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Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg

Lisson Gallery | 27 Bell Street | London
27 Bell Street
March 31, 2017–May 6, 2017

Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, Dark Side of the Moon, 2017, digital video, color, sound, 6 minutes 40 seconds.

References to sex pervade the culture, yet the intricacies of sexuality are deeply private. With their current exhibition here, “Who Am I to Judge, or, It Must be Something Delicious,” Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg upend this space with a joyous, dreamlike anxiety that’s suffused with the scatological, sensuous, and phallic.

The exhibition’s titular sculptural installation, 2017, features cartoonish characters made of silicone and resin upon a raised platform, engaging in orgiastic debauchery. Spindly-armed acorns wrestle with a red-nosed banana; anthropomorphic turds weep aqua-blue tears; a cotton-candy-pink My Little Pony lies on its back, tossing a jubilant, big-bottomed moon into the air with its hooves. The piece has three turntables—each one plays a record with various instrumental tracks and sound effects (Djurberg is responsible for the visuals; Berg, the audio work). We are wrapped up within a rich sonic atmosphere.

Some of the show’s creatures reappear in a trio of stop-motion animations. Worship, 2016, references the gnarlier aesthetics of contemporary hip-hop—it gives us oiled-up dancers writhing upon jewel-encrusted corncobs to throbbing rhythms. Delights of an Undirected Mind, 2016, meanders through more Freudian terrain, where tigers, wolves, and a sloppy condensed-milk can—continually spilling its creamy-white contents—take part in a raucous tea party in a child’s bedroom. The subtlest of the grouping is Dark Side of the Moon, 2017, depicting a girl wandering through the forest at night, recalling fairy-tale scenarios. It is a narrative of innocence, fascination, and mischievousness, haunted by woodland noises. Djurberg and Berg connect the darkness and all of its intoxicating wonders to our most hidden desires.

Louisa Elderton

John McAllister

Carl Freedman Gallery
29 Charlotte Road
March 30, 2017–May 6, 2017

John McAllister, bestir duskbright, 2017, oil on canvas, 72 x 61".

Looking fairly flat in reproduction, John McAllister’s paintings reveal, in person, a delicate concern with spatial conventions. Recurrent motifs include linear, Matissean still lifes, landscapes, mise en abymes, and striped or hatched patterns, often merging into an implied surface as wallpaper or parquet flooring. But these are not merely reframed Matisse, or neon Nabis. Slackening the tight calibration and push-pull dynamics of The Red Studio–era Matisse, McAllister often situates the main compositional tension in the relations between the rectangular framing devices. A shallow illusionistic depth is established between two or three layers of pictured reality. Detail is then freed up, the component objects becoming less anchored within the overall play of compositional forces. Fronds, palms, and flowers cluster in loose tangles, decorative yet alive (bestir duskbright, all works 2017).

McAllister’s limited palette also acts as a unifying principle. In a number of images, a narrow range of violets, mauves, and grays on a fluorescent-pink ground describe a crepuscular nature that’s both distanced and artificial—a sort of Kenneth Anger pastoral. Within the paintings’ shallow plastic depth, minor tonal shifts take on greater significance, as do such subtle touches as the reality effect created by the softening or refraction of an object seen through water in a vase (amidst bliss be, for instance, and among spectral sounds).

In the panoramic burst into dazzling daze, the background pattern of repeated triangles is pushed out to the edge of the canvas, a floral idyll filling the viewer’s field of vision. In these larger landscapes, reticence and sophistication give way to an enveloping painterly generosity.

Patrick Price

Vincenzo Agnetti

Lévy Gorvy | London
22 Old Bond Street
March 31, 2017–May 13, 2017

Vincenzo Agnetti, La macchina drogata (The Drugged Machine), 1968, altered Olivetti calculator, dimensions variable.

