Mild-mannered, softly-spoken, the works that constitute Zimbabwe-born Mapondera’s show (Emergency Exit) at this stylish gallery tucked into a corner of London’s charming St. Christopher’s Place, put the lie to the popular notion that artwork needs to churn with heaving aggression and turbulence, announce its significance in full stentorian voice, to properly shake and move an audience. Fragile and resilient in equal measure, the metaphor is directly embedded in his materials-frayed threads, waxed paper, cardboard, plastics stretched and torn, but not quite yielding; it’s as much about absence as presence.Political and social crisis and stress informs his topographical canvasses (inherent in the droops and dangles, the scars, the sheer exhaustion of the textiles), conveying an aggrieved history of failures of state and global culture, each piece an aerial map of devastation and depredation of both village and people (ghostly figures hover and haunt the compositions, occasional tangles of red thread suggest bloodshed). These are painstaking, precise creations, all the more powerful for allowing the viewer to engage with them slowly and at ease, the acute implications accumulating quiet force. The oil paintings included illustrate ways in which native populations negotiate and strategise alternatives to systemic governmental inadequacy (Nemabhero references the explosion of the second-hand clothing trade; Korokoza crystallises the conflict and search for detente between commercial and artisanal gold miners in the country; the crowded bus terminal of ChiVendor Nechihwindi may address the ambitious nascent infrastructure projects now underway in Zimbabwe and the concomitant opportunities for local labourers). One Hundred and Twenty Candidates, a pronounced series of scrawled faces on blocks, thrust out from the frame, gives great attendance to activists who may otherwise face elision or discredit from authorities-Mapondera makes it impossible not to notice them. Each painting, in structure, takes on the definition of landscape-the mountainous piles of clothing; the visual dissonance of the mining factions; the cramped encampment of buses; the pointed, tiered sea of physiognomy-confirming Mapondera’s abiding preoccupation with environment.

Credit Artsy

It’s in the terrain where you will find the truth-spirit and soul are embedded within it, human traces and tributaries limned upon its surface. Emergency Exit continues through 4 July

Credit Artsy



Hermann Nitsch, Das Orgien Mysterien Theatre, Massimo De Carlo

Blood-soaked, viscous, charged with a crazed religious ecstasy  and ardour, this show devoted to iconoclastic Austrian performance provocateur Nitsch is hardly the sort of material you would expect housed within the confines of an elegant Mayfair gallery, transformed now into a hedonist’s den of sombrely gleeful blasphemy and impiety (Nitsch was an instrumental figure in the Viennese Actionism movement in the 1960’s, a practice steeped in the confrontational use of the artists’ own bodies and with interests in the achievement of transgressive states of absolute being-in short, rigourous pioneers in performance art). The ground floor displays a series of altar-like pieces, incorporating smocks, priests’ vestments, religious iconography, canvasses that drip in vivid splashes of red-a queasy combination of blood, fluid and paint-and huge thunderous works of roiling, swirling oils that suggest the miasmatic heart of apocalypse. A shocking, bracing video in the bowels of the building reveals the origins of the works presented upstairs, as conceived in a six-day spiritual and ritualistic experience staged within the grounds of what appears to be a farm (truly awe-inspiring in its organisational scale), incorporating a cast of actors (who, with alarming alacrity and commitment, throw themselves passionately into crucifixion and -simulated?-sexual acts), animal sacrifice, orgiastic bathing in eviscerated innards, drinking of blood-you might think George Romero is somewhere just off camera orchestrating the frenzy. Another room offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in the fever, a psychedelic play of video images and discordant choral sounds collaborating to unmoor a spectator. So close to the beating heart of viscera, thrilling to its vitality and warmth, its immediacy, Nitsch locates the mystic centre of life, the act of being alive. Through 25 May

Richard Serra, Rifts, Gagosian Grosvenor Hill

Sheet-metal titan Serra modulates his material (but not his scale) in this show devoted to these imposing ebon paper canvasses (with a dense, pungent tar-like pigment, quite elemental) troubled by sharp, elongated torn horizons (salvations) of white, as if small, sudden rips into otherwise hidden dimensions. They project a woozy, late-night mentality, pitch-black stretches of road illuminated only by fragile headlight, or lane lines extending into infinity. A hypnotic effect is achieved as you move about the vast space, the black conspiring to consume-body and mind bend towards the warm white crevasses. The black surround-inky, mammoth, uncertain-needs the healing incursions of the white shafts. Through 25 May–april-11-2018

