2017 by Michal Cole and Ekin Onat
The Pavilion of Humanity until 30 November 2017
Housed in a small but beautiful house on the side of the Grand Canal, the pavilion of humanity is an exploration into the power and potential of art in a time of crisis. When humanity is being called into question all over the world, two artists – Michal Cole (b. Israel) and Ekin Onat (b. Turkey) – visualise the anger and emotion felt by so many in a selection of provocatively clever artworks. Cole begins by covering an entire room with gentlemen’s ties – sewn meticulously together by women, these flashes of corporate, class and money-driven masculinity line the walls, ceiling and floor, covering every surface and object; they engulf the central and ostentatious light fitting, the skull and books on the shelves and the wall mounted horns and rifle. The room is decked out as a gentlemen’s club, suffocating in the uniform of its users, including two Donald Trump ties, that serve to swaddle the rifle. The room is soft – with each step and touch – dark, with the tie curtains letting little light through, and quiet, dampening the noise of the outside world. Yet this lulling is uncanny in its strangeness, and with each clashing design the room becomes lewd and leery; a poignant comment on gender and power in business and politics. Opposite Top Gun is Cole’s Domestic Goddess, a dark kitchen with the only light soft and inviting from the inside of several pots and pans. Looking in, we are confronted by a face framed by the circle of domesticity – eyes wide, its mouth begins to scream. Frightening in their silence, these hidden and burning screams evoke frustration and pain. Onat’s face upstairs is equally harrowing, as she confronts us silently and powerfully on screen, a voiceover reading the many atrocities committed by the Turkish police force. Alongside – and live during the opening – Onat appears dressed head to toe in the all-black armour of the Turkish police, taking each defensively brutal item off one by one. In the bathroom, the mythological figure Sisyphus is dressed as a 50s housewife endlessly mopping the Venetian waters from a boat – the never-ending task. The last work Absent Presence is collaborative, showing statues of both Cole and Onat sitting on the bed – the piece of furniture that is common to us all, “even killers and the most evil on earth all lie down at the end of day”. Back to back the statues are pure white, meditative at the top of house on an accumulation of work that proves the clout of art.
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.
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.
Bags Waiting, Night
2014 by Mairead O’hEocha
mother’s tankstation, Dublin (seen at Frieze London 2014)
mother’s tankstation – near the Guinness factory in Dublin – had a great stand at Frieze London 2014. Centred by Ara Dymond’s surrealist looking sculptures – organic-like forms that hang angularly, they are in fact ‘hoodies’ dipped in resin – the walls were lined with the paintings of Mairead O’hEocha, inviting our eyes into her mysterious and painterly way of seeing. O’hEocha appears to translate reality through the process of painting, casting objects or shapes with an angular stroke of a brush. They are not impressionistic flutterings but geometric interpretations, where something as collapsable as a soft bag is transformed into a pile of angular shapes. This unfolding of the world in shape gives a great sense of depth and perspective to O’hEocha’s paintings that, though small in size, hold our gaze. Alhough they are sharply angled, O’hEocha’s paintings are far from strictly graphic, as her lines are interspersed with colour so textured we see the melting of tones through the ripple of hairs on the brush. This pattern of block colour and textured brush strokes gives the painting itself a changing surface, with subjects appearing in a melody of emphasis. In Bags Waiting, Night the bags appear waiting in a line, their shadows cast in colourful shapes that creep across the floor. A blur of lights in the dark is caught in the mustard yellow stroke across the enveloping black of background; a scattering of marbled brush strokes its reflections caught in the night. The angle of the little bird is triumphant; perched and raising its breast, its presence is touching in O’hEocha’s otherwise industrial – perhaps edging on bleak – scene. O’hEocha’s quiet palette of soft pastel colours gives her painting an integrity – a subtly muted and thoughtful portrayal of the world.
2014 by David A Pinegar
A Wall of Colour; 60 Threadneedle Street Space
A Wall of Colour is Pinegar’s first series of fine art photographs. A commercial photographer for 30 years, these new images allow him to explore and exploit the elements behind the success of his previous pictures, honing in on light, texture and colour. Confronted by these incredible prints (many are as wide as 3 metres), we are consumed by the intensity, the clarity, of these components. Magnifying his subject through a new process – Pinegar’s pictures are of everyday objects – he shows us a new way of seeing, of interpreting the world. Alchemy is all about the decadent colours of red, purple and gold; deep and luxurious, each colour spreads across the composition with agency. Melting to black darkly, or ignited with the brilliance of light, these colours create a tension that gives the image movement; a pulse, that sees it contort before us. Shapes are created in the varying textures, a superficial gleam of gold to a mottled and blurred crimson. We watch each shape form as an extension of our own imagination – thoughts or figures provoked, then cast in a play of colour and changing surface. Alchemy is a fitting title; the lure of extracting gold, as was the process in medieval times, is epitomised in this seductive image, where the glittering surface appears just beyond reach.