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Saturday, 25 March 2017

Space In Between: Nicole Morris 'Sisters' (until 8th April 2017)

For this uplifting show at Space In Between, E9, the fact that participating artist Nicole Morris is London-based does make a significant addition to the exhibition. This is due to the large factor urban life plays in Morris' work, particularly in 'Sisters', where fabric installation and moving image are used in a dominant and overlapping way for purpose. Additionally, whereas it is common for art industry writers to state that certain female artists work with and around "the body", here we find that it is the gestures made by these bodies which become the interest for Morris, and in making this distinction, we identify the body's gestures varying from significant to bearing architectural tendencies.

Nicole Morris, Scaffold, 2017. Relief print on fabric, 209cm x 644cm. Space In Between, London.

The scale of 'Scaffold', which is architectural in both name and form, is the artist throwing her arms around Space In Between. This is the first and most bold way in which we find this show to be unpretentious and warm, and Morris' ability to communicate the importance of relationships in all their forms. A protective arm covering the viewer from the gallery window evokes a feeling of calm and happiness that is easily associated with a sisterly bond. Additionally, as the artist's work also investigates these relationships in the urban environment, the title of the piece suggests a space under constant improvement, reconstruction and challenges, interestingly showcasing how relationships mirror architectural developments in the metropolis.

Moving image and fabric coming together highlight intergenerational support networks, using fabric as a symbol for craft and pedagogical values in the family unit, reaffirmed by the homemade aesthetic of the artist's illustration in the film and the 'colouring in' of 'Scaffold'. Aside from this, 'Herringbone' features craft imagery again but this time it is brought up to date with the use of film and installation, whereby the colours of the film are projected through the initial sculptural piece onto the back wall, facilitated by small diamond shapes cut out of the piece. Again the title is an interesting one, as herringbone is a pattern found in fabric as well as being the formation for many road pavements, which effectively ties together Morris' themes of craft, in that it was always considered a lesser, female-dominated alternative to fine art and design, and urban infrastructure and design. 

Nicole Morris, Herringbone, 2017. Collograph print on fabric; digital video projection, 123.75cm x 277cm.
Space In Between, London.

Lastly we encounter the film piece, 'Together'; although it is a focal piece of the exhibition, the viewer's attention is fought for in equal parts but for respective reasons: the imposing scale of 'Scaffold', the visually stunning element of 'Herringbone' and the charming subject matter and centrality of 'Together'. Interestingly, it seems to be the latter which rather pleasantly concludes the exhibition, therefore I did not dispute the order by which I was drawn to each piece. 'Together' features a series of child-like drawings, with a xylophone-based soundtrack which evoked the feeling of being in a school playground. Bringing the viewer back to this moment in their own history is the catalyst for identifying the seemingly simple, pure relationships women share. Of course it is not this straightforward and a scene in the film where two illustrated hands are clasped before drifting apart is a minor but moving symbol of the complex web being unpacked by Morris in this wonderful and cosy show. 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Waddington Custot Gallery: Colour Is (until 22nd April 2017)

While the new show at Waddington Custot Gallery, W1S, has a strong focus on the modernist period, many of its prolific artists are still producing work post-millennium, yet those works which would not be considered as 'contemporary' still feel exciting and fresh. In marrying the two periods, the gallery places emphasis on the ongoing themes which artists as infamous as Donald Judd and Josef Albers have explored, yet not closed to their contemporary counterparts.

Its core theme, as is evident from the title, is the artists' use of colour and how this is profiled and used for purpose. Interestingly, and fortunately, the curator has elected not to include Yves Klein, nor Anish Kapoor, who would have been the obvious addition to the conversation. Instead, we are presented with a mixed-media collection of highly desirable and canonised works from the past one hundred years all using colour to different effect. Hélio Oiticica's 'V6 Spatial Relief, Red', for example, extends its narrative to art as object, as its overlapping geometric shapes could hold the viewer's attention from any angle, yet that they are hanging from the gallery ceiling shows the life in colour, and its ability to form part of our landscape, however artificial this may be, proving the smooth link between the sculptural and the architectural.