London has been reevaluating what it knows about the Italian neo-avant-garde of late: Exhibitions of Claudio Parmiggiani, Irma Blank, Emilio Isgró, and Vincenzo Agnetti at this space have revealed the depth of postwar Italian art histories. Agnetti had a significant role alongside Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani in the early life of the journal and gallery Azimut/h. In his writings, Agnetti searched for new languages of expression, favoring work in novel materials and with a relationship to language, philosophy, and information.

Agnetti demonstrates how his own work echoed this experimentation. Focusing on language and its productive arbitrariness and doubt, a highlight is La macchina drogata (The Drugged Machine), 1968, a reconfigured Olivetti calculator that replaces the machine’s inked numbers with letters from a typewriter. Pressing the numbered keys results in fragmented nonsense that undoes the fixity of writing, making poetry on a scroll intended for accounting. Produced at the time of student occupations, the work’s provocation to the language of bureaucracy is incisive, disarming.

The series “Feltri” (Felts), 1970–81, presents further explorations of memory and forgetting in short, aphoristic forms. One example, Paesaggio (Landscape), 1971, is engraved with a single painted word, “TERRITORY,” linking title to text in a gesture that unsettles the relationship between national identity and possession. “Assiomi” (Axioms), 1968–77, by contrast, combines statements with charts and diagrammatic drawings. Here, a work titled Assioma - Il valore culturale di un'opera è direttamente proporzionale alla necessità che suscita in noi (Axiom - The cultural value of an artwork is directly proportional to the need it arouses in us), 1971, draws connections to intangible value while perversely showing an attempt to measure it. This is part of Agnetti’s mission: to exploit the black holes between signifier and signified, using language to open to thoughts, questioning value and knowledge.

Duncan Wooldridge

“The problem with having a body / is that it always needs to be somewhere”

The Approach
1st Floor, 47 Approach Road
April 6, 2017–May 14, 2017

View of “The problem with having a body / is that it always needs to be somewhere,” 2017.

This exhibition, curated by Nora Heidorn, brings together eight artists, seven of whom are women. Proposing convergences and common lines across generations and practices, the works shown here attempt to capture and sometimes contain the female body. The show provokes questions about materiality but more crucially highlights ideas surrounding embodiment and the politics of belonging to or being excluded from a place and time.

Alexandra Bircken’s Doris, 2013, a headless, halved female torso made out of a wax cast filled with crumpled, grungy clothing, and Zilia Sánchez’s Luna VI, 1986, an oval canvas with a skin-like surface and two small, round objects attempting to push through it (think of the sentient television set in the 1983 film Videodrome) are fetishistic, corporeal entities that titillate desire. Juliana Cerqueira Leite’s Transitional, 2016, and Heidi Bucher’s Der Schlüpfakt der Parkettlibelle (The Hatching of the Parquet Dragonfly), 1983, are repositories for memory: Although both utilize methods of applying material directly onto the body, Leite retains a vivid liveliness by capturing it in motion, as Bucher’s latex- and mother-of-pearl-pigmented overalls—an ancient-looking thing—drags the past into the present. In a separate room, Paul Maheke’s Mutual Survival, Lorde’s Manifesto, 2015, a two-channel video installation, presents young performers from the Tropical Isles Carnival Dance Group practicing a number on one screen, while a single black female dancer seemingly lets herself go on another. Repurposing texts by feminist writer and activist Audre Lorde to produce a fictional manifesto, Maheke translates movement with resistance, poignantly reminding us that the problem with having a body is not only that it always needs to be somewhere, but that it always needs to be doing something.

Eliel Jones

Jo Brocklehurst

House of Illustration
2 Granary Square, King's Cross
March 1, 2017–May 14, 2017

Jo Brocklehurst, Ruber [sic] Angel, 1994, ink, fluorescent acrylic paint, collage, metallic pen, paper, 39 x 28".

