With a great exuberance of surreal humour, Argentinian artist Rottenberg explores serious and disastrous issues of global consumerism and dehumanising labour. Assuming a deadpan style, her filmwork concentrates on elaborately complex machinations of production processes, pushing her imagery far past absurdity to make sharp points about the distortions between production and consumption, and the manipulation of the human entangled within the merciless gears (Rube Goldberg certainly is a spirit guide).
Matter transfers from one state to the next: fingernails alchemise into Marascino cherries, pearl cultivators pedal wheels that release pollen into a hay fever sufferer’s nose who then sneezes out plates of noodles; in another piece, businesspeople sneeze out rabbits; an oesophageal tunnel connects streetcart vendors along the US/Mexican border with workers at a Chinese plastic commodities market who seem all but consumed by the sheer scale of the cheap and tacky produce peddled.
Suggestions of migrancy and economic exploitation proliferate, an entire class of people bound into thankless drudgery, no benefits. I will not soon forget the felicitous and effervescent movements of bubbles in NONOSEKNOWS, which in their freedom of form, switching effortlessly from the solid to the fluid, choosing the moment of their own extinguishment, mocks the humans within the same claustrophobic spaces, all too weighted by their own brutal physicality.
The show is carefully crafted and curated, the experience of each room extended to the ways in which a visitor arrives-thus, a tunnel in one instance, a pearl shop in another, a rotating door into another space unspooling a film about the dull desperations of the bingo hall. There are intriguing installations as well, including a slightly unsettling ponytail mounted onto a wall through a peephole, undulating wildly, releasing fierce speculation as to the unseen activity that may give rise to such agitation; a single finger with taloned nail emerging from the wall, forbidding and siren-like; in a darkened room, a series of frying pans sizzle in orchestral arrangement, the domestic suddenly untamed and sinister.
This is the inaugural show at this new campus space, formerly a bathhouse, and I appreciate that it hasn’t been entirely scrubbed of its erstwhile self-much of its civic and industrial veneer remains intact and integral, and much has been thoughtfully arranged as a gallery goer moves about, surprises at many turns (a piece mounted over a doorway, another over the stairs), which leaves no corner or angle devoid. Based on this opening project, I have high expectations for this to become a premier gallery space. The show has now closed, but please keep this shining new space in mind-the programme is very promising. Over on Instagram, I have posted video footage from the various films, the proper way to experience Rottenberg’s vision-the movement is essential.
After the Explosion, Before the Collapse: Conrad Shawcross @ Victoria Miro Mayfair
A series of sculptures which artist Shawcross has titled Fractures twist and spin from a delicate base, whirling into elegant ascension, suggesting aesthetic cyclonic or terpsichorean fever dreams. His ethereal use of commonly hard materials (glass, various metals) lends the works an intriguing visual dissonance, a conversation between strength and fragility. Shawcross speaks of tetrahedral structures and tesseracts in reference to his work, a clear connection to scientific theory, and it’s quite easy to notice studies of energy dispersal, entropy, order, collapse in each piece (given the exhibition’s title, each sculpture is a still-frame of a model blown apart yet still holding its integrity). Beyond all the complexities of the scientific manifest, however, the works succeed brilliantly as mere and simple artistic creations. After the Explosion, Before the Collapse closed on 27 October
Ndidi Emefiele: Pets, Parties and a Cuddle @ Rosenfeld Porcini
Sisters are doing it for themselves at this Fitzrovia gallery, nary a male in sight in these panoramas of feminine fabulousness. Emefiele provides collaged portraits of women unfettered, free of the constraints and conventions of the standardised male gaze that would at once reduce and disrespect (or misrepresent) them-this lack of disruption allows for a funky, relaxed sense of play, posture and attitude. Women are gloriously autonomous, in both the public and personal realm. Set like a theatrical stage, the production of each painting is a wonder of textural detail and rambunctious energy, riots of colour and props, beating with tactile melody. There are many specific resonances with Emefiele’s Nigerian identity, but the pieces are more than universal enough to cohere for all. These women are fierce, free and eminent-Emefiele felicitously grants the senses full liberation. Pets, Parties and a Cuddle runs through 10 November
