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Saturday, 1 October 2016

Limoncello Gallery: Alice Browne 'Forecast' (until 5th November 2016)

It is always a decidedly unique viewing experience when one encounters artwork of a highly personal nature, especially in solo shows. In Limoncello Gallery's new space, E1, London-based artist Alice Browne has created a body of paintings on the subject of personal development; while this is, indeed, personal and subjective, the issues at hand in Browne's work are highly relatable for the viewer. At a time when rents are rising at an unprecedented level and artist communities are being driven out of London, the impact of these socioeconomic factors on the individual are also important to consider.

'Forecast' is comprised of a series of paintings and a sculptural installation adopting familiar visual forms, that are ultimately influenced by Dante Alighieri's fourteenth century epic poem 'The Divine Comedy'; the stanza that we can see materialised successfully in the work, "When right before me I saw the human image / So twisted, that tears coming from the eyes / Rolled down into the crack of the buttocks", sets the foundations for the ways in which the artist has observed the skewed situation of human nature and behaviour in the twenty-first century. Browne juggles both the symptoms of modern life with its effects, but fittingly does not claim to provide a solution to the issues we face, in keeping with the transient state of space and time we find in cities such as London.

Installation view: Alice Browne, Forecast. Limoncello, London.
Image courtesy of Limoncello.

As far as the causes of the modern symptoms are concerned, the first painting in the show bears a prosaic and long title, which appears to be a horoscope, as it begins 'A lot of creative work may need to be finished by today, Gemini...'. Already providing the ambivalent lexicon of 'may' showcases the conflicting ideologies and forces guiding and confusing the average millennial, both on a daily basis and in formulating long-term visions and plans. 'A lot of creative work may need to be finished by today, Gemini...' includes the symbolism of crossed fingers, resembling the National Lottery logo, and a general sign of wishing oneself, or another person, good luck. However the sinister addition of these fingers being severed and isolated is very much reminiscent of the student protests of the last few years, signifying the dilemma of entering the education system at the elitist price of thousands of pounds worth of debt and minimised job prospects due to an uncertain economic climate. Interestingly the remainder of the canvas space is taken up by geometric shapes, a recurrent aesthetic in the exhibition, adopting a distinct window-like physicality, again stressing the seemingly endless possibilities for young people in the metropolis. Yet, Browne's windows do not have a view on the other side, instead merely a landscape of more disjointed, nonsensical shapes.

Away from the canvas, the show's only sculptural piece is 'The Shape of Things to Come', a series of printed vinyl, acrylic and rubber pieces situated on the floor, where the viewer must tactfully avoid them in circulating around the space. In doing so, we are reminded of the complexities faced by the millennial generation, and, rather explicitly, the lack of direction due to various elements such as precarious work, rent prices and other discriminatory forces holding back individuals and entire social groups alike.

'Forwards, Backwards' and 'Backwards, Forwards' also channel this idea coherently, in addition to the most explicit visual expression of the aforementioned passage from 'The Divine Comedy', where in each painting a human figure is shown with their torso and head in different directions, so that a forward-facing body has a head facing its background and vice versa. Browne's influences from cubism are evident in each painting in the show, yet the artist strips them from the movement's early twentieth century context, by physically separating the cube and mosaic-style shapes and giving them their own narrative within their respective canvases.

Installation view: Alice Browne, Forecast. Limoncello, London.
Image courtesy of Limoncello.

In contemporary art, there is often the feeling of a fear of classification, which certainly has its benefits; in doing so, artists are able to borrow ideas and aesthetic tendencies from other movements and media and adapt them in a way that is surely the whole point of contemporary art practice. Evolving ideas to fit with current political conditions allows a constant refreshing of ideas, in order to speak to various, but most importantly new and disengaged, audiences. The way in which this has been executed in Browne's work is surely successful, with the adaptation of potent art historical figures merged with themes and struggles which are synonymous with the tumultuous times of the twenty-first century.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Carlos/Ishikawa: Darja Bajagić 'Nobody Knows I'm Funny' (until 29th October 2016)

In the brightly lit gallery of Carlos/Ishikawa, E1, lies the work of New York-based artist Darja Bajagić, whose practice adopts a highly confrontational style which is amplified in the sterile white space at Carlos/Ishikawa. With less of a traditional narrative than some shows, the use of text and photography together showcases the potential of the viewer using their own initiative to create their own gallery experience.