Rachel Howard, Repitition is Truth-Via Dolorosa, Newport Street Gallery

Howard means her series of large-scale abstract works as an allegory of the Stations of the Cross (the first painting inside the exhibition references the horrifying, now iconic, image of Abu Ghraib detainee Ali Shallal al-Qaisi trussed up, Christ-like, victim of torture, the Via Dolorosa element of the show’s title), but they work most profoundly and excitingly as explorations of the painting process itself, each piece a painstaking combination of both intention and chance-mixing and manipulating varnish and pigment, pouring the blend in weeping rivulets down the canvas (using ladders and scaffolding), pushing and prodding the material to layered effect (Howard allowed for a month’s drying time between each application) and at times rotating canvasses 180 degrees to create opposing and conflicting striations. This approach creates great animation and generates tremendous drive in the works-a paintbrush occasionally appears as detail or prop, which explodes into abstraction the nearer a viewer gets. The pieces become about the way the paint has fallen, the stroke of the brush (sometimes intemperate, sometimes benign), the way the gloss has taken hard hold, the tensions and anxieties and strife implicit in the process that created them. Wounds and seams are present-there’s even what appears to be a clean, surgical cut in one work (stigmata, perhaps), out of which a universe of holy black hell slowly leaks, gathering its forces towards eruption. Through 28 May



How does your garden grow?

If you’re the least bit skittish around human hair (especially isolated from its source), you will be made very uneasy indeed at this exhibition liberal in its use of the material-sinuously curled, coiled locks glued to pages, thick bristly explosions from various openings on clay vessels, unseemly, wildly overgrown entanglements that entirely subsume identity and individual and object (this facial elision engenders a vertiginous, disorienting effect in the viewer, the central marker for recognition removed). Hair is celebrated and consecrated, is both artefact and ornamentation. Culturally and socially, hair has always held a ceremonial prestige, linked to position, class, statements of personal style and intent, an accompaniment to wardrobe and fashion. By appropriating everything from royal and commissioned portraiture to Old Masters to engravings to postcards, truly intervening, Bowles at once honours and subverts the past, a dialog that yields both a playful twist and kinky kick to enduring themes. The adornment of hair, its sexual and aesthetic allure, spills forth from and across the surface of her works, volatile and charged.Structured as a three-act narrative, you move from the domestic (family portraits in which hair, like a manifestation of blood, courses from one member to the next; decorative vases sprouting surging tufts from every shaft, upon close inspection built upon a constructed chaos of various limbs and body parts; and a television set from which a humming, Lynch-like figure onanistically dreams of coiffures) to a lo-if, but highly impressive, reproduction of a stately home, produced with mere plywood, a few wonderfully chintzy props and photocopied pages that brilliantly fool the senses with scale and dimension-you stand within this space that cuts the main gallery room and are transported into a grand hallway, on the walls of which hang grand portraits, those signifiers of wealth and privilege-and finally to the museum, in which vitrines hold records of cherished objects, a cabinet of pileous curiosities. The side room hosts Bowles’s video installation Obsession, a looped sketch of a woman, her back to the camera, scarlet-gloved, fetishtically running her finger through a strand of hair, the sound of the coarse drag amplified to disquieting effect. This might be the moment when the less inclined to be comfortable around abrupt proximity to such a personal aspect of the body may bolt. Hair, especially estranged from the body, has the paradoxical quality of seeming alive and dead simultaneously-Bowles, with great alacrity, is delighted to chase after this through the far, far fields, referencing the entirety of art history and mediums while on her merry way.