Brilliant methodologies aside (a concentrated schematic study of the expansion and contraction of line in his colour landscapes, a deliberate aesthetic drive and direction from each mark and angle), Davenport’s Puddle paintings exist foremost as investigations into the possibilities of colour to induce primal excitation upon both soul and spirit. The large-scale works exert a hypnotic pull, the colours from the frame dripping and pooling into coagulant, rapturous extensions at the bases, sinuous carpets that flow in natural, complex rhythm from the image above. It’s linearity corrupted by sudden chaos, loss of form, yet managing to retain a sense of coherence even in the dissolution. Another series addresses the warp and weave of coloured line across the frame, wavy transmissions pulled by some force off screen, seas the water of which is being consistently suctioned-it is easy to get quite lost in their spirals and whorls and eye-popping patterns. The Splat series, less reliant on intention, allow Davenport to experiment more with openness and chance-although the product of aggressive applications of paint, he permits imperfections to remain on the canvas, the traces of errant pigment left to dribble and leak down the frame as accidental legacies. Colourscapes closes on 8 November
With his career-long enduring fascination with the politics and cultural mechanisms of “waste” (and locating art within a new industrialised global process by which everything is reduced to commodity and product), Landy has taken his past work and practiced upon it the procedures of industrial waste compaction, transforming various pieces into ordered cubes for disposal. Textures vary according to each work’s original components, and in each transmutation may be found the historical traces and evidence of Landy’s output, like layered sediments of manifest and intent. Called into question is the value of any work in a world in which all material is grist, in favour one day, discarded the next, on an ever-revolving belt of acquisitive consumption. The gallery visit begins with an encounter with a very small bundle that rapidly follows to greater and greater size, scale and complexity. Landy has created an archive to his own diminishment and degradation, a merciless compression. It’s a sly, sharp swipe at the new merchants of commerce, the self-appointed arbiters of worth. Scaled Down runs through 17 November
This noted Dutch artist may just be the patron saint of obsessive compulsiveness, as he takes everyday objects and fetishises them into art through a series of rigourous sequencing and design. Henderikse’s interest is in the lingering emotional resonance of these quotidian objects, loaded with the memories and instances of their use, their meanings and functions within both the personal and communal realm. Thus poetic assemblages of corks, coins, bills, baseball cards, toilet soap containers, license plates, bricolages of consumer packaging, all arranged in tight formations of order and symmetry, still lifes of material and produce. From the castoff articles, Henderikse teases out a human flow, an intriguing energy resulting from the physical object itself and the evocative spiritual intonations they carry. Mint continues through 20 November
Located in the newly refurbished Grade II listed Boland House on the grounds of Guy’s Hospital (a Mcdonald’s once ignobly resided here on the ground level), this multi-million dollar project now part of King’s College is set to give the Wellcome Collection some competition. Much like the Wellcome’s remit to locate the intersections of medicine and art, here the interdisciplines between science, health and art will be studied. The look and feel is ultra-modern, with a spacious and open ground floor plan encompassing a gift shop and cafe each of sleek and clean design with gallery space on the first level. The inaugural show explores the roots of addiction and avenues through which recovery may be possible-much of the material is interactive and immersive, film and video and gaming consoles figuring prominently. The seductive lures of social media and gambling, overconsumption of food and fashion, general information overload, the spiritual deprivations of a bulldozing consumerist society, are all addressed through the various works, their ill effects on both individuals and society at large. Through sheer force and scale of presence, technology is aiding potential for addiction, all of us susceptible, even those without predilections towards an addictive personality-it’s all too simple to disappear through many a cyber rabbit hole. Stigmas towards those afflicted are questioned and challenged-in a larger sense, addiction may be classed as a mental health concern, its victims helpless. The alarm of the show as you wander through its rooms is that it becomes easy to identify yourself somewhere on the spectrum of the issue. Latter rooms showcase how a style of performative theatre is aiding some vulnerable individuals, providing awareness and self-examination that are some of the first steps out of the mire. This new venue is a fine addition to London’s already impressive league of museum and gallery spaces. Hooked is on through 6 January 2019
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
I’ve been a busy boy the past few weeks, scrambling to keep up with myself! Certainly, I’ve fallen quite behind on chronicling my adventures in the gallery world-time to correct this woeful oversight with a few brief reflections.
