Oscan Murillo, ‘binary function’ at David Zwirner Gallery 10.10.15 – 20.11.25

Having only graduated from his MA at the Royal College of London in 2012 Oscar Murillo already has an impressive international presence in the art world. Since graduating three years ago he has had work shown at the Saatchi, been included in the MoMA’s ‘Forever now’ show earlier this year and now he has his first solo show ‘binary function’ at David Zwirner’s London Gallery.

tea, HSBC, (grill?), 2013-2015
tea, HSBC, (grill?), 2013-2015

This exhibition is dominated by painting, but not in any conventional sense. Most paintings in this exhibition defy predictable painting methods with many canvases made from what the viewer can imagine is multiple paintings, cut and then sewn together to make whole collaged canvases. Although the materiality of canvas can be seen throughout the exhibition, this show is not exclusive to painting but also incorporates drawing, print, sound, sculpture, installation and film as an example of Murillo’s diverse practice.

L-R: catalyst #3, 2015, material alignment #18, 2013-2015,100% vita, 2014-2015, catalyst, 2015
L-R: catalyst #3, 2015, material alignment #18, 2013-2015,100% vita, 2014-2015, catalyst, 2015

In the opening room of the exhibition viewers will find 4 unusual canvases displayed at such close proximity to one another that from afar one might think they were a whole, but each canvas is named individually creating a universal language between techniques and materiality. Around the corner is a new video installation of Murillo’s where the audience is invited to sit in a mis-match of plastic garden chairs to watch footage of what appears to be a street party. These seats are replications of those seen in the footage, creating a physical connection between viewer and the people that are far away in the time and place that this video captures. The audio of this installation varies between on site sounds and compositional music that changes the dynamic and narration of the piece as it alternates between the two. This audio permeates throughout the whole exhibition extending the narrative to the right now of the exhibition space.

meet me! Mr. Superman, 2013-2015
meet me! Mr. Superman, 2013-2015

On the first floor viewers will be hit with the strong smell of paint and the sight of multiple black canvases that are hung, piled and strewn around the space. Again these canvases use Murillo’s signature technique of being sewn together on a large scale, allowing viewers to appreciate the grand scale of their production. Viewers are forced to walk over these black paintings, creating delicate outlines of their dusty footprints on the black fabric. This interaction creates an unusual relationship between the work and viewer as our physical presence marks and develops the patchwork fabric pieces that are reminiscent of the works displayed on the walls in front of us.

First floor installation view
First floor installation view

In this exhibition Murillo merges the boundaries between painting, sculpture and installation. The curation of this show creates a tension between the intentional and the accident, as both are included on par with one another. Murillo’s works have a sense of ‘more’ beyond them, demonstrated directly in the way he crops and sews canvases, Murillo denies us of viewing all of one but instead a part of many, challenging the viewer with this inclusive/exclusive painting stlye.

Tetsumi Kudo at Hauser & Wirth 22.09.15 – 21.11.15

Walking along the sophisticated streets of Saville Row where humanity hurries from one grey interior to the next, one does not expect to walk through the doors of Hauser & Wirth for their eyes to be transformed into those of a child. The vivid green that curator Oliver Renaud Clément has used to backdrop the most recent show of Tetsumi Kudo’s work, turns the conventional white gallery space into one big installation, merging all pieces together into a playground of diverse colour and absurdity.

Installation view
Installation view

This AstroTurf installation evokes the desire to interact, all Kudo’s works in this exhibition are so physical and playful in their execution it is hard to resist the urge to touch and play in this space. These feelings are very much internalised by the static silence of the transformed gallery, forcing quiet contemplation of the works whilst suppressing the urge to gallop and giggle. This is quite relevant as Kudo’s work focuses on these tensions created between nature and the man made. The melting plastic flowers in his artificial gardens signify the artists realisation that “with the pollution of nature comes the decomposition of humanity” whilst simultaneously talking about humanity’s morphing relationship with technology and mass production.

Human Bonsai - Freedom of Deformity - Deformity of Freedom 1979
Human Bonsai – Freedom of Deformity – Deformity of Freedom 1979

There are several sections in this exhibition, from these free standing gardens where man made materials morph to create rows of bonsai trees mixed with