More grist for the mill of ephemerality, this four-room immersive installation just behind Liverpool Street station is meant as a warm bath for the senses, a pool into which the harried urbanite may wade for sensory comfort, but in fact seems designed mainly for photo possibilities for an Instagram or Snapchat account, the spaces too cramped and too cursory to achieve much resonance or dimension. I felt bad for doodler extraordinaire Rob Lowe, aka Supermundane, as the cumulative, possibly overwhelming geometrical effect of his black-and-white squiggles and patterns adorning every available surface of the initial room is thwarted by having the central entrance to the exhibition open straight into it (and, rather inconsiderately, placing a reception desk in one of its corners!). Organisers would have better served the work by constructing a vestibule through which you pass first, allowing for the room to achieve autonomy-as is, the public intrusion is a discredit. Through a side door, you enter the second room, an infinite volley of magnolia blossom trees and soft undulating lights greeting you (courtesy of mirrored reflections), a barely perceptible soundtrack of nature sounds underscoring the experience-a tranquil spot, but you’re not held for long. On my visit, the third room (across a hall), a motion activated space in which an individual’s gestures create motifs of colour and light on an accompanying screen, along with chosen musical soundtrack, was closed due to technological failure. A group of teenaged girls commandeered the fourth room, titled the Zen Studio, an assemblage of relaxation-provoking materials and furnishings such as soft carpeting, plush blankets, pastel hues, subdued hexagonal tiles, lavender scents and gentle sounds, and a dominant, focal bean-bag bed on which the girls vibrantly and vocally lounged, perhaps in defiance of the principles of restfulness on which the room was founded. Supermundane has provided the vivid and energetic outdoor mural (it spills out thrillingly around the plaza) which greets the visitor prior to proper entry. If you angle a frame correctly, the image will no doubt look stylish and impressive, leading friends and followers to fits of envy, but the authentic experience itself , the physical interaction, is pale and frustratingly superficial-but then again, it’s manufactured only as transitory whimsy. Sense of Space continues through 18 May; the on-site Art Bar offers drinks (craft beers, wine and pop) and vegan victuals.




From an unassuming window just off the corner of Old Compton Street and Greek Street, comfort food, Chinese-style, is being dispensed to the Soho masses, an offshoot hatch (framed in a pleasant salmon pink) from neighbouring restaurant Bun House. The dish is jian bing, a crepe-like item (also cousin to the burrito or traditional bap, according to founder Z He) that is the most popular street food on the avenues of China, a plethora of apertures pervading the central quarters feeding happy students and city workers. The process starts with what appears as a buckwheat base (actually a batter composed of ten essential grains) cooked on a copper griddle onto which an egg is broken and quickly added is cilantro, a sweet soy sauce and a dense dressing of fermented beans, sesame paste and peanut butter, finished off with (the truly innovative ingredient) crushed wonton chips, then folded over and placed in a signature paper bag and ready for takeaway and eating on the street as you stroll to your next destination. To the basic crepe (£6) may be added Iberico pork, miso chicken or cumin lamb (anywhere from a £1-£1.80 surcharge). On my visit, the preparation was painstaking (perhaps as a result of being the first customer, the griddles may have needed time to properly heat) and precise, which, if not course corrected as the day progresses, could lead to frustrating queues. I’m certain that the pace of the cooking quickens as the day goes on and the demand rises (and griddle temperature maximises). Legend has it that a chancellor was tasked with providing a regiment of soldiers who had all lost their woks with a nourishing meal and so had cooks concoct an easy and efficient recipe with simple ingredients, received by the army with such ardor that they quickly fought their way out of an ambush and into significant victory, strengthened and heartened by this culinary invention. The source of the “pleasant lady” moniker heralds from an approximation of the last character of He’s name. For this elegant, graceful stand, it works.