Anthony Caro's work has always been famed for captivating audiences with its bright colours, in the hope of creating a unique, individualised interaction, yet where Oiticica's piece hangs at head height from the ceiling, Caro's 'Floor Piece Hè' is self-explanatory in its positioning, its disruption of the viewer's navigation around the space moderately arresting in itself. Given the promise of colour in the exhibition, Caro's work certainly stands out for defying the expectation, which in itself makes us inquisitive about the artist's chromatic choices. Its dark and aggressive appearance is reminiscent of both a sea anchor and the chains and locks of sadomasochism. Whereas colour can certainly possess its own characteristics and assumptions, much like negative space the lack of bright colour can speak its own story. 

Anthony Caro, Floor Piece Hè, 1972. Steel, painted matt blue, 49.5cm x 124.5cm x 73.7cm. Waddington Custot Gallery, London. 

Whether you follow the history of art or not, 'Colour Is' ends up being an inclusive and at times, dare I say, crowd-pleaser of a show, without being gimmicky. While several of the works are Instagram-friendly and will appeal to a young audience, such as Joseph Kosuth's neon light installation 'II 49 (On Color / Multi #2' and David Annesley's 1965 sculpture 'Orinoco', there are other works which require a secondary level of contemplation from the viewer's imagination, especially given the aesthetics-heavy focus of the show. I found another contemporary piece, Sam Gilliam's 'PARADE I' to be a strong example of this, where it is positioned as an almost counterbalance to the bold palettes of other works, using the artist's distinctive watercolour, a medium which is highly underused in contemporary art; while this is often with good reason, Gilliam's technique presents a calm and weathered effect, implying the piece has its own narrative.

Sam Gilliam, PARADE I, 2015. Watercolour on rice paper, 185.1cm x 97.2cm. Waddington Custot Gallery, London.

In its title's ambiguity, the show will certainly attract a great number of visitors, as ultimately whether or not one is interested in art and its histories, colour is an unavoidable, and indeed exciting, part of life and culture. Despite this, Waddington Custot Gallery have decided to exclude any representational works, (selecting a quote from Judd declaring that "the necessities of representation inhibited the use of colour" to touch upon this omission) therefore it is highly likely that the show will garner a wide interest from critics and art lovers. A wonderful show has been put together in the space, and bringing modern masters such as the works aforementioned to younger and more diverse audiences is equally as impressive as the curation and thought behind the exhibition.

Hélio Oiticica, V6 Spatial Relief, Red (V6 Relevo espacial, vermêlho), 1991. Painted wood, 98.4cm x 78.1cm x 10.2cm. Waddington Custot Gallery, London.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

GRAD: Irina Korina 'Destined to be Happy' (until 28th February 2017)

Site-specific installations are always an interesting concept for contemporary art galleries, as the value of an artist's project is thrown into the visitor experience, as we are left wondering what will become of the work(s) after the closing of the exhibition. At GRAD, W1W, (Gallery for Russian Art and Design), Irina Korina has produced exactly this, an installation which inhabits the space so effectively that its tones of film set design transform both the gallery and the viewer's sensory experience entirely. Part of this transformation takes the form of the rule that the viewer must enter through the gallery's fire exit. From this point, a dark tunnel, resembling a bomb shelter, leads us into the main exhibition, where sound, sculpture and installation come together to form an unsettling yet familiar realm.

Corrugated metal paves the path, and this material is used again in an upright position to disorientate as we try to understand and navigate Korina's work. A jarring soundtrack, to the point of often being excruciating, has equal presence to the transfixing sculpture. As the space draws you down a narrow route, the almost-reflection of the metal fixtures provide a bizarre illusion that again still feels highly familiar. It is at this point of bewilderment that we find the sculptures, positioned and curated in such a way that coincides brilliantly with the surreal environment and soundscape.

Installation view: Irina Korina, Destined to be Happy, 2016. GRAD, London.