As soon as the viewer enters the space, we are met with enlarged faces of three female subjects; we are informed that they are Bianca Brust, Maddy O'Reilly and Kali Michaels. With such intimidatingly large faces bordered with a custom wooden frame, it is certainly clear that the artist wishes to highlight the ways in which women are judged, criticised and generally observed as a result of their 'face value', or mere aesthetic presence. I must admit that a brief bout of research followed my visit to the show, as I was not aware of any of the three women featured in the installation, but I am certainly glad that I did endeavour to do so, as the results retroactively add a great deal to my experience. Kali Michaels and Maddy O'Reilly garnered results of porn websites and social media accounts, as might have been anticipated by the representation of Michaels, as pictured below. Using models and actresses from the adult industry highlights Bajagić's critique on female stereotypes and archaic expectations as submissive sex objects. 'Nobody Knows I'm Funny' as a title is rather powerful as a means of implying how women are expected to behave a certain way, and express themselves through shallow means such as fashion and make-up.

Installation view: Darja Bajagić, Kali Michaels, 2016. Acrylic-latex paint and UV print on canvas, hand-painted wooden frame, UV print on plexiglass, 172cm x 166cm x 4.5cm. Carlos/Ishikawa, London.

The first face of the almost-triptych here is that of Bianca Brust, which again demanded a little online research after encountering the piece. Ambiguous in its physical features, Brust's face is on the borderline of being disturbing prior to the knowledge that is provided by the artist's accompanying guidebook. However it is the internet search results which drastically enhance the understanding of her inclusion in Bajagić's work, especially alongside the faces of Michaels and O'Reilly. Brust was brutally murdered by Matthias Schoormann in 2008 after turning down his romantic advances multiple times. The case gained notoriety due to Schoormann decapitating Brust before modelling her body and posting photographic evidence in an online forum. He then travelled in his car with his victim's head in a rucksack before committing suicide by hurtling into a van at high speed. From Schoormann becoming sexually, or romantically, obsessed with Rust, the link between sexuality and violence is one that is difficult to convey appropriately in contemporary art, yet Bajagić has done a fantastic job of getting these victims names [back] into the public consciousness through these image reproductions. 

'Nobody Knows I'm Funny' is split into two segments, both physically in their curation and in their aesthetic similarities. Using an authentic, homemade artistic technique for the pieces 'Humans! Are You Afraid of Being Who You Are?' and 'Do You Like Making Life Hard for Yourself?' is confrontational from the point of departure of their titles, using provocative direct interaction with the viewer through the second person narrative, in addition to punctuation which heightens the tone.

Detail: Darja Bajagić, Humans! Are You Afraid of Being Who You Are?, 2016. Acrylic-latex paint, graphite, inkjet print on paper, hand-painted aluminium frame, 183cm x 76.5cm x 6.5cm. Carlos/Ishikawa, London.

The complex relationship between sexuality and violence is continued in the final aforementioned pieces, and the female visage becomes a symbol of intense scrutiny, alienation and marginalisation, both in society and the adult entertainment industry, the two which are certainly not mutually exclusive. Bajagić's use of an aluminium frame and bars crossing over the two collage-style works marks this again, alluding to the entrapment of women within the patriarchal ideals. Although small in quantity, the works featured at Carlos/Ishikawa are bold enough to arrest our attention; the inclusion of a guidebook enhances the viewing experience and allows the viewer to take more than a memory of the artist's analysis home. Merging disturbing imagery and histories aesthetically is a challenge to both artist and viewer, however beyond the horror there lies recurring themes prevalent in contemporary, and indeed historical, feminist discourse. Bajagić's work in 'Nobody Knows I'm Funny' serves to highlight the dynamic political stance of the feminist movement's current multifaceted state. 

