Critics’ Picks

Mandy El-Sayegh, Figured Ground (detail), 2019, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Mandy El-Sayegh, Figured Ground (detail), 2019, mixed media, dimensions variable.


Mandy El-Sayegh

Chisenhale Gallery
64 Chisenhale Road
April 12–June 9, 2019

The isle is full of noises. The room is filled with language, and language is complicated. Wordplay in some places—to crease, to cut, to fold, to spread, to state, two state, how 2 relate—quotes Richard Serra’s Verblist, 1967–68; only here, these statements suffuse the chest cavity of an anatomically drawn torso, Mutations in blue, white and red (actions to relate to oneself), 2019. Elsewhere, silk-screened across pages of the Financial Times that partially grid the walls and floor of the gallery, language commands or confronts: IS THE ISSUE WITH ME BEING I? Shhhhh. The Collection Is Hiding. WE KNOW WHO THE OK ARE. Arabic calligraphy curls in the margins. On that signature salmon-pink paper, we read of zigzagging global markets, of Chanel and Chopard, of the bright future of automated vehicles, and how to enhance corporate integrity. How do these things come together? Or rather, how do these things fall apart?

“Cite Your Sources,” directs Mandy El-Sayegh’s first institutional solo show in London. Okay. Eva Hesse, Robert Rauschenberg, Alberto Burri, the canonical history might ring, as you take in the artist’s “Net-Grid,” 2018–19, paintings, with their rough and layered surfaces. Joseph Beuys or Philip Guston turned 3-D, you might think, peering into a series of vitrines with enigmatic, bodily assemblages of objects found and made. But these are my sources, not yours, and any permutation of histories is possible. In this exhibition, anarchic accretion is the order of the day. There may be a body—of work, of flesh and bone, of oil and resin—but there is no fixed sum of its parts.

“I think a problem is a practice, and how you apprehend that problem is the work,” says the artist in an eloquent interview, printed in a pamphlet that accompanies the exhibition. She further likens her practice to psychoanalysis: the working out of a problem by repeating it against a blank formal space to see what stutters and slips beneath the surface. Ultimate things are pleasure, said Freud, in 1914, and twenty-three years later, Ultimate things are death. El-Sayegh’s work deftly manifests the chaotic, fecund space between the two.