Each sculpture is comprised of a shape or element bearing a human expression with hyperreal legs highly reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz. Similarly, Korina's influences from fairytales and folklore are evident, although they are subverted and made increasingly sinister with the updated reference of the desolate post-internet world. There is also a strong criticism on mankind's attitudes to nature, as we can infer from the stripped trees heavily present in the space and the various sculptures. 'The Tear Drop', for instance, lies with the back of its head resting on the ground and a cigarette in its mouth, almost the ultimate sign of submission and despair, on a micro level. Although the exhibition feels like a fantastical, dystopian bubble, there are constant reminders of the deeply problematic reality of our contemporary world. The cigarette in the mouth of 'The Tear Drop' is a small reflection of the various toxic elements of the human condition, whether it is addiction in its various forms, our lifestyles creating catastrophic climate change, or precarious working conditions, to name a few.

Installation view: Irina Korina, The Tear Drop, 2016. Upholstery foam, wire frame, spray contact adhesive, glue, mixed fabrics, dimensions variable. GRAD, London. 

Another of Korina's sculptures is 'The Heart', which is being widely used on the show's promotional material. Its wide-eyed, cartoonish expression, alongside the exhibition's title, makes the viewer wonder what happiness means to the artist, or more importantly what it should mean in this microcosm at GRAD. The addictions 'The Tear Drop' contends with do not convey pleasure of any kind, likewise with the naive smile on the face of 'The Heart'. We are left with the feeling that the technological age gives the facade of its people having a vast expanse of knowledge, when in fact much of this information is not legitimate or, indeed, useful; the 'post-truth' world is certainly hinted at, without explicit references. Equally, Korina's alternative entrance into the gallery via the fire exit suggests that the artist is transporting us to an alternate universe, yet along with Sergey Kasich's complementing soundtrack which is filled with typing and clicking sounds and techno scores, we are constantly reminded that this monochromatic world is very real today. 

Installation view: Irina Korina, Destined to be Happy, 2016. GRAD, London. 

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Edel Assanti: Sheida Soleimani 'To Oblivion' (until 18th February 2017)

A year of drastic change awaits us in 2017's political realm, and it is entirely foolish for the art world not to reflect this. Sheida Soleimani's work presented at Edel Assanti, W1T, depicts women unlawfully imprisoned and executed in Iran. Given the small, niche area of this issue, giving these women a face and such a bold presence is a highly powerful tool in the gallery space, where their images become immersed in the artist's environment and our attention is fixed firmly on them.

Two media choices are present in the show: photographic framed prints on the walls and the sculptural 'effigies' dotted around the space, with the same women's faces printed, but this time at the height of a kneeling adult, which is symbolic and a poignant addition to the exhibition. Edel Assanti's curatorial strategy in itself enhances the work greatly, as viewers must navigate uncomfortably, which is exactly the initial point of the exhibition: the artist wants to stir you, to irk you, to open your eyes. The first piece the viewer encounters is 'Zahra', a cotton sculptural piece almost hidden in the corner; Soleimain's decision to name each piece after the female subject makes concrete the idea of encouraging not mere sympathy for, but solidarity with, the women of Iran. This is not a television campaign for a charity helping those overseas; the damage is done and the viewer has to listen. Zahra's face is smiling, and the gallery press release tells us that these low-resolution images have been sourced from either government archives or more informal locations, such as the victims' families. It is most likely that Zahra's is from the latter.

Sheida Soleimani, Sakineh, 2015. Archival pigment print, 101.6cm x 68.6cm. Edel Assanti, London.

The contrast between the facial expressions, despite the similar narratives behind each piece, is another aspect of the exhibition's potency, and has a harrowing impact. As we contemplate Zahra's smiling face and find ourselves desperate to know and understand her story, we turn to the next image, this time of 'Sakineh', and are again reminded that these are real life accounts, not something to be fetishised or made into a commodity. Where it could be argued that the art product is in fact a commodity, Soleimain's intentions are very clearly to tell the stories of the Iranian women and highlight its gravely flawed, or at least weak, legal system. Sakineh's facial expressions and gestures leave the viewer certain of the artist's desire to raise awareness of gender inequalities and atrocities in Iran.

Exploring these themes is exposed as necessary at this time of 'post-truth' and lost narratives, and the artist's brief showcase of torture and a gravely flawed legal system in Iran is shocking for the viewer. Acknowledging that the artist has taken images from the internet highlights the vast dissemination of information and data online, yet how this is often purposefully ignored due to various political agendas. Ways in which the images should be interpreted through a Western, or at least non-Iranian, gaze is an unavoidable effect of this London location, and what we choose to do with this visual piece of evidence surely reflects our own values.

