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“We have the weights, we have the measures”

6 Copperfield Street
June 1–July 29

View of “We have the weights, we have the measures,” 2017.

The daily maintenance of territory is symbolic, and it is perpetuated through distinct tools: from defensive structures and emblems of protection, including spiked fences and nationalistic monuments, to bureaucratic and ritualistic systems with obscure planning laws and expensive conditions of compliance. These practices surrounding domain prohibit most from staking claims to place. This exhibition shows how artists Ewa Axelrad, Daniel de Paula, Marco Godoy, Ella Littwitz, and Oscar Santillan manipulate these symbols of power to subtly weaken them.

Axelrad brings London’s defense mechanisms into view. Had It (all works cited, 2017), is a to-scale reconstruction of a lion’s head from Trafalgar Square. Unlike the original, it hangs on a wall, removed from its usual position defending Nelson’s Column. The relocation transforms this icon of strength into a melancholic and dislocated trophy. The artist makes clear the abjection beneath grand public markers.

Santillan addresses the appropriation of land in Latin America. Solaris (noon) presents a striking allegory of vision: He observes how the construction of the Extremely Large Telescope in Chile’s Atacama Desert overwrote the history of an area covered in national reserves and sacred sites. The instrument will peer into extraordinary distances and may even facilitate the appropriation of celestial terrain, though scientists working at the observatory will likely fail to see or understand the importance of what’s nearby. Santillan built a crude lens from desert sand to photograph the site. The result? A blurred image. The artist’s soft optics return us to the complexities of the local, as the “big picture” of progress often depends upon the harmony of what’s small, what’s closest.

Duncan Wooldridge

Justin Fitzpatrick

270-276 Kingsland Road, Entrance on Acton Mews
June 23–July 29

Justin Fitzpatrick, Libra Cat - Inner City, 2017, oil on canvas, 55 x 43".

Justin Fitzpatrick knows how to toy with perception—not just in the way that we see a thing, but also with how we might approach it in the first place. Flowing between three rooms, the paintings and sculptures in this exhibition turn living organisms into architectural forms and esoteric systems with a stylish, queenly panache. In The Song of Men (all works 2017), a regal-looking aluminum egg sits upon a glass sheet on a stool. Due to its size and scaly, ornamental surface, one can imagine the egg containing some fabulous reptilian creature. Coming out of its sides are cables that connect to two microphones standing on the other side of the room. Hanging above the object is a sculpture of stylized text that reads “Madrigal,” embraced by what seem to be long, thin bars that, on a closer look, are revealed as screaming, winged creatures. Perhaps they are performing a polyphonic melody—or breathing a death rattle.

The paintings depict myriad transformations. In two separate canvases, a man and a swan mutate into brightly hued ampersands (Message delivery failure and Failure to launch, respectively). In Aquarius Cat (Toilette), a skinned feline drinks water. We watch the liquid being imbibed and passing through its stomach, then being pissed out, emptying into a puddle. Another kitty looks like an urn in Libra Cat - Inner City. Within it are two men, perhaps cruising each other, in an Art Deco interior. Architects (Demi-Urges) shows a pair of muscular construction workers carrying homes on their shoulders. The work suggests a kind of eroticism through butch, sweaty labor. Overall, one gets a sense of what a world could look like should Fitzpatrick be its creator: labyrinthine, queer, and abundantly romantic.

Eliel Jones

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