of a watch enlarged to an enormous scale and separated across the floor or stacked in free standing towers. The weather may be turning grey and miserable as autumn sets in, but the change in season also initiates the opening of several inspiring exhibitions to keep you indoors and happily distracted from the weather outside – and White Cube’s current offering certainly falls into that category!

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Klaus Weber: Herald Street Gallery

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.

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Ashley Bickerton: Newport Street Gallery

Newport Street Gallery is fast becoming a favourite – light and airy, with high ceilings in all six of its gallery spaces spread across two floors, and consistently displays works by artists who produce bright, colourful, and fun or provocative pieces. Their current offering entitled ‘Ornamental Hysteria’ showcasing Barbados-born Ashley Bickerton’s works, follows the same brief and features pieces which intelligently combine painting, photography, collage and sculpture in an array of vivid colours. Bickerton is playful throughout; poking fun at the rampant materialism of 1980’s New York in his ‘Logo’ and ‘Non-Word’ pieces in the opening gallery, to portraits like ‘Smiling Woman’ where photographs are distorted in Photoshop before being reprinted on canvas and painted over, and whimsical takes on artistic traditions including an installation of life-rafts rather than traditional seascape paintings. Bickerton appears to extend the same tongue-in-cheek attitude towards himself, evident in a self-portrait where he is depicted as a grinning five-bodied serpent, and again in his regular use of the graphic motif ‘Susie’ which acts as his signature but is more akin to a trademark (again allowing him to comment on ideas around identity in a consumer driven society). The standout work for me is ‘Red Scooter’ where oil, acrylic and digital imagery of a family crammed onto a moped combine, in a bespoke frame harking back to his Caribbean roots featuring coconut, mother-of-pearl and antique coins. Bickerton evidently finds sticking to one medium far too limiting and in his own words it is “only in their combination that I find comfort”. This exhibition is certainly packed full of arresting colours, artworks which challenge the visitor, and at times are even quite frightening, however the overriding element of fun which pervades the entire show left me feeling exactly that – comforted!

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Wolfgang Tillmans 2017: Tate Modern

German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans’ work has become increasingly pertinent over the last few years, and following Brexit and the inauguration of Trump, the current exhibition dedicated to his work at Tate Modern feels relevant and timely. Rather than being a retrospective of Tillmans’ career, the majority of the works displayed across thirteen gallery spaces have been produced since 2003, which is when he turned his gaze onto political and social concerns. It comprises 450 images taken in 37 different countries spanning politics, freedom, portraiture, nightlife, and his own experimentation with processes involved in photography and printing. Each image is hung very simply either in plain white frames, pinned or taped to the walls, or held into place with crocodile clips – highlighting their vulnerability and how exposing (and often deeply personal) the photographs in this exhibition are. This is not to say the curation is simple, indeed whole galleries are transformed into installations. Several galleries feature images deliberately placed together unexpectedly to highlight how we experience different aspects of the world simultaneously, there is a recreation of his ‘Truth Study Centre’ project which began in 2005 where images, press cuttings, drawings and other objects are laid out together in contrary ways, as well as ‘Playback Room’ designed specifically for listening to recorded music at almost the same quality it was originally mastered. Images in the final gallery from the recent ‘The State We’re In’ project exploring current global tensions though photographs of the Atlantic ocean, country borders and landscape shots are stunning, but it was the lesser known images from his experimentation with chemicals, light, paper, ink, and the printing process that stole the show for me. These experiments resulted in wonderfully unpredictable effects and abstract images which I was previously unfamiliar with. On display until early June, I’d strongly suggest heading over to Southbank for an aptly-timed, educational visit!

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Rob Lye: Dye House 451

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.

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William Kentridge: Whitechapel Gallery

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!

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