Monday, 19 September 2016

Rowing Projects: When U Instagram My Dead Body, Use Walden But Tag It #NoFilter (until 5th November 2016)

For this fun and captivating exhibition, English artist Andy Holden collaborates with Steve Roggenbuck, a poet and blogger from the USA to formulate interesting ideas about the potential of the self in the selfie generation. Works in the space are presented in a loud and bold manner, filled with objects, colour and sound, the latter courtesy of Roggenbuck's monologue videos. Rowing, N16, is a fairly small space, but the concentration of art in this way is highly suitable for this particular show, as while some parts present novel and amusing effects, viewed together, the pieces emit a stronger, far more poignant meaning.

There is a strong feeling in 'When U Instagram My Dead Body...' that the artists are challenged, frustrated and indeed driven, by modern man's loss of affinity with its natural environment, and in many works this is expressed rather explicitly, such as Roggenbuck's video with a sound which dominates the space, 'I Am Not Responsible for Anything the Moon Does This Month'. The piece boasts an impressive combination of being both entertaining and deeply serious. It is clear that the values of which Roggenbuck speaks are very dear to him, but as a blogger he is determined to address the YouTube and social media crowd, whose inherent egotism plays a large part in the environmental crises we face. Equally, some of the digestible quotes from the film piece are very much in line with viral slogans that are commonplace on social media, such as "life itself is impossible" and "the mind/body problem is not a problem". Using these phrases breaks down the exhibition's ideas, and sets the film as a sure-fire primer to the rest of the show.

Andy Holden, Steve Roggenbuck and Max Rouse, At Any Moment..., 2016. Macro painting, dimensions variable. Rowing Projects, London. 

With diverse media ranging from video, prints, sculptural installation and painting, each work arrests the viewer in a different way; perhaps the most obvious is the '666' painting installation, which is just the three numbers painted directly onto the wall at the back of the gallery. While clearly contrived in its confrontational nature through its reference to 'The Number of the Beast', its ability to grab the viewer's attention and maintain it is surely powerful, which is only enhanced by its similarities to legitimate street art or illegal vandalism.

The series of collaborative macro paintings found near the back of the gallery is comparable to the contemporary oeuvre of Magda Archer, whose work uses cute imagery including fluffy cartoon animals alongside phrases such as 'I hate my life'. Paintings found in 'When U Instagram My Body...', however, seem to echo the ideas and pseudo-philosophical themes from the various videos, which certainly speak to a wide, if not young and active, audience based on their accessibility and textual elements. Each work has hints of existentialism and more general insecurities, while using a traditional, figurative painting style. 'Attention People...' is a personal favourite, wearing the slogan: "Attention people who don't think you are doing enough: you are beautiful for having that fear". The piece again provokes responses from the viewer regarding social change, particularly the social element of global warming.

Installation view: Andy Holden and Steve Roggenbuck, An Advert for the Sky, 2016. Text on telegraph poles, dimensions variable. Rowing Projects, London.

As the exhibition space is rather small and the works are forthright, confrontational and fast-paced, the viewer truly feels like they are part of something active, especially through the media of video disseminated via the internet, where media has the potential to go viral and be accessed by many globally. Ultimately the artists want us to be aware that this consciousness is not enough, especially in its inert form. Making changes to our lifestyles and choices creates the real difference. Using both their own personal strengths as artists while also investigating ways to engage with their viewers is a strong way of delivering their message and allowing for subjective interpretation. Once viewed together as a whole, the show is thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining, in addition to being motivational for collective social change.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Transition Gallery: Isolation Chamber Vacation (until 2nd October 2016)

Amidst the mixed surroundings of Regent's Canal and Regent Studios, Transition Gallery, E8, is rather tucked away from the hubbub of Hackney in East London, so locating and entering the gallery makes for even more of a treat, with the cosy and instantly personal feel of the space. Transition's exhibition programming tends to revolve around gender dynamics and aesthetic expressions of this progress. Yet, the category of 'gender dynamics' is not always explicit in the work, and often involves subjective, independent thinking from the individual, which makes the viewing experience all the more rewarding.

