Lauded quarterly print and digital art journal Elephant has ambitiously ventured into the bricks and mortar trade, opening their own gallery space this past November in the rapidly developing area around the Westfield shopping complex in White City . The latest sweeping aspect to the neighbourhood’s £8 billion 10-year regeneration plan (following the refurbishment of the erstwhile BBC Television Centre into a court of luxury homes and public retail plaza, and the establishment of the Imperial College I-Hub collective, as well as a new media square that resonates with the area’s broadcast history), architects Liddicoat and Goldhill built around an existing petrol station, in the last few years used for a series of public art pop-ups, expanding the space to accommodate not only a mid-size gallery, but a workstation, cafe/bar and a few food stalls, purpose built for exhibitions as well as talks, music events and social networking. A new annual art prize, the Elephant x Griffin (this year with eleven shortlisted artists, all recent graduate students), has been established, the collected works now on display in the gallery’s second show. Creative director Robert Shore, espousing Elephant’s mission statement of “Life Through Art”, states his interest in curating work that gazes outward to the concerns of the wider world rather than introspectively (or onanistically) to the narrow concerns of the “art world”. Highlights of the current show include Catherine Howell’s unsettling alternative maps, bleeding resin onto the floor, borders obscured, referencing uncertain but determined migrations, traumas both physical and intellectual writ upon the canvas; Ramona Zoladek teases miraculous life out of hard plaster tubes and plastic bags, leaves and tendrils bursting out of ungenerously scaled and apportioned spaces, defying conditions, fragile but resourceful; Mariane Thoermer’s groovetastic wool rug creation is a psychedelicly crafted pair of eyes weeping lush tears, a tangled throw of thread gathered at its base;

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Louisa Stylianidi’s piping network of uncomfortably realistic ears tease the viewer near, whispering barely audible soundscapes, a tumble and jumble of incomprehension, truth and fact just out of reach; one of Kyung Hwa Shon’s pieces breaks free of the gallery parameters altogether, affixing riotously colourful jagged shards upon the facade of a building down the road, like intermittent rifts and warps into alternate realities-or playful incursions on staid urban environments. For those lacking the consumerist gene, for whom the idea of wandering around the mania of a shopping mall-no matter how aesthetically modernist or impressive-is anathema, here is now a civilised reason to alight at White City Tube Station, an oasis just a few steps to the right outside the door. Elephant x Griffin closed on 13 January






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Wedding state-of-the-art VR technology with a deep appreciation for the systems and networks of the natural world, with particular focus on the plant kingdom, this immersive experience from Marshmellow Laser Feast plunges the spectator straight into the neural pathways of a forest scene, thrillingly casting off corporeal form. Outfitted in the somewhat cumbersome accoutrements of the technical gear (headset, rucksack, wristbands, heart monitor!), every breath now expelled in a visible wash of blue microbes, fellow viewers reduced to vascular silhouettes that float around you, a majestic Sequoia tree (considered to be the greatest organism in existence) anchors the central area of attention.

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Throughout the 20-minute programme, you are encouraged (quite past the spectacle) to contemplate the human interaction with and connection to the essentially invisible but vital universe of nature, our dependence upon its magnificent processes and our often malignantly careless stewardship of its delicacy. Lifted out of our separate consciousness, now a buoyant gust of disembodied spirit, we inhabit a space where we are able to witness the abstract whirl and course of carbon dioxide and oxygen and feel as one with the respiration of the earth.

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With imperceptible ease, the viewer rises along the tree, past its crown, until the final moments pass as a pleasant hallucination of nakedly biological pulsations-you emerge from the session with a happy awareness of having been broken down into your basic chemical components. At £20 a session, though, it is quite a dear education.  We Live in an Ocean of Air continues at the Saatchi Gallery through 20 January 

