Nine Exhibitions: Gallery Visits Day, 2017
Camden Arts Centre’s volunteer team are a diverse group of individuals who share a passion for contemporary art. In late February 2017 Sophie Williamson, one of the Centre’s Programme Curators: Exhibitions, organised and led a day of gallery visits for the group to collectively experience and discuss art on show in London. Front of House Volunteer Victoria Rodrigues O’Donnell gives an account of the exhibitions they visited.
Our day began bright and early at the Tate Modern with a visit to Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 (15 February — 11 June 2017), the artist’s first show at the gallery. Although the exhibition examines the socio-political issues which have dominated Tillmans’ output for the last 25 years, we were not to expect a retrospective. The exhibition is very much focused on the present and displays the artist’s response to global events which have taken place following the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Each room of the exhibition addresses a certain theme and seeks to engage the visitor in questioning how technologies have altered our understanding of the world. The exhibition offers a wealth of material to explore, and although Tillmans is best known for his photography, 2017 shows how his practice has expanded into video, publishing, performance, curating, sculpture and sound.
Sound and performance were also present in British artist Sonia Boyce’s new work on show at the ICA. We move in her way (1 Feb 2017–16 Apr 2017) was especially commissioned by the gallery and presented within a multimedia installation based on recordings of a live performance. In the performance, a group of dancers improvised with a live audience who wore masks created by Boyce and from this, Boyce was able to generate different elements which combined to make her final piece. In addition to the playfulness and liberty shown by the dancers’ movements, the exhibition space was wallpapered in a pattern designed by Boyce using stills of the performance. Katherine Stout, the ICA’s former Head of Programme and newly appointed Deputy Director, spoke to us about how they had organised this ‘performative laboratory’ and the unforeseen involvement of the masked audience.
On a small pedestrianised passage near Covent Garden you’ll find Tenderpixel. Surrounded by antiquarian booksellers and ephemera dealers, this contemporary gallery is certainly a hidden gem. Director and curator Borbála Soós and curator Stella Sideli introduced us to the gallery and spoke about the projects which Tenderpixel are involved in; they frequently collaborate with their partner Tenderbooks — situated just next door — to produce unique artist publications and limited editions. We were invited to visit their group show, which the two had co-curated, entitled Tropical Hangover (8 February — 4 March 2017). The floor had been especially painted a vivid ‘chroma-key blue’ and worked as a special effects screen in Rowena Harris’ video work. Zuzanna Czebatul’s giant glass leaves felt both fragile and dominating, while Laure Prouvost’s film immersed the space with sounds of slurping and heavy breathing. Downstairs, the floors were dotted with ceramics and video pieces by Salvatore Arancio, a former Camden Arts Centre Ceramics Fellow in 2014–15. These trippy, organic objects and images were complemented by Suzanne Treister’s tongue-in-cheek botanical prints.
Following the dizzying tropics at Tenderpixel, our visit to Richard Saltoun was a welcome repose. Angel Chun, Exhibition Coordinator at the gallery, gave a captivating introductory talk about their exhibition, Integration Alone Is Not Enough: Selected Works Of British Concrete Poetry 1960–1980 (3 February — 24 March 2017) and how the gallery came to show works from the concrete poetry movement. Featuring rarely seen works by the likes of Bob Cobbing, Peter Mayer and Kenelm Cox, the exhibition was a reassessment of the movement and its legacy. Characterised by fusions of painting, literature, typography and graphic design, it is unsurprising that a number of concrete poets combined these methods with the counter-cultural language and sentiments of the 1960s. Yet, there remains an urgency and innovative quality to these works that felt very current. The second part of this two-part series curated by Andrew Hunt will look specifically at the work of controversial concrete poet and Benedictine monk Dom Sylvester Houédard.