Throw a visionary, abundantly talented, half–Sri Lankan fashion illustrator into London’s 1980s anarcho-punk and fetish milieus, and you get these brazen oversize drawings that Jo Brocklehurst effortlessly generated during a high-octane career—almost as marginal as the lives of her demimonde subjects. The prejudice her mixed origins had attracted, typical of the insular 1940s and 1950s England of her childhood, must have warmed her to these countercultures, including those of New York’s gay and s-m clubs where she drew in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as the theater and dance scenes she collaborated with in Amsterdam, Berlin, and Salzburg later on.

Few contemporaneous artists drew their subjects as exuberantly as Brocklehurst. She developed an alt portraiture that hybridized body and costume into quasimythological creatures. Brocklehurst turned these punks and fetish-club denizens into heroes of modern life, a century after Charles Baudelaire devised the concept to describe the contemporaneity of anarchistic, downtrodden Parisians. In Untitled (Portrait of Angie), 1984, a single pink breast protrudes from a black-clad, spiky-haired figure that sinuously curls upward across the page. With Change, 1995, the space is flattened into a classical frieze to show the lissome bodies of a long-haired topless man in leather pants seated in front of a woman, presumably in head-to-toe rubber—with daggerlike points for nipples—all set against a flat, fluorescent-red background.

It’s entirely fitting that the last drawings of Brocklehurst’s shown here are characters from Through the Looking Glass (1871), reimagined as an eroticized menagerie wearing vibrantly colored lingerie and bondage gear on flat black or lemon-yellow grounds. The virtually naked and defiant-looking heroine of the drawing Alice, ca. 2000, with playing cards tumbling around her, must be how Brocklehurst imagined herself, a proud outsider completely at home among exotic clans.

Mark Harris

Christopher Williams

David Zwirner | London
24 Grafton Street
March 17, 2017–May 20, 2017

Christopher Williams, Model-Nr.: 1421, Model-Nr.: 2401, Model-Nr. 92173, Model-Nr. 92182 (Young workers in discussion) Studio Rhein Verlag, Düsseldorf, January 21, 2017, 2017, archival pigment print on cotton rag paper, 21 x 26".

Christopher Williams’s recent exhibitions have been prefaced by open letters. Sometimes addressed to the models participating in his images, the letters act as a strategy that cuts across intimate dialogues and public debate, unveiling constructions of the self and the institutions of everyday life. He opens up the deep complexity of institutional structures while putting human detail into the frame.

Williams’s newest images reveal objects of domestic consumer desire: designer cooking pots here, stalks of wholesome wheat there, or the back window of a car with happy children performing for the camera. The labor on which this image of perfection depends is revealed textually, as the letter alludes to instructions and dialogues from within the photo studio, drawing attention to the control of gesture in the production of normality.

Williams retains an interest in the exhibition at the same time. Present are the temporary walls that form a key part of Williams’s vocabulary. A specimen from the artist’s collection has been refabricated six times—notes, holes, and all—positioned to narrow and unsettle the regularity of the gallery space. The theme of repetition traverses walls, imagery, and technologies, but takes aim specifically at the reproduction of conditions within everyday life, especially toward institutions that have hidden their institutionalizing tendencies. Williams makes another distinctive gesture at the show’s beginning: He turns the gallery’s front desk and entryway, understood as a kind of nonspace, into a site. Using the reception area to display his letters, he extends the parentheses of the gallery frame—now the desk staff comes out of the shadows and into our view.

Duncan Wooldridge

Harumi Yamaguchi

Project Native Informant
26 Holborn Viaduct, Morley House, 3rd Floor
April 20, 2017–May 20, 2017

Harumi Yamaguchi, Roller Skate, 1977, acrylic on board, 20 x 28 1/2".

In the 1970s, fashion illustrator Harumi Yamaguchi attained cult status with her “Harumi Gals,” a series of popular print and television advertisements that helped usher in an era of loosening gender roles in Japan, while simultaneously reinventing Parco, the trendsetting Shibuya department-store chain later revered for its progressive ad campaigns. (This same company would bring us the visual sublimity of Faye Dunaway delicately nibbling at a hard-boiled egg for a 1979 TV spot.)

