| 17 May to 7 June 2015 | Oxford House, Bethnal Green |
Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life
2011 by Yayoi Kusama
Kusama is an artist who has continued to fascinate her following ever since she emerged into the New York art scene in the 1960s. Born in Japan in 1929, Kusama has seen much of the last hundred year’s tumultuous history – a fact that has affected both her art and life. In 1977 Kusama returned to Japan to voluntarily live in a psychiatric institution, continuing to make art and inviting us into her mind in doing so. No one can enter into another’s frame of mind but if art mirrors life, art is perhaps the best chance we have of trying. Instead of quashing her hallucinations and banishing so-called mad perceptions, Kusama famously visualises them, showing us her way of seeing. In an act that is both brave and intimate, Kusama transforms her illusions into a celebration; here using them to fill a room with the brilliance of life. Stepping into Kusama’s infinitely mirrored room, one is confronted with what appears as millions of coloured stars, dazzling LED lights that are suspended and repeated in the reflection of an ever-lasting night sky. With walls covered in mirrors, the floor flooded into a pool of shimmering and magical water, one walks through Kusama’s room treading an invisibly dark path, as if trespassing into another world. The bright lights of imagination, ignited in a dazzling array of colours, grow bright and disappear with each flashing bulb; ideas in a sea of nothingness. Enveloped and immersed, we are powerless in the lights of Kusama’s room, so entirely do they hold our attention. The outside world – and each of our own ways of seeing – is usurped by a vision so fantastical it appears magically unreal. We are left feeling charmed, bewitched by a room that recalls the majesty of nature as well the wonder of imagination – a work of art that truly captures the brilliance of life.
Half the air in a given space
1998 by Martin Creed
Installation at Galerie Analix B & L Polla, Geneva, Switzerland
The numbers Creed gives to all his artworks seem to sum up the ingenious simplicity each possess. Every one is announced with ‘Work No…’ and then the title, often giving little hint of what wit is in store; indeed, many of his paintings are only titled by their number. These numbers sum up the multiplicity of Creed’s work – there is no special medium or type, his art comes in all shapes and sizes; the work reels off in a wonderful list and one we hope is never ending. Half the air in a given space sounds suffocating, though those who have been into Creed’s room of balloons know that in actual fact it’s a lot more fun. Up to your face in balloons – soft, white, floating, reacting to your every movement – rising in that foolishly languid way that only a balloon can – it’s hard not to enter grinning. Balloons are the stuff of childhood and parties; they defy gravity, leaving us behind, and pop with an incredible bang. Surrounded by these beings, who don’t just take up but ingest the atmosphere around us, we transcend to another world, one where our line of site is completely engulfed in a shifting and frolicking white. One feels almost safe – caught in the arms of a bounce – yet slightly mad, with the constant shifting and electricity of static in the air. The balloons are a confrontation, whether welcome or not, captured so beautifully in this image of a man entering Galerie Analix B & L Polla; his stance is physically, and probably emotionally, overwhelmed as he squeezes himself in. This view of the street window embodies the whimsical attitude of the work which, here in its original form in 1998, was missing in its reincarnation at the Hayward Gallery, where it was safely hidden away; these balloons are pressed against the window waiting to get out to the public. A space with only half the air in it is a worry, but by visualising such an idea Creed turns the notion on its head.
The Cloud (Winterbox)
2013 by Kate McAllan
McAllan’s work is an aim to find silence in an overbearing world; increasingly more noisy, bright and interactive, a place of solitude or quiet is hard to find. McAllan lets us escape through her paintings, visualising a sense of calm, of blissful peace, by summoning the elements we miss. The Cloud is one piece of the seven part Winterbox, one of which is a poem, paying homage to the coming of the clean chill of winter. Misty lands and the fresh spray of the sea are caught in postcard-size pictures, small windows into another world. It is next to these that two images of what lies beneath our skin are shown – a pencil tracing the lines of a pair of lungs and the reaching roots of veins. Using this naively drawn imagery, McAllan probes at the importance of our remembering such scenes within our reach; the cool hand of nature and its seasons is the very air we breathe, the blood that runs through our veins. The Cloud is a watery dream, a suggestion of landscape in a frosted breath; delicate inky lines bleed into a billow of grey, fading into a cold expanse of sky. McAllan’s brush takes on the touch of a whisper, so subtle is her command of colour, and we are mesmerised by the moment she creates. We may not always be able to escape the bustle of what surrounds us, but we can learn to quieten our minds and McAllan’s casting of the white of silence steadies the flow of thoughts.
2012 by Anj Smith
SHOWcabinet at SHOWstudio until 27 February 2015
At SHOWstudio, Smith’s painting Apparatus is surrounded by a cabinet of curiosities – objects that have inspired her work. The cabinet is particularly apt for Smith’s work as her spider web of influence creeps particularly poignantly into her strange and surreal paintings. The figures in her work appear melting with the objects of their, or indeed Smith’s, imagination. The effect is vaguely unsettling, darkly probing in bringing creatures and objects out of the depths to cling to her often melancholy characters. Having the objects themselves surrounding the painting, each nestled in its own black cavern, give the appearance of the painting spreading out three-dimensionally before us. A lavishly ornate French wedding dome is sat across from a wooden tree of taxidermy goldfinches; eighteenth-century Indian illustrations are paired against the glittering gold of 185 million year old ammonites. This is a treasure trove of precious objects spanning an incredible breadth of time and the effect is like diving into one of Smith’s paintings. Apparatus centres these objects’ stage like an icon; the figure’s pose mirroring that of many medieval Virgin Mary’s. Her skin has the flat pallor that renders medieval figures never quite alive, the dark circles that surround her eyes pulling her persona further into a realm of otherness. If we look carefully, her face is adorned with delicate hairs that creep primeval-like up her nose and around her lips; the lips, dark red, crinkled and almost visibly dry, are curled downwards. Nestled among the ethereal wisps of blonde hair are bats, huge ears pricked, thin translucent pink wings spread, as well as the soft fronds of feathers. Nature is omnipresent, creeping across the figure’s clothes in all manner of insects, springing forth in twigs, buds and flowers. There is something wonderfully old-fashioned in Smith’s style, yet her bizarre subjects counter any expectations of the usual. Her paintings are exquisitely detailed; layered so delicately that colour and form are bold, yet there isn’t so much as a hint of a brush stroke.
Going Out of Business
2014 by Mel Bochner
Simon Lee Gallery
The title of Bochner’s exhibition – and the title of this work – is particularly poignant in light of recent events; going out of business has been all too real for many people and the phrase is suitably loaded. The power of a turn of phrase is what Bochner manages to visualise in his paintings; he harnesses the associations text has the power to summon and allows them to feed his works. Indeed, the letters themselves are fed with paint – sometimes up to a pound per letter – before being printed, pressed onto their opulent velvet. As a result each letter is different, the thick paint blotting and fading unpredictably, different colours invading one another; they appear almost as personalities. The dependency on process, on the thick and expressive nature of paint, furthers the agency of these words. Each have come through something and reacted – green GOING is fading appropriately into the background; blue LOST is almost missing; red EVERYTHING is solid colour in every letter. The intimacy we feel with these charged words is carried in the sensuous texture of velvet, to which the paint clings instead of canvas. Going Out of Business is jarring – like the idea itself – in its clashing of colours; lurid tones are paired against each other – off-white gleams on purple, a lightly putrid yellow on a sickly sweet peach. Bochner’s other works are just as sensitive to their textual subject – Chuckle is bright colours, shining humorously on black, while Silence is a quiet blurring of greys and soft pastels. Bochner’s painting have a lot to say, and not just because they’re full of words.