Kemang Wa Lehulere-not even the departed stay grounded @Marian Goodman: Transitioning into the practice of art from social-activism, inquiry into politics and community remain in the forefront of the works on display from this young South-African luminary at this most stunning of West End galleries (the 1st-floor skylights remain uncharacteristically uncovered to cast a stark, illuminating, shameful light upon the gnarled, enlaced sculptures). Addressing the disquieting and ever-charged legacy of apartheid, Lehulere challenges “official” history and its “whitewashing” of cultural identity, symbolic references to student demonstrations, enforced relocations and subjugation inescapably present. Repurposed school desks and chairs, birdhouses, tyres, glass bottles, casts of his aunt’s hand (who was caught up calamitously in the Soweto student uprisings), porcelain dogs (suggesting Sirius, the dog-star) and blackboards combine into tangled, free-wheeling installations that speak to violence and upheaval, of attempt to colonise. Chalk scrawls upon a series of boards detail an astronomical lore, a contested celestial knowledge a European authority could not abide or consider an African culture possessing before their own apprehension. Striking black and white paintings pulse with a fight between presence and erasure. Quite beyond or through any historical engagement, the pieces themselves achieve a hushed, nearly devotional aesthetic (and strangely quiet, given their origins) beauty. This is Lahulere triumphantly reclaiming what others wished to destroy, the gallery rooms transformed into staged demonstrations of enduring power and voice. not even the departed stay grounded closes 20 Oct
Credit the inspired genius of artist-curator Amanda Lwin to stage this six-artist show devoted to the issues of home, domesticity and the housing crisis in an existing estate agency on Kingsland High Street. Some may be mortified to walk in on active staff as they field calls from clients (on the day of my visit I nervously listened as agents candidly discussed forfeiture of tenants’ leases and lapsed payments), disrupting their activities as you move around tables in a fairly cramped ground floor, but the themes of the exhibition come thrillingly alive in this arena for the less inhibitive visitor. Even before entry, fabricated listings share window space with those of authentic nature (one very cleverly intersperses the conventionally mundane line details of the classic property listing with a slightly more anxious and unresolved “hidden” emotional and spiritual subtext, the feelings of disassociation and panic that can arise in the pursuit of buying a home). Another makes an appeal to a literal “alien” family that they will encounter nothing less than a warm welcome in their new domicile.
Paintings inside the building illustrate fantastical, (sometimes impossibly) idealised portraits of the cosiness and safety of home, gilded promises of sanctity that reality is not always able to provide. The largest threat to the integrity of home, though, is the increasing commodification of the concept, reduced to a cold investment opportunity or an image of empty desire on an Instagram feed, posted to induce envy, dissatisfaction or self-worthlessness, a hopelessly inaccessible achievement. Home is of more humble origin, as a place of refuge and safety first, a basic human need. An entire “website” has been created around this exhibition, and meetings with an “agent” may even be booked on Saturdays during its run, giving the proceedings quite a meta twist. Brilliant. Unreal Estates is now closed, but please visit the website, as the creators intend to tour it around the UK, with local artists contributing to each iteration.