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Like her fellow contemporary video/film artists Ryan Trecartin and Ericka Beckman (both of whom have also exhibited at Zabludowicz), Maclean harnesses the aesthetics of online culture and reality television to investigate and deconstruct thorny present-day issues, the visual palette awash in gaudy, highly saturated colours, the material pushed into the realm of camp. The use of artifice is boldly engaged, a gesture that is ultimately both beneficial and detrimental to the effectiveness of the material-the performances aspire to baroque pantomime. The outrageousness may leaven the seriousness (making it more palatable to digest), but the shrill sentiment can grate over the course of each piece’s running time. In Spite Your Face, Maclean’s “Disney-on-crack” 2017 production, the fable of Pinocchio is darkly fed through the twisted portal of a post-truth, post-civilised universe in which corruption and lie-telling have become sanctified states, a lost world where the gasping grab for wealth and adoration are the only holy pilgrimage. The main character’s proboscis, that most vital of Pinocchio’s appendages, is the phallic locus of anxiety, power and violence. As the brand face for the new perfume of Untruth, he is surrounded by a grotesque menagerie of callous male monstrosities, lascivious in their corporate machinations and manipulations. The screen is set in portrait format, a response to the dimensions of the work’s original environment (the deconsecrated Chiesa Di Santa Caterina in Venice, where Maclean represented Scotland at the Biennale in 2017), which compatibly fits within this venue’s main hall (a former Methodist Chapel). In a continuous 37-minute loop, the characters exist perpetually in a cycle of florid ambition, deception and vice, fixed in patterns of lewd behaviour and rigid fate. Make Me Up is a viciously cheeky satire of authoritarian patriarchy and its comeuppance, in which a bevy of doll-like women lorded over by a controlling male figure who speaks in the stentorian tones of Kenneth Clarke (with actual dialogue from the 1969 tv series Civilisation, which effortlessly,eerily synchronises with the themes being explored, without any alterations) are tasked with a series of increasingly humiliating, degrading acts dictated by a sexist, narrow-minded mentality. Newly annointed dollies Siri and Alexa (!) lead a steady revolt against the constraints and smug manoeuvres of the male impresario (seeking the “glitch”which will release them) until a sudden tempest of self-awareness infects the group, a torrent of found audio recordings of a chorus of female celebrities and political leaders and academics recounting their theories of feminist agency placed in the characters’ mouths, a lipsynch fantasia.The women crescendo to a final group dance, no longer under the influence of a repressive male force, concluding with an exciting blast of aggro electro beats and assertive, independent movement. The film’s message is a bit dampened by the 45-minute length; it could have possibly had a greater resonance at half its running time. Most powerful is Maclean’s first VR piece, I’m Terribly Sorry, that most reserved of British phrases, a six-minute immersion in a woozy acid-jazz British landscape of undulating Big Ben teapots and keychains, red buses and solar-powered figurines of the Queen. Each participant is asked to take pictures of various mobile phone-faced characters (stand-ins for privileged urban dwellers) who approach you in the street, soliciting for funds, their explanations convoluted and subtly, menacingly demanding.

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After becoming suddenly implicated in a shocking incident, a phalanx of shadowy figures descend upon you, looming over your perspective, vulnerably crowding you in, to visit threat upon you. The comfort of distance has been wholly erased, the viewer plummeting straight into the heart of violent action and victim hood.

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Whereas the two films slightly overstay their welcome, leeching power in the process, this short, sharp meditation upon Brexit-era U.K. is haunted by cultural tensions, migrant crises, an elevation of apprehension and mistrust, inescapably engulfing and entangling the viewer.

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The museum’s rooms are dressed with vulgar plush carpets, lurid satin curtains, and beribboned pink-cushioned chairs, reflections of the wanton narratives spilling out onscreen. No doubt there is an abundance of slick energy and striking extravagance in these works, but exhaustion and impatience wore me out long before the  films’conclusions, both only fitfully engaging.  This exhibition closed on 16 December





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In regards to this annual mega-show of visual art (mostly video and film), I will always be searching after that first great toke-The Infinite Mix was a sublime assemblage of music and image, each component a perfect individual segment of a greater whole, not a bum note in evidence, leading to an overwhelming narcotic experience that made a viewer feel transformed upon exit. I remember feeling altered, physically and emotionally wrung through, stumbling out the door into the glare of sun, desperately (but pleasantly) trying to assimilate to reality.