Sheida Soleimani, Maryam, 2016. Archival pigment print, 101.6cm x 68.6cm. Edel Assanti, London.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

New Art Projects: Adam Hennessey 'SMILE' (until 4th March 2017)

At the start of the year, there is often a focus on emerging artists, and this solo show at New Art Projects, E8, continues this trend. Adam Hennessey has just completed a year at Turps Banana Art School, which specialises in training the painters of tomorrow, and 'SMILE' offers a glimpse into the future of the medium, which is especially interesting given its recent renaissance as a response to narratives suggesting that painting being a dead form.

Hennessey's works, over the space of three rooms, immediately baffle the viewer in that we are never sure whether the artist's intentions are serious or fun; indeed, it becomes apparent that this polarity is trivial and actually restrains our enjoyment of the work. Room 3 is confusingly the first room, and presents an interesting introduction to Hennessey's work. Paintings here highlight commonplace objects and sights; again alluding to the silly versus the politically serious, the mundane is made beautiful through paint and similarly the beautiful materiality of paint is transformed into a depiction of something that is both relatable and at times amusing. Many examples of this are found in Room 3, including 'Worm on Banana', which is only truly decipherable from its title, as the piece has the appearance of an old-school video game, or a sporadic pattern sample. With this knowledge, the disgusting reality becomes something normal, acceptable and provokes discussion on why we have this response to the work.

Adam Hennessey, Worm on Banana, 2016. Acrylic on paper, 65cm x 50cm. New Art Projects, London.

The show's eponymous painting, 'SMILE' is rightly its focal point, as it conveys a complexity which again bridges the mundane, or over-used through popular culture, and a serious message. With eight yellow, emoji-style smiley faces crammed into one canvas, their respective expressions are manipulated as a result. Smiley faces are more recognisable than ever in this cartoon form, not only as the symbol of LSD, but in the way they now blend into everyday lexicon through mobile phones and social media. 'SMILE' could also be seen to allude to mental health issues, in the way that each face is cramped and competing for space, much like the urban condition and problem of overpopulation, causing increasing tensions and frustrations. Likewise, its subtitle could be 'The Many Faces of Happiness', highlighting how mental health issues are still stigmatised to the extent that we find ourselves scrutinised, analysed and often entirely superficially performed.

Adam Hennessey, SMILE, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 155cm x 110cm. New Art Projects, London.  

Outside Room 1, there is an interesting acceleration in terms of addressing salient social issues. Where they had been largely avoided in Room 3 in favour of tranquil banality, the wonderful 'Man Perspective' leads the way in showcasing what is happening in Hennessey's world, which we all share. Three shadows of male figures face in the same direction and bear sweatbands across their brows, much like professional athletes. Without identifying the men present, the combination of the title and this heroic stature seems to be a satire on male dominance, as the men almost resemble classical Greek sculpture. Equally, it is almost as if the men are looking to an uncertain future, perhaps one where the patriarchy is challenged and torn down. Perhaps.

From this point of deliberating as to what Hennessey's intentions are, Room 2 sobers the viewer up from the cartoonish fun of other paintings on show, while maintaining the artist's inspired yet distinguishable style. 'Fatlamb', the first piece in the room, highlights in no uncertain terms the plight of beloved animals in the face of mass consumption of animal products. This is another incredibly apt point of  the timing of 'SMILE', as January often brings hope of ethical changes, such as Veganuary and, more generally, new year's resolutions. 'Fatlamb' depicts a drastically and unnaturally overweight but small lamb, a powerful image again highlighting the vulnerability of animals against the ruthlessness of the industry destroying them. Similarly, 'Sheep Murder' sees the artist using paint as a decorative tool for an intense message, which does not always require explicit imagery.

This marriage of the mundane and the politically potent ensures that the latter receives the correct reaction from the viewer. All paintings in this show, regardless of which category they fit into, are pleasurable to the eye, and feel refreshing and familiar at the same time, which makes for a highly accessible exhibition.

Adam Hennessey, Sheep Murder, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 150cm x 120cm. New Art Projects, London.