'Isolation Chamber Vacation' draws upon several factors within contemporary feminism which are more than mere legal and social rights for women. Several artists have come together to create an aesthetic discussion on the value of solitude, critiquing how this is expressed as a symbol of a fallen woman in literature, film and, indeed, art. The show opens with a series of watercolours by Nicola Frimpong, whose work is saturated with themes of deeply-rooted, almost historical, hatred and violence, whether this is sexual, racial or otherwise. Frimpong's work clearly comes from a personal place; the pieces in the exhibition, most notably 'Untitled 03', are reminiscent of dream recollections and even Ancient Egyptian papyrus dialectical paintings. There is a strong sense of the artist having witnessed, or experienced, homophobic hatred, as many of the figures in her work are participating in same-sex intercourse or other gestures such as kissing, enabling forced voyeurism from the viewer. The 'forced' element of this emphasises the various (yet somewhat unchanged) role of the female body in history, all the way up to modern pornography. Throughout, these female figures are either covered in blood, decapitated or, on the other side of the spectrum, entirely exposed to the viewer. In the context of the exhibition, we are shown that women's sexuality and physicality are exploited collectively; while there is painful solitude in cases of violence, rape and the like, as second-wave feminism taught us, the personal is the political, and a violation against one woman is an act against all womankind. 

Placing the work of Frimpong next to its neighbouring piece, 'Isolated Object for Sexual Use' by Katerina Jebb, is an incredibly insightful and intelligent curatorial move. Moving on from the exposed bodies in the 'Untitled' series, Jebb's large-scale photographic print captures the eye from the moment of entering the gallery space. As an enlarged pair of hyperreal buttocks with legs, we are immediately drawn to the faceless quality of the image, and its distinct lack of humanity, but under closer inspection we notice that they are in fact prosthetic body parts, in a malleable position. Despite photography's rather divisive nature in the art world, the medium choice of 'Isolated Object for Sexual Use' is certainly the most suitable for its message, as it is easy to feel that a sculptural depiction, in the form of the prosthetic parts in the gallery space, would feel novel and far less powerful.

A truly fulfilling part of the exhibition is the variety in which different artists have looked at the status of being alone. In the wonderful library area of the gallery, we encounter three video works, and I was most engaged with Hannah Ford's straightforward, almost matter-of-fact film, 'Semi-Detached', which told the increasingly familiar story of the artist's return to her family home as a result of rocketing rent prices and precarious work in the art world. Featuring authentic home photographs and Ford's own voice, again the piece feels deeply personal. Given Transition Gallery's concentrated, art-focused audience, there is a great chance that the majority of viewers will be able to relate to the film's content. 

Juno Calypso, The First Night, 2015. Archival pigment print, 102cm x 66cm. Transition Gallery, London.

Venturing back into the gallery space we encounter the distinctive work of Juno Calypso, whose practice is a fine example of solitude in itself, as Calypso is model, director, photographer, make-up artist etc. for each piece. Depicting a regularly recurring bubblegum-pink motif, using the artist's work to illustrate private female spaces and interior design ideas is perhaps a little lazy. It is the strong presence of the artist which tells the story of female spaces; knowing that the artist works alone creates a harrowing edge to the viewing experience, almost a deafening silence, which only contributes to the work as part of the 'Isolation Chamber Vacation' whole. With their filmic quality, leaving the viewer desperate to know the stories behind the female characters, works including 'The First Night' are a highlight of an already strong show.

In the shop section of the gallery, we also find another of Calypso's works, 'The Honeymoon Suite', alongside a final piece by London-based artist Kirsty Buchanan, who presents perhaps the best depiction of raw solitude in the form of 'Living to the Side', a pastel and gouache drawing on a piece of white fabric. This alternative to a canvas gives the work a highly domestic value through its materiality, and its content further intensifies the emotional impact. A basic outline of a female figure is in profile, so the viewer can see most markedly the protagonist's nose and imperfectly pointed breast. The figure stares at a blue bed, and her startled, mortified expression implies a deep, poignant horror, packing a psychoanalytical punch. What 'Isolation Chamber Vacation' delivers far exceeds themes of solitude; we find ourselves on a journey of economic, social and domestic indicators of the true state of being a woman in the twenty-first century, with intersectionality spoken for as a voice which needs to be heard. 

