Doris Salcedo “Palimpsest” and “Tabula Rasa” @ White Cube Bermondsey
A stunning memorial field composed of stone tablets, sand and a mighty feat of hydraulics, this sculptural installation by Salcedo is monumentally scaled but fragilely intimate in concept (an intimacy never compromised or subsumed by the grand mechanics of the piece). Each tablet holds multiple names of migrants who have perished in the dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas on their way to freedom in Europe. Intermittently, names shiver and bubble into presence, inscribed by water, only to incrementally fade again, the water retreating in rivulets, to be replaced by yet another identity, a continuous process of reveal and erasure. Salcedo honours the individual otherwise lost in a collective statistical anonymity. The viewer is encouraged to gingerly step around the stains and contemplate (reverentially, as the space makes one feel) the enormity of the tragedy-the vast room mimics the sense of being adrift in a mighty sea. This is a holy chamber of witness-most spectators were stunned into silence.
If only I could bring the same awe to Salcedo’s “Tabula Rasa”, but I’m afraid the metaphor in this case (at least for me) is stretched too far for resonance. A stark room displaying a variety of ordinary looking wooden tables reveals, upon closer inspection, cracks, fissures, fractures and rough edges, as if some violence has been visited upon them. In fact, Salcedo has savagely broken them apart, then reassembled them with great blunt abruptness, all delicacy and finesse drained.
Press notes claim this process addresses sexual assault and its aftermath, an inability to fully resurrect the self, imperfections cast into the basic structure. Vital issues to explore, for sure, but for me the connection is missed here. Palimpsest and Tabula Rasa run through 11 Nov
Kim Dorland “Terror Management Theory” @ Beers London
It’s a shame that this exhibition by Canadian artist Dorland closed in early October, as its themes of apocalypse and delirium and fear and death are such focal aspects of the month that culminates in that most pagan of holidays, Halloween. Dorland’s subjects dance and carry on along the edge, twisting in ominous wait for some portentous catastrophe, an extinction-level event, often in shadowed forests and clearings. That we now exist in a climate swelling with possible, increasingly more immediate calamity, only lends his images greater force and alarm. Dorland’s exploration of the concept of momento mori brings it up to date with very real contemporary concerns with a global society seemingly at wit’s end, mentally unfit. Playful as they are, an unease and disquiet are abundantly foregrounded; the canvasses hum with cloaked sinister bodings. Burly fists of impasto paint occasionally adorn the frame, a sudden net of meretricious weight. The images are gleeful and maniacal at once, a punk aesthetic present. Comic book and horror film tropes are in liberal use. In many ways, these images seem very of the moment. Terror Management Theory closed on 6 Oct
Soufiane Ababri Here Is A Strange and Bitter Crop @ Space Gallery
Ababri confronts dominant cultural representations of the black male body in an attempt to liberate it from imprisoning absolutes and engendered attitudes. Through the prism of race, sport and sex (the latter two especially prone to particular tropes of display and depiction), Ababri studies the internal pressures and anxieties that arise when control of self-image is in the hands of outside authority. Sports allow for an environment in which violence and machismo is celebrated, an acceptable level of physicality between men portrayed, a way to play to the cultural norm. In absolute defiance, one wall of paintings depict masculine men engaged in a series of pornographic acts, a shock to hetero-normative structure. Stripes of green call forth, according to the artist, both the football field (or team colours) and cotton fields. From the time of slavery, the black body has been commodified and defined. A cage, with open door, invites one to consider enclosure, detainment, prison. Ababri does not want the viewer to be in the least comfortable-he wants to induce a permanent state of unrest and sweat, Billie Holiday’s lament of “Strange Fruit” and the tragedy of gay footballer Justin Fashanu bearing down on the senses. He wants us to consider deeply the impact of oppressive dynamics of social assumption on identity and behaviour. Here Is A Strange and Bitter Crop runs through 24 Nov
Frances Wilks How To Sell Death To The Living/Zachari Logan Spaces Between @ New Art Projects
Here we have an interesting gender flip: bold, brash paintings by a female artist, forthrightly engaged in elbowing in on a male dominated sporting field, and exuberantly delicate pinhole drawings of wildflower meadows and cultivated gardens rendered in fine blue pencil (resembling china patterns) by a male. Wilks stages interventions into the (fairly) exclusive male domain of Formula 1, replacing a male figure in nearly every image, an unequivocal shot of estrogen amongst the testosterone, fully, confidentially inhabiting the environment. The paintings are suffused in the brand red, and take their cues from the classic graphics of Marlboro and Ferrari, the graphic language of men’s magazines from yesteryear. Logan’s fragile prints, mere details of a fuller image that exists somewhere within-or past-the surrounding white space (that the image is partial, is a slender whisper of the whole, lends it great melancholy), are like impressions of memory and dream. It’s perhaps a detail remembered rather than the whole experience, the detail being the reason, the mode for transport. Serendipitously, as it happened, an overhead pipe carrying a constant flow of water lent a soothing, calming backdrop to my stroll through Logan’s images-I thought it a deliberate audio feature to accompany the exhibition! How To Sell Death To The Living and Spaces Between run through 27 Oct