Adebayo Bolaji: Rituals of Colour @ Public Gallery
In refutation of the formalities (and pretensions?) of more established galleries, the very playful Bolaji has inscribed (scratched, really) his mission statement on a piece of rough fabric, and haphazardly pasted scraps of enigmatic drawings and phrases next to each painting that serve as curatorial text for the works on display. Bolaji, with this charming DIY aesthetic,would prefer a viewer to have his or her own running narrative rather than the burden of an officially sanctioned one which would expect you to move about the space with administrative notions. Basquiat will pass through the mind, as well as Yinka Shonibare, even Picasso in the angularity of the figures. Each portrait is a stare into the interior worlds of its subject, every aspect just a bit unmoored-the physical, the emotional, the spiritual all a jumble-a flux of wild colour and pattern storming around and behind. The figures are not quite lost or torn apart, merely acknowledging their incoherence and disarray with good nature and modesty, directly embracing a truthful, terribly human mess. They are ready for the rumble. Bolaji extends them all a tender empathy. There’s a thrilling looseness to the style, a street energy that animates and fizzes with tremendous swirls of electric energy. Rituals of Energy closed on 4 Oct, but the gallery is committed to showcasing similar up-and-coming urban artists.
Its history a series of continuous disruptions and conflicts, of impositions of one will upon another, Kazakhstan “Identity” has emerged as the central theme of its native artists throughout the decades, a reflex very much on show at this stunning retrospective at Wapping’s former hydraulic power station. This is a perfect complement of venue and art, as the building itself speaks somewhat forlornly of past industry and labour, a relic that originated amongst the sweat and heave of machine (it alone powered most of the dockside energy when the shipping industry dominated the area), which then transitioned into the luxuriously hip restaurant/gallery space Wapping Project overseen by the formidable Jules Wright when no longer needed as a pumping station, and has, since 2013, lain dormant and inanimate. The cold, vastly desolate spaciousness, its aesthetic industrial rigour, safely houses and mirrors the enormity of the collective artistic voice and exploration on display, itself having experienced several iterations. For every artist who harkens back to a gloriously romanticised, heroic past (the heavy influence of Soviet-era enforcement of fine art tradition), there is another who counters with a candid, metaphorically brutal slap in the face, insistent on not allowing anyone to escape the rot no matter how well disguised or eschewed (look for the marvellous picture of decaying feet just off a stairwell). Saule Suleimenova’s Kelin (Bride) commandingly greets visitors just outside the entrance, a wall-length work of a female face derived from discarded plastic and upscale shopping bags, simultaneously a piquant environmental and gender statement on casual dismissal; Yerbossyn Meldibekov’s Communism Peak, is a collection of crushed metal pots representative of the central mountain peak in the Pamir range which has, through several regime changes and ideological fluctuations, been renamed six times, an inviolable natural monument which has been the locus of symbolic successive grasps at power and control-the range remains supremely indifferent and unchanged despite the puny efforts to subvert and use it for personal influence; Almagul Menlibayeva’s videos attempt to apprehend mythologies and Shamanistic traditions that have been lost throughout occupation and systematic erasure, entire nomadic tribes which have been abandoned and forgotten in Soviet development; Said Atabekov’s film Battle for the Square, immersively projected on opposing walls of the lower gallery, ostensibly references an archaic communal game, but instead feels chaotic and violent in close detail, a wall of crushing sound and teeming activity; Gulnur Mukazhanova’s labyrinthine False Hope, encompassing the length of a side room, is a topographical landscape wrought in colourful silk, a series of serenely floating suspended fragments from the ceiling, the material often used in gift wrapping, beautiful but frivolous; Asel Kadyrkhanova’s harrowing Machine, an engine of tangled, coiled red thread branching out sinisterly from a Cyrillic typewriter to a wall of faded arrest warrants, is an excoriating visual reference to the scale of the Great Purge, each piece of paper a victim of faceless corrupt bureaucratic efficiency and disregard, an organised programme of genocide, an extended symphony of blood and murder; a wall of sewn white faces, stitched in a mass collision, struggle against loss of individual identity in the crushing wave of globalisation with its demands of homogeneity and conformity in Gulnur Mukazhanova’s Mankurts in Megapolis; Aza Shadenova and Askhat Akhmedyarov