Juno Calypso, The Honeymoon Suite, 2015. Archival pigment print, 102cm x 66cm. Transition Gallery, London.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Sid Motion Gallery: Morgan Wills '12 Conversations' (until 17th September 2016)

Sid Motion Gallery, N1, enjoys a wonderful location in the ever-rising King's Cross, and its placement in between independent retail outlets is a hopeful symbol of progress towards greater public accessibility to contemporary art. '12 Conversations', the gallery's second show since opening earlier this year, continues this idea of accessibility and public consumption, primarily due to artist Morgan Wills' use of familiar modern art historical aesthetics, expressing clear influences from Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch, Julian Opie, the Surrealism movement and even Auguste Rodin. In doing so, Wills delivers to his audience not only a journey into current trends and issues in contemporary art, but an introduction into icons from the twentieth century.

Perhaps the first thing of note about this body of work is the highly digestible, aesthetically pleasing palettes used by the artist. Embracing block colour sees Wills' work venture towards pop art, but it would not be true to classify these paintings in such a way, as '12 Conversations', like much of contemporary art, sees influences and styles vary, showcasing a diverse practice rather than one which follows a single school of thought. As the first painting of the show, 'Putting My Foot in It' uses colloquial metaphor to entice the viewer, in addition to the somewhat banal imagery of a foot and a face. However it is the overlapping of the two features which enhances the painting as complex and truly compelling, as we can infer the artist's first nod to the oeuvre of Edvard Munch, with the sinister and ambiguous expression on the face of the figure.

Morgan Wills, Putting My Foot in It, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 40.3cm x 35.7cm. Sid Motion Gallery, London.

It is clear that Wills' outlook is merging an almost charming aesthetic with darker undertones, and often deciphering these strata can take genuine focus on the work, which at a time of instant gratification, scrolling through timelines and swiping, is refreshing and exciting for the viewer. This intelligent way of incorporating Surrealist themes and ideas is more challenging than the initial visual impact would suggest, again incorporating simple and dark, multifaceted ideas concurrently. Recognisable artistic influences continue in 'Crouching Nude with Ropes', another painting using warm and bold hues to pique the viewer's interest. The soft curves of the blank figure channel not only the print work of Matisse, but intriguingly bears similarities to Rodin's iconic sculpture, 'The Thinker'. Omitting any specific facial or bodily features informs us that the figure is that of any or all in the human race, gesturing a humble and perhaps broken spirit through body language. Using body language as a further mode of expression shows again the various ways in which the artist is able to communicate his ideas through partial abstraction.

Morgan Wills, The Ambassadors, 2015. Acrylic on canvas, 101.5cm x 126.9cm. Sid Motion Gallery, London.

As one of the larger paintings in the exhibition, 'The Ambassadors' is certainly a significant point of discussion. Evoking ideas of international relations and hierarchies, the image is one that should speak to the people more than ever. As opposed to the distinct face depicted in 'Putting My Foot in It', the symbol of the faceless figure emerges again, but to a different effect than that seen in the previous painting. The paradox of intimacy and distance is played out in this work, as the single lines of the two figures overlap and blend together; placing a third face between them, bearing a villain-like, almost malevolent smile, suggests a critique on patriarchal customs, white supremacy and corporate domination. 

It is at the point of encountering 'The Ambassadors' that it becomes evident that Wills is providing an insight and subsequent critique on the state of mankind's relationship with its own society, and the ways in which we are all bound to its ways. The glossy, jovial impact of the colour palettes are reminiscent of salient themes dealing with conflicts between face-value and deeper meaning, such as patriotism and the media, while the underlying complexity of the various paintings makes the viewer question both internal and external conflicts on these issues. 'Seated Nude with Legs' neatly divides the simplified and the real, or grotesque, features we often attempt to overlook. The title of the work highlights influences from modern art, but subverts the traditional nude so to supersede ideas of sexualisation, commodification or objectification. Expressing further influences from Matisse and, to a limited extent, Francis Bacon, grotesque social elements of the everyday, such as discrimination and global crises, are implied through the artist's use of binary, in 'Seated Nude with Legs' and throughout the exhibition. 

Morgan Wills, Seated Nude with Legs, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 39.8cm x 49.8cm. Sid Motion Gallery, London.