We next visited narrative projects, a contemporary art gallery which presents international artists who work across a variety of disciplines. The gallery spaces were transformed into a private cinema as part of Mahmoud Bakhshi’s exhibition The Unity of Time and Place (27 January — 11 March 2017). The Iranian artist’s second show at the gallery concentrated on the well-known Cinema Rex fire in Abadan, in southwestern Iran, on 19 August 1978. The fire killed over four-hundred people and is believed to have provoked the Iranian revolution of 1979. Archival footage, alongside clips from The Deers (1974) — the film which was being screened on the night of the fire — is interspersed to reflect on the significance of this event and emphasise details which have previously been overlooked. Just as Bakhshi interrogates the role and influence of an artist today, so too does he examine the past and how art can instigate change within society. A landmark of Iranian cinema, The Deers ‘highlighted a deep social divide in the Shah’s Iran and called for the direct violent action against the authorities.’ An interview Bakhshi conducted with the film’s director Masoud Kimiai was also on show in the gallery, together with related material and information about the coup d’état — which took on the same day as the fire 25 years earlier.
Past Camden Arts Centre artist-in-residence Yuko Mohri had her first UK solo show at White Rainbow. Entitled Moré Moré [Leaky] (9 February — 11 March 2017), the installation was inspired by the temporary repair works she noticed in the Tokyo metro. Photographs of these makeshift solutions to water leakages were taken by Mohri and displayed directly opposite her own interpretations. Using everyday objects collected from around the world, Mohri creates complex ‘ecosystems’ which channel different forces like gravity, magnetism, light and temperature. Attached to three large, wooden frames, these objects worked together in separate circuits to create a continuous flow of water within each system. The gallery was dominated by this structure in a way that highlights the inventiveness of the artist, as well as the Tokyo metro workers who inspired her. Indeed, this is not the first time Mohri has created work responding to unexpected elements and attempting to manipulate them: in 2015, she won the Nissan Art Award for the first part of this ongoing project.
Before making our way to the next gallery, a quick detour to Pi Artworks involved visiting their exhibition Strike Site (13 January — 31 March 2017), a group show curated by Sacha Craddock made up of newly commissioned works by Ana Čvorović, Anna Fasshauer, Alice Hartley, and Jack Killick as well as existing pieces by Brian Griffiths and Siobhán Hapaska, all responding to the temporary nature of exhibitions. The works seemed to be at odds with each other, as if they were fighting for space and attention. The vastness of the works by Griffiths and Killick overwhelmed the space, while Hartley’s screen-print violently bellowed PLEASE LEAVE in large red letters.
A similarly compelling group show could be found next door at Carroll / Fletcher. In the lead up to their fifth anniversary, founding director Jonathon Carroll has curated an exhibition in four installments. Looking at one thing and thinking of something else: An Exhibition in Four Parts began last November and has gathered works by each artist represented by the gallery. The exhibition considers the way in which art is produced, consumed and distributed digitally, as well as the relationship between globalisation and the art world. Each chapter of the exhibition focuses on a certain theme and our visit coincided with Part Three: United We Stand (11 November 2016–29 April 2017). In a similar vein to Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017, this part of the exhibition was explicitly concerned with the political — something that seemed inevitable in the wake of Brexit, the election of Donald J. Trump’s as President of the United States, and the ongoing refugee crisis. The fact that many of the works on display had been produced over 10 or more years ago increased this sense of foreboding.
The final leg of our journey across London’s galleries led us to a private view two doors down from Carroll / Fletcher. Weddings and Babies (25 February — 29 March 2017) was Alice Theobald’s second solo show at Pilar Corrias and featured her recent 3D film work, The Next Step, alongside sculptures and installations. According to the gallery, Theobald was particularly concerned with exploring ‘the anxieties of ‘Thatcher’s Children’, the reconciliation of neoliberal and societal aspiration with the realities of parenthood and ageing, and the subsequent effect on relationships and language.’ Entering the AstroTurf-covered gallery and walking past piled sandbags and pillowcases immediately brought to mind this sense of apprehension around the domestic. This is further explored in her stairlift sound installation, taking you downstairs to a disorientating screening of her film in which a dog is being walked beside a baby in a pushchair, but you are never quite sure if the dialogue is between them or the adults whose heads are outside of shot. Perhaps the free beer didn’t help with distinguishing this, but it was certainly a satisfying toast to a busy day.
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