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“Dreamers Awake”

White Cube | Bermondsey
144 – 152 Bermondsey Street
June 28–September 17

Grace Pailthorpe, May 16th, 1941, oil on canvas board, 15 x 19".

You happily loosen epistemological moorings in this labyrinthine show—including more than fifty artists—that focuses on women’s entanglements with Surrealism. Curator Susanna Greeves wants to find out what changed about the female body, once represented by men as fetishized or unknowable, when women became Surrealist image-makers themselves. Adapted from Freud, the title might better have suggested that those dreamed about have risen up to subvert the dream. So many of these astonishing pictures and objects issue from waywardly unconventional, and often mischievous, imaginations that could hardly be male. Greeves writes in the catalogue that we see the “object becoming subject,” but these works also show bodies re-objectified and re-sexualized along unexpected trajectories that leave the more limited economies of male desire in the dust.

The polymorphously perverse visions of several postwar English Surrealists, including Ithell Colquhoun, Grace Pailthorpe, and Edith Rimmington, feel subversive and pioneering. Pailthorpe’s May 16th, 1941 depicts a gleeful pink amoeba caressed by seaweed-like tendrils, its polychrome anus probed by the handles of two green toilet plungers. Tomoko Kashiki expands libidinal categories further: Her large and delicately worked painting Hello Goodbye, 2016, stages an intricate erotic act between two wraiths enveloped in a personal weather system of swirling vapors. In I urinate on a bench; it rinses everything clean, 2015, Gabriella Boyd illustrates errant dreams using spare forms, vigorously painted.

Heading the list of hilariously disquieting pieces are Shana Moulton’s pseudo-psychedelic dysmorphia videos Sand Saga, 2009, and Morning Ritual, 2016, as well as Carina Brandes’s photographic self-portrait Untitled, 2012, where she is doubled over—her long hair obscures her body and she wears a leopard-skin coat with one large compliant dog on her back. These subject-objects relish their metamorphosing and hybrid bodies, reborn as camouflaged beings with uncategorizable sensualities.

Mark Harris

Monira Al Qadiri

Gasworks
155 Vauxhall Street
July 13–September 10

Monira Al Qadiri, The Craft, 2017, mixed media, dimensions variable.

“The embassy was an alien spacecraft hiding the biggest conspiracy known to man.” I hear this suspicious utterance while sitting in a booth at an artificial American diner—my notebook nestled among salt and pepper shakers, a dispenser of stripy red straws, and bottles of ketchup and mustard—as I immerse myself in Monira Al Qadiri’s installation The Craft (all works 2017). In an accompanying video, the artist meshes old family photographs, shaky VHS footage, and amateur-looking cartoons of extraterrestrials to convey an enigmatic story about her childhood and a galactic conspiracy: a cross between science fiction and autobiography. We see the same diner appear on-screen, not in America, but aboard a UFO, as recounted by the artist’s sister, who allegedly followed her parents onto the ship one fateful night. For the Al Qadiri girls, their parents’ life of international diplomacy at the Kuwaiti embassy in Senegal was in fact a cover for a malevolent otherworldly takeover. Embassy buildings are secret landing pods; flashing lights in the night sky are flying saucers. And the military? “We knew those soldiers weren’t human,” the artist confirms.

In a dark room next to the diner installation, titled The End, a large polystyrene hamburger levitates over a plinth. It is situated next to a speaker from which we hear an excerpt of Saba George Shiber’s book The Kuwait Urbanization (1964), about the expansion of American culture in the country during the 1960s. Americanism is read as alien, anachronistic. For Al Qadiri, the language of exchange has been trivialized. Global negotiation rituals do not unfold in palaces of nostalgic grandeur, but around the laminated tables of the UFO/diner. Culture is replaced by commerce. Is this the new world order?

Philomena Epps

Benedict Drew

Whitechapel Gallery
77 - 82 Whitechapel High Street
June 7–September 10

Benedict Drew, The Trickle-Down Syndrome, 2017, mixed media, dimensions variable.

In his current exhibition, Benedict Drew visualizes the effects of a fallacious economic theory that favors the rich and powerful over the poor. His massive installation The Trickle-Down Syndrome, 2017, forms a network of five interconnecting spaces that pulse through the ground floor of the gallery like an uncontrollable nervous system. The activity seems to feed into the central room, which features throbbing video imagery, handcrafted objects, a distorted sound track, and large, cascading vinyl banners. The space is governed by a raised platform much like a stage, which presents a nearly symmetrical tableau.

Despite the balanced arrangement, the visual effect is anarchic: Screens that mirror each other display actress Gretchen Egolf musing over sundry environmental and sociopolitical issues. Her hushed, disjointed ruminations are virtually indecipherable amid the din. Sets of drums are painted with staring, sinister eyes—above one grouping, a large cymbal hangs. The instruments reverberate along with the accompanying audio, which buzzes with anxiety. In another room, two large fans are activated in twenty-minute intervals, sending stacks of newspapers, created by the artist, fluttering. The word “SLUSH” is printed on the front page, while inside, the artist’s digitally manipulated drawings seem to report on disorder and dismay. A wall projection displays the text “THAT SINKING FEELING,” and a video monitor nearby shows two legs feebly attempting to navigate muddy terrain. We become afflicted by the monstrous syndrome—we feel overwhelmed. Drew’s tumultuous presentation indeed provokes despondency, yet is simultaneously somehow exhilarating: a dystopian dreamscape, dripping with existential dread.

Grace Beaumont

Lara Favaretto

Nottingham Contemporary
Weekday Cross
May 20–August 28

Lara Favaretto, Thinking Head, 2017, mixed media, dimensions variable.

“Absolutely Nothing,” Lara Favaretto’s current (and largest to date) UK exhibition, brings together significant pieces from the last two decades along with new works. The title, however, is misleading, as Favaretto has turned the museum space into a thinking machine. Thinking Head, 2017, a public commission by the gallery, is a sculpture composed of a hidden device emitting water vapor that slowly rises from the roof of the building, inspired by Alighiero Boetti’s last sculpture, My Brain is Smoking, 1993. The intensity of Favaretto’s steam will differ according to the levels of contemplation happening within. The project includes a second part that is yet to be revealed.

The deliberately perplexing nature of the show exemplifies Favaretto’s relationship with fragments, obliteration, and disappearance. The sound piece Doing, 1998, in which the artist recorded amateur stonecutters chipping away at marble, plays from behind an artificial wall. Concealment is also key to 7724-7716, 2016, a triptych of found paintings completely wrapped up by a single wool thread. Its color matches the noisily pirouetting pair of car-wash brushes in TABOO, 2017. Di Blasi R7, 2012, takes its name from a moped that was driven around the exhibition as a private performance during the show’s installation. The dents, scratches, and tire marks covering the walls remain as traces of the freewheeling act. Bulk, 2002, is a collection of plaster casts of carnival masks from a procession Favaretto led. The objects are arranged elegantly, as if for a grand hall of ancient ruins. Relic, 2015—nine concrete sculptures, cast from four hundred tons of collected scrap metal that Favaretto exhibited at Documenta 13—disorients the senses, and pushes the familiar into a strange new light.

Philomena Epps