tenderly use traditional material symbols of womens’ presence in Kazakh society, addressing legacy and place across the centuries; it’s Syrlybek Bekbotayev’s mighty Mothers that expertly synthesises the overarching inquiries of this show, a system of gears onto which he has copied a portion of an iconic Kazakh painting, a picture in constant cyclical motion, an evolution of construction and deconstruction, alluding to the pressures of art to both serve standing authority, and to defy and resist the uses for which those in power may intend it.There’s even a spot for Saule Dyussenbina’s playful and groovy wallpaper motifs which wittily reference Kazakh myth and folklore. Past and present speak across the industrial rooms and floors in a dizzyingly frank dialogue, a society engaged in retrieving and anchoring its history, in celebrating and elevating its nomadic past-it’s a cry from the heart, a fist raised in defiance, against elision. It’s astounding, arguably the show of the year thus far. Post-Nomadic Mind continues through 16 October
Pschosexualdelia: Helen Beard/Boo Saville @ Newport St Gallery-What is going on inside Helen Beard’s mind? Much wet, fevered erotic expulsions, if the overwhelmingly sensuous, large-scale works that adorn (and sweat) the walls of Damian Hirst’s South London gallery are evidence. What at first seem like supple investigations of interlocking shapes quickly resolve themselves into weaves of quite startling sexual imagery, boldly colourful interventions and abutments given bodily movement and pressure, a soft welter of pleasurable crushing and crashing, like psychedelic, acid-tinged negative shots. Your optic mental health needs Boo Saville’s chilled colour fields as a visual digestif immediately following, an immersion into calm, gentle pulse and breath, welcoming with a tender embrace and envelop, subtle gradations of shade and layer providing fascinating depth and dimension. A bemused viewer is curious to walk through the murk to the mystery obscured at the heart of each work, or just surrender to the amiable oblivion. True Colours closes 9 September
Optic Origami: Tomma Abts @Serpentine Sackler Wing-Although the recipient of the 2006 Turner Prize, and a London resident, this is the first comprehensive London exhibition devoted to the work of Abts. Working under self-imposed restrictions (the unvaried canvas size is set to the dimensions 48cm x 38cm, a device she playfully subverts in certain instances; her focus remains rigidly fixed to abstract geometrical patterns, intuitively devised), she is nevertheless able to find remarkable variety in her kaleidoscopically fecund output. The works buzz with a visual elan, lines bending, looping, folding, charging around the canvas, occasionally, with the clever use of shadowed space, even leaping off the frame with 3-D clarity. She is able to achieve a beguiling depth while maintaining a simplicity of design elements-the works are tidy, with no unnecessary embellishment. Abts vigourously directs the spectator’s eye through every energetic surge or detour or abrupt conclusion. Some may find the pieces chilly and methodically mechanical, but there is prodigious, forthright imagination and a certain warmth in colour scheme fully on display-the senses are acutely engaged. The works appear to be informed by some vivacity that emanates from the centre of the frame, sending a spirit outward. Tomma Abts continues through 9 September at Serpentine Sackler Gallery
In Perpetuity: Rebecca Louise Law @ B0-Lee Gallery-Proving that not even ephemeral art need apply to the ruthless rules of nature, artist/alchemist Law (daughter of a National Trust gardener, and designer known for her monumental floral installations commissioned for public spaces) has found a way to, with a respect for natural process, transmute her material from one elemental state to another, elongating-and extending-its existence as creatively legitimate and substantial matter for exhibition. For the last 15 years, Law has painstakingly gathered the withered, sere remains of her pieces (a global effort, encompassing America, Europe and Asia) and has now archived them in frames both large and small, cabinets of fragmented curiosities. A series of traditionally framed works line the peripheries of the gallery’s front wallspace, but the rear of the gallery is a knockout warren of individually showcased gems, contents able to be studied from both sides-layerings of faded colours, grit, the titular dust, plant life, elements of decomposition and decline, tales told. Each, as the work that inspired it (indeed, fed it), has an unmistakable earthy personality. In the middle of the floor is situated one unbounded mass of matter, as if it has soundly rejected the strictures of sequencing , proudly and vulnerably open to the air. The show put me in mind of the majestic 2010 film Le Quattro Volte, which followed the process of nature from the human through to the mineral basis of existence, the carbon foundation of life. Dust closes on 1 September