On the grounds of a rather ill-at-ease Hampshire farm (weathered, chipped, broken, worn-down land and furnishings), a family quietly but trenchantly succumbs to the depravities of grief, engendered by the death of the patriarchal figure and their inability to confront or process the information. All three surviving members (mother, son, daughter) suffer a state of suspension, enmeshed in personal (perhaps pathological, possibly misplaced) networks of duty, responsibility and expectation-it’s clear that the farm is no longer productive enough to provide monetarily for the household, yet stubbornly the family endures in its activities, lorded over, with formidable passive-aggressiveness, by Claire Skinner’s Jenny. A staggering (and monopolising) oil pipeline runs through the yard in designer Rae Smith’s haggard, arid set, a tremendous metaphorical symbol of the concessions the family has had to make to corporate interests and encroachments just to be able to remain afloat (the product of which son Ryan and friend Pete have begun to siphon off). Pete is both agent of hope (his rekindled relationship with daughter Lou offers a lifeline of escape and retreat) and victim (he shares a complicated, entangled past with this family, having spent a spell in prison for something for which he was not directly responsible, another character on stage moreso). Time has collapsed to such a degree that progression is practically non-existent, past and present and future troublingly crushed together. Jenny masterfully manipulates her children (playwright Barney Norris provides her with some awe-striking arias of blistering, near-comic cruelty), infantilising them into crippling destabilised psychological states, assured to never abandon her. A plaintive, minimalist music score registers each tremor of desolation and discord. The oppositions and conflicts between the family members is given effective emphasis in sharp triangular and circular patterns of blocking. Sion Daniel Young as Ryan registers the strongest of the ensemble, in some ways the most fragile and sensitive person on stage-open, wounded, passive, charting stars-not quite able to declare himself, paralysed by obligation; Ophelia Lovibond tremulously gathers force of resistance and courage in confronting her mother and the meaning and sense of their rural existence; Skinner, distorted and embittered, may not even recognise the ways in which disappointment and anger have shaped her into a form of monster (I only wish that Norris and Skinner had found a way to better suggest the transition of her character, Skinner never quite convincing that she ever was the sleeves-up, dirt-encrusted kind in the first place that she would hold the farm and its continuance in such sacred trust and esteem). The final moment bestows upon her a redemption, a confession which she is only able to speak to the wider cosmos (although witnessed by the ever watchful Ryan, who offers consolation). A muddied sound system rendered the very earliest dialogue difficult to comprehend, quickly remedied, but I wonder if, overall, the intimate structure of the relationships would be better served in a smaller space. Along with Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem and Peter Gill’s The York Realist, there is a real movement to push outside the urban centre into a mythic and pastoral realm, exploring the outer reaches of British identity, giving voice to the disaffected and the forgotten-nothing like a surprise in this anxious age of Brexit and political discontent, a crisis of cultural selfhood.





Twice now I have been burnt by the supposedly “immersive” installations constructed for this ground-floor space located on the O2 plaza just outside the North Greenwich tube stop (the first was the wildly overrated “Walala X Play”). Booking has been essential for both shows (free, through Eventbrite) due to “overwhelming demand”, yet both times I’ve attended, I’ve shared the floor with just a handful of people (leading me to believe that the organisers falsely and ingenuously seek to create a cult of success around the events, rather than letting popularity organically evolve from any intrinsic value and worth of the work itself, although weekends may see crowds gather). Ostensibly a lighthearted lab for the benefits of chromotherapy (as well as the healing  and creative properties of light and sound), multi-hued polyhedral shapes fill the room, hanging from the ceiling in a slow twist of rotation, others anchored at ground level, allowing a spectator to submerge the head inside for a cathartic bath of light, a carpet of triangular patterns underfoot (transitioning randomly from the solid to the spongy). Using Rudolph Laban’s theory of wellbeing as inspiration (positing the body as being a composition of the aforementioned geometrical shape, in constant threat of disablement from environmental pressures), the exhibition is structured to take the individual outside the assailed quotidian, and allow for a moment of awareness, offering a chance to breathe and synchronise with the restorative vibrations of the body. All well and good, but sophistication eludes the piece, and rather reminded me of being in a corridor of a primary school-visiting late into its run, the floor was quite careworn and tatty, earphones were not working (preventing me from listening to Natureboy’s bespoke soundtrack for the exhibition, an essential aspect of the experience absent), and the distracting natural light spilling in from the windows defeated full engagement with the structures (a problem the previous show shared). On both occasions, write-ups for the exhibitions have led to fervid expectations, unable to be matched by the mechanics of the actual, real-time experience. No doubt I will be convinced again, in hopes of the one day when expectations and reality will converge gloriously. Harmonics in Space closed on 29 April