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This third year programme from sponsors Vinyl Factory and Store X (in collaboration with New York’s New Museum) doesn’t even come close, with most entries bloated in length and overly conceptual to such a degree I’m not certain an audience’s presence is even considered (certain pieces would be best left as graduate degree dissertations). The show is almost wholly redeemed with the inclusion of Pipilotti Rist’s 4th Floor to Mildness, composed of two protozoic-shaped screens which hang from the ceiling, under which a series of beds and cushions invite spectators to rest and immerse themselves in scenes of nature and water (and the occasional floating body part), a rapturous dive into the spiritual and the meditative. She cannily uses the cold surface of the computer screen to create a warm collective experience-it’s the closest sensation to virtual reality I’ve ever had without having to wear a head device, and the only piece here to register with any sort of emotional resonance. Ed Atkins’s Happy Burthday, with its deeply creepy (and ineffably thrilling) monochromatic digital animation, characters anxiously inhabiting both the material and the intangible simultaneously, concerns time’s incursions upon the body, the dialogue a spill of abstract mathematics, metaphoric gestures of dates: birth and death, anniversaries, epochal historic events, all temporal claims of the corporeal-beautifully realised, but its abstraction is alienating; Camille Henrot’s Grosse Fatigue takes the viewer on an increasingly manic journey of archival attempts to organise and conceptualise a comprehensive definition of the universe, the possibilities expanded exponentially by the virtual-as ecstatically florid eschatological musings mount on the soundtrack, browser windows overlap with image searches and Wiki pages, the internet a whole new cosmos and catalogue of information, the enormity of attempting to harness the chaos and disorder of history brought sharply into focus;

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Ragnar Kjartansson’s A Lot of Sorrow is an excerpt from the conceptually challenging durational project in which he asked the indie rock band the National to perform their song “Sorrow” over the course of six hours (as he helpfully served the members water, beer and food to keep their strength), the song morphing across time and repititive performance, taking on a sonic equivalent to the titular emotion, a feeling so deep in the bones that it slows the blood to a dirge, stuck within a mournful loop-the band broke on the 95th iteration but successfully delivered a transcendent experience;

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Khahil Joseph’s Fly Paper seems to inhabit several temporalities at once in its study of Harlem and its denizens, exploring both the personal and the historical, suggesting the area itself as a repository of all the stories and experiences of those who have ever lived within it, informing and elaborating upon one another, a continual back and forth dance-the soundtrack establishes itself as a major player, occasionally roaring out of the speakers so forcefully and purposefully, enveloping the audience in a sonic shroud, that I felt my shirtsleeves blowing, sculpting deep vibrations in the pit of my stomach; in Daria Martin’s Soft Materials, two supple humans interact intimately with wires and robotic limbs, bemused, slightly fearful, a desire to merge just forming;

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Anri Sala’s Three Minutes is a trippy, possibly epilepsy-inducing abstraction of a cymbal, a play of annihilating light onto which it is nearly impossible to fix definition; Wu Tsang’s The Look reveals a (momentarily distracting) campy sci-fi universe overseen by digital avatars that control the population through a series of social media platforms, in which the brand-created pop performer Bils, gorgeously drenched in glitter and instructed in choreographed dance moves, occasionally breaks through to a non-mandated euphoric moment of genuine liberation.

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Most of the rest of the pieces persist long after anything of value is communicated, leading me to ungenerously contemplate the idea of caps imposed on the length of a work in such comprehensive shows (lest  a viewer has the day to spend with the exhibition). The subject of time, a preoccupation with the concept, is the overriding theme of this show, emphasising especially the impact of new technologies on the study of history, and its interactions with the present and future, creating an environment where all exist at once, giving rise to a “nostalgic futurism”, as the programme notes state. I only wish more of it were haunting-very few of the works were barely able to extend a legacy much past the exit. Strange Days closed on 9 December


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A marvellous illustration of the temporal, psychological and narrative possibilities of film as art installation, this five-channel peripatetic piece unfolds over three chapters in the basement space at this enterprise dedicated to the facilitation of artistic exchange and development, neatly tucked down a pretty period street close to Victoria Station. In the first part, a fraught car journey finds four individuals in tense confines working through cycles of anxiety and fear-based on a real-life event, this fictionalised account veers wildly into speculative and hallucinatory territory.

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All four are (unself-aware) archetypes: a police captain, a politician, a hitman and mysterious woman, who is allowed no space amidst the self-absorbed toxic machismo of the males, who believe her beneath consideration, believing only their personal dramas have any relevance. It’s clear all are in flight from some calamitous incident, perhaps a coup attempt, themselves the perpetrators, pursued by authorities, bedevilled by victims. The road they travel is damned.