Harumi Gals offered the epitome of late-1970s eye-shadow chic and nascent 1980s glamour, with full pouty lips corralled by chiseled cheekbones, and long, slender limbs rendered with the same poured-silk sheen as the fabrics ever-so-casually slipping off of them. Mediating between cheesecake pin-ups and Barbie in her best pink power suit, Yamaguchi’s aggressive embrace of female sexuality glides along the Beyoncéan divide between empowerment and exploitation—that winking, complicit kind of exploitation—the one that tells you it’s your body, and you can train it to ruthless Robert Palmer–ready perfection if you want to. In a Virginia Slims twist, this lipstick cosmopolitanism came to be shorthand for Japan’s rising class of modern-minded working girls, despite (or perhaps because of) the Gals’ expressly Westernized faces.

But Yamaguchi never took herself, nor her Gals, too seriously, liberally applying a camp sensibility with her airbrush. For every pair of suggestive scarlet lips suckling a Coca-Cola bottle, there’s a model crudely gnawing at an oversize celery stalk or wrestling with a water hose. In the exquisite oddity of Marbles Woman, 1982, a disembodied head protrudes from a pile of shiny baubles, like a glammed-up gumball, while Roller Skate, 1977, depicts a semisapphic tangle of limbs in a cashmere-sweatered collision. Klutzy though they may be, Yamaguchi’s cover girls manage to never muss their makeup. After all, they woke up like that.

Kate Sutton

Mat Collishaw

Blain|Southern | London
4 Hanover Square
April 7, 2017–May 27, 2017

Mat Collishaw, GASCONADES (KillingIt), 2017, oil on canvas, concrete, jesmonite, 14 x 12 x 2". From the series “GASCONADES,” 2017.

It is an uncanny ability of British men to wax cerebral about matters of sex. In his early seventies, the writer Kingsley Amis expressed gratitude for losing his libido because it had felt like being shackled to a moron for half a century. And David Attenborough’s popularity seems to lie in his clipped, dry descriptions of the mating rituals and sexual habits of birds. In his latest exhibition here, Mat Collishaw considers how sexual desire is rooted largely in subterfuge. Drawing on the evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller’s theory that consumerism is an extension of the need to attract sexual partners, Collishaw takes a macabre approach to the illusionistic activities of the natural world.

The Centrifugal Soul, 2016, is an animation device that uses strobe lights and rapid motion to create moving images—a contemporary version of the Victorian zoetrope. Bowerbirds and birds-of-paradise open and shut their plumage; hummingbirds suck intently from blooming flowers in a frenzy of activity. In Albion, 2017, Collishaw projects an image of the Major Oak, a thousand-year-old tree supported by an elaborate scaffolding system in Nottinghamshire’s Sherwood Forest. Created from laser scans, the image rotates almost imperceptibly in front of the viewer, an eerie, spectral presence in the gallery space. Rounding out the exhibition is a series of paintings titled “GASCONADES,” 2017, which draw from Carel Fabritius’s 1654 painting The Goldfinch. In them, blue tits, robins, goldcrests, and assorted finches are chained to perches that sit against peeling plaster and stucco marred by graffiti; their bright feathers blend in with the lurid colors of their urban environments. Here, as in the other works, vibrancy is tinged with death—call it British wit.

Tausif Noor

Maeve Brennan

Chisenhale Gallery
64 Chisenhale Road
March 31, 2017–June 4, 2017

Maeve Brennan, The Drift, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 50 minutes 29 seconds.