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The second chapter replays the interior car scene from the perspective of the silenced female, who in increasing amounts of agency, unfurls a furiously assertive voice-over, the interior monologue drowning out the privileged banter and bravado of the male passengers, their babbling voices belittled-she reclaims herself from cliche.  Her oral testimony unsparingly implicates the men in the realm of violence and bloodshed, claiming their roles in an inevitable, indefatigable system of male barbarity. This sequence is intercut with a sylvan scene, a woman in a flowing red dress, the folds and hangs of which suggest rivulets of blood, nailing the dress to a tree, only to slowly, determinably rip away from the pressure of the hold, the confinement.

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In the final chapter, the men have been entirely sidelined and dismissed-across the respiratively liberating space of three screens, an Eden of women speak confessionally to one another, transcending barriers of time, language and geography in an ecstasy of support and sympathy. The mood is relaxed, thoughtful, unperturbed by turmoil and, unlike the first two sections which were viewed on hard benches, here an audience is encouraged to avail themselves of the soft surrender of provided bean bags. An image of a woman, first glimpsed in chapter 1 evincing an aura of contorted asphyxiation, recurs transformed as a focus of celebration, a release of emancipated breath.

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This conclusion posits a spiritual realm of female empowerment that may just save a tired, defeated world. Don’t let the flocked wallpaper in room 1 lull you into a false sense of domesticity, as it is quickly replaced by hanging animal carcasses and stony, institutionalised walls, like sweet, distracting words structured to deceive an individual from fully comprehending the tyranny they conceal suddenly exposed to harsh illumination. Here, in this stunning piece of fractured storytelling, is the true revolution. The Scar runs through 1 December




In Eye-to-Claw-toBeak, formidible clay sculptures, set high atop steel platforms, loom with hawkish menace over the heads of gallery spectators, in form suggestions of both domiciles and possible armament housings, omniscient and unknowable bunkers-the intention, ill or beneficent, is withheld. Most are conceived with identifiable apertures-windows, doors-that soften threat, but even these reveal little beyond themselves (in the extremest case, Wilson offers a monolithic block, solid except for a single, covered opening-it could be the trigger for, or the promise of, a lethal event). In architectural appearance, the towers vary in cultural and ethnic intimation, as the themes of surveillance and domination echo out to a global net statement. Michel Foucault’s theory of the panopticon is referenced, the 360 degree centrally located  “control tower” within a prison that proposes an omnipresent gaze and the nefarious simplicity of its uses for order, containment and subjugation in a population. The domination, the slow erosion of perception of self, the victimisation, works across all borders-gender, ethnic, racial, sexual, religious-no one of us safe from ensnarement and entrapment in systems of institutionalised scrutiny. An occasional ladder offers a chance of apprehension, but the scale stops well short of comprehension or mastery. Gender conflict is more explicitly addressed in Wilson’s Don’t Touch! series of porcelain figurines that playfully subvert the gestural traditions of the demure, delicate, recessive beauty in favour of gun-toting, assertive “Charlie’s Angels” stances, female figures in full autonomy, authors of their own agency, not enrobed in fragility, a common encumbrance of the male gaze; a lone female figure, ascendant on a pedestal, proudly and defiantly defines her physical presence in space and time, surveying the environment, throwing back the gaze, seizing a new one for herself. Wilson’s first video work, Knowing You Are Near, opens with a murky (almost dystopian) image the viewer struggles to decipher , which eventually coalesces into the figure of an advancing fencer, soon to spar with a partner, all the while an amplified soundtrack of industrial clang and crash swirls about the encounter.

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The epees themselves are mostly obscured in shadow so that a viewer’s concentration remains on the thrust and parry of body, the tension of behavioural movement, a pair locked in a cycle of conflict, a failure of communication, an inability to see. The conflict ends, no clear victor, the figures once again claimed by the murk (the refrain from an innocuous 60’s musical takes on sinister implications as the film closes). This is a show stripped-down in the most powerful ways-lack of embellishment reveals with merciless transparency the embedded core of privilege and position that underlies how the whole of history is structured, mostly for the benefit of those in power, and how best to redress the balance (and conversation) with the possibilities that recent movements and shifts in the cultural landscape provide.  Corps-a-Corps runs through 2 December 




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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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