The Drift, 2017, is Maeve Brennan’s major film commission and first institutional solo exhibition. Brennan’s practice—exemplified by previous work such as Jerusalem Pink, 2015, which considered the relationship between the role of stone in Palestine and her great-grandfather’s occupation there as an architect during the British Mandate—merges serious investigative documentary practices with a sensitive and poetic relationship to using moving image as a means to create subjective and/or staged moments: footage meets fiction.

Brennan has been based between Beirut and London since 2013. The Drift explores the shifting economies of objects and materials in tandem with the sociopolitical developments of contemporary Lebanon. Multiple characters appear throughout the film: a self-taught archaeologist; the gatekeepers of the Roman temples in Niha; and a joyriding mechanic from Britel—a town in the Beqaa Valley close to the Syrian border, known for trade in used cars and historical artifacts. These objects sit at the center of the film, and the narrative arc provided by the people is important. The power of restoration is a resonant theme within The Drift, which moves effortlessly between gentle long takes of clay artifacts being slowly glued back together and frenetic moments of cars being swallowed up by clouds of dust while “drifting,” as the film’s title references—a kind of balletic, controlled speeding technique. This oscillation between intimacy and urgency is key to the beauty of Brennan’s film. It is quietly political, carefully sidestepping the singularity of mainstream media representation and creating an alternative set of images.

Philomena Epps

Evelyn Taocheng Wang

CARLOS/ISHIKAWA
88 Mile End Road, Unit 4
May 5, 2017–June 17, 2017

View of “Evelyn Taocheng Wang,” 2017.

Having trained in China, the Netherlands, and Germany, Evelyn Taocheng Wang’s first solo exhibition in London vacillates between the East and the West. Drawings and videos are placed on walls and display units painted a soothing shade of pastel green. The addition of a gray rug, along with various floor and table lamps, makes the room feel oddly domestic. Yet ideas surrounding sex and death run through this comfortably appointed show.

On the walls hang a number of new mixed-media drawings on rice paper that depict scenes from chapters of Cao Xueqin’s Dream of the Red Chamber (1792), one of China’s great novels of the early modern period. Each drawing is accompanied by a casually written version of the story, framed like an archival document. In Who is going to burn my love-affair Mirror?! (all works cited, 2017), you can read about a man who fucks himself to death—he appears face up with an erect dick, cum dripping from his belly. The work Someone Mysteriously Hung Herself Up Among the Towers features a woman in a blood-red dress suspended between two columns. The accompanying story tells us about a man who experiences his first orgasm while dreaming of sex with a female spirit guide.

In her video The Interview, Taocheng Wang compares traditional Chinese and European modes of painting. While flicking through and discussing Dutch masterworks from a museum’s storage unit, a sculpted and tan male model in a black thong walks in and out of view, standing there like a Greek god from one of the more homosexy pages of art history. In Dusk, the model appears again, this time with a female counterpart. Like Adam and Eve in their near nakedness, they sit on a boat in a Dutch river. The artist is in the middle of them: fully dressed, expressionless, and looking quite strange. Maybe it’s a European fantasy, failing to arouse much of anything.

Eliel Jones

Ann Craven

Southard Reid
7 Royalty Mews
April 26, 2017–June 24, 2017

Ann Craven, Kitty, I Love You Do You Love Me, Yes, No?, 2002, 2002, oil on linen, 12 x 10".

Beware, if you’re not a big fan of cute animals: Ann Craven’s current exhibition is chock-full of them, nearly twenty years’ worth. Pandas, birds, cats, and deer, among other critters, are rendered with soft, clean, and precise strokes. The creatures appear regal, as if properly sitting for their portraits, calm and even aware of the viewer’s presence—to a rather unsettling degree. Craven’s gaze is like that of a proud owner or perhaps mother. The canvases, rich with buoyant pinks, greens, and blues, exude a kind of loving care. Their tenderly delineated backgrounds are full of trees, grass, and flowers.

Craven paints from an extensive photographic archive (she is an avid collector of animal pictures in all states of pretty), though the canvases only quietly allude to this. Paintings such as Deer in Emerald Field #4, 2008, 2008, and Rainy Day, 1999, 1999, retain some of the frigidness of an art-directed photo. But Craven disables all that—her subtle, painterly gestures supply movement and life to otherwise static subjects. One of the odder works in this show is a small painting from 2002 of a white, furry kitten with turquoise eyes and a pointy tail, framed with flowers and a text that reads, “I love you. Do you love me?” Craven created, well ahead of her time, what today could be understood as a meme. Without the need to go viral, the artist’s paintings of animals are, past and present, infused with the internet. And we all know how much the World Wide Web loves a kitty cat.

Eliel Jones

Sigrid Holmwood

Annely Juda Fine Art
23 Dering Street, 4th Floor
May 24, 2017–July 8, 2017

Sigrid Holmwood, Rasphuis, 2017, Maya blue, ochre, aliaga, ink, and gesso on mordant-printed calico, dyed with madder, logwood, and cochineal on board, 48 x 61".

Sigrid Holmwood’s three rules for reinventing painting come from the Dark Ages: produce your own pigments, paint peasants, and paint like a peasant. She is the insurgent serf, even performing dressed like the characters in her paintings. As in works such as Peasants fighting with scythes (all works cited, 2017), these precapitalist scenes of bulbous-nosed, combative women resemble the roughly crafted depictions on medieval tiles and manuscripts. Initially, they do indeed look a bit revolting. Thick, brushy outlines sketch in the chunky figures and isometric forms that dispense with perspective, while patterned backgrounds of silk-screened cross-hatching emphasize the already flattened space of the paintings.

Her back-to-feudal-basics constitutes a kind of sustainable painting practice, with Holmwood’s weird colors deriving from pigments she cultivates and harvests herself. In Rasphuis, the forgotten color Maya blue, made from the artist’s homegrown woad, is used for the washed-out teal dresses of the imprisoned peasant women, feet chained together, working a two-handed saw through a wooden log. The chalky orange background is mordant-printed with plant-based madder and cochineal made from insects raised on her prickly pear cacti. Holmwood’s research into pigment histories suggests a postcolonial perspective—the Rasphuis was a seventeenth-century Dutch prison in which vagrants were forced to cut wood imported from Central America for the dye industry, which shipped in cochineal from the same region.

On all levels, Holmwood’s tableaux oppose the increasing sophistication of contemporary painting’s technologies, its photogenic marketability, and its embrace of neoliberal entrepreneurship. In combining a barmy pictorial inventiveness with the rejection of a mere thousand years of painting progress, her arcadian ideology has produced a crop of memorably unusual works.

Mark Harris

Ron Nagle

Modern Art
4-8 Helmet Row
June 2, 2017–July 8, 2017

Ron Nagle, Two sets of books, 2016, ceramic, catalyzed polyurethane, epoxy resin, 4 x 3 x 3".

The first artwork in outer space, the so-called Moon Museum, is a stamp-size ceramic panel on which four Minimalist designs have been etched alongside a Mickey Mouse head by Claes Oldenburg and rude graffiti by Andy Warhol. As a gesture of goodwill toward alien passersby, NASA should consider Ron Nagle’s trippy ceramics for future moon-monuments. They’re easily transportable, and there’s a chance a hitchhiking non-Tellurian might recognize, among the slabs, blobs, and prongs, some cheering reminder of home.

A rock musician as well as an artist, Nagle has been exhibiting since the mid 1960s. His work, like that of the late Ken Price, started from an engagement with near-functional vessels (cups, jugs) and gradually evolved into a psychedelic and occasionally scatological take on post-Brancusi object-making. This show features fourteen new works. Four pieces in the first room have been placed in vitrines set into walls, emphasizing the influence of painters, particularly Morandi, on the artist. A second room of objects features eleven vitrine-bound works on pedestals, viewable in the round. Works on paper occupy a room behind the desk.

Each sculpture contains several molded and glazed sections. Smooth, blob-like forms are set into larger, darkly iridescent blocks with rough textures. The glossy red tongue in Two sets of books, 2016, suggests a human presence in the way it slumps into its support. Squint, and you might also see a Martian conversation pit, a blasted tree stump, Dracula’s grave, or dueling narwhals. But nothing recognizable seems intended. Instead, it’s his consistent denial of any obvious formal affinity that makes Nagle’s protean oeuvre so compelling.

Patrick Price

Justin Fitzpatrick

Seventeen
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

“We have the weights, we have the measures”

COPPERFIELD
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

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

Zhang Enli

firstsite
Lewis Gardens, High Street
April 1, 2017–June 4, 2017

Zhang Enli, Black and Red Lines, 2016, oil on canvas, 98 x 79".

Zhang Enli’s art stands in opposition to the cynical realism and political Pop of his contemporaries and predecessors. His works are more of a celebration than a critique of daily life. For some time, the Shanghai-based artist has been emptying out the more recognizable content of his canvases. In the beginning, depictions of people gave way to large still lifes; now, representational bits of the world get transformed into vast painterly abstractions.

For instance, at the center of Tension 1, 2013—the earliest of the ten paintings currently on view—a tangle of emerald ropes wraps around what appears to be a pair of dark, thick wires. The rendering of these humble materials within a large space—the piece is more than seven feet wide—allows the artist to paint with a great physicality in long, loopy gestures. More lyrical and syrupy brushwork appears in Black and Red Lines, 2016, a lush abstraction rife with murky, watery forms. A grid underpins the imagery of each painting, underlining the work’s formal architecture while subtly transforming the paintings’ surfaces into fragile, translucent veneers.

Trees are also a popular subject with Zhang. Over a ten-day period in the exhibition space, he created a mural dense with them (Space Painting, 2017) that stretches along a curving, tilted wall within the gallery, producing a kind of forest backdrop for the rest of his works. Zhang cleverly nods to English academic pastoral painting with this effort, of course—but what comes through is not a fidelity to detail or verisimilitude but rather the sumptuousness of Zhang’s painting itself.

Sherman Sam

“The Sky Is Falling”

Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA)
350 Sauchiehall Street
April 1, 2017–May 14, 2017

Dora Mejía, The Garden of Eden, 2014, mixed media, dimensions variable.

The city––its development, the facts of its habitation, its destruction, and its potential to be reimagined––encapsulates many of the themes of the Anthropocene. The works in this exhibition touch on issues of industry, capital, ecology, the displacement of people, war, and racism in a metropolitan context. The sense of entropy or collapse implied by the exhibition’s apocalyptic title is an important link between the individual pieces here.

Clara Ianni’s video Free Form, 2013, centers on two separate interviews from the late 1950s with Brasília’s planners, Oscar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa, in which they deny knowledge of protests by employees who worked on their urban utopia during that decade. Ianni’s architectural focus leads well into both the satellite images in Dora Mejia’s installation The Garden of Eden, 2014, and Carol Rhodes’s paintings and drawings of aerial views. Baghdad, obscured by black smoke, poignantly stands out among the cities printed on the satin cushions of The Garden of Eden. Rhodes’s intricate works trace and develop imaginary edgelands, highlighting the often invisible complexes that supplement the activities of a contemporary city. Both Black Audio Film Collective and Laura Oldfield Ford populate their works with narratives linked to social and political histories. Ford’s psychogeographic monologue takes as its subject demolitions, redevelopments, and changing lifestyles in Glasgow. Likewise, the postwar narrative of BAFC’s film Twilight City, 1989, focuses on the financialization of London and the plight of communities displaced by this process. Together, these distinct works build an expansive and lateral view of the city, centered on questions of progress, sacrifice, idealism, and reality in our collective activities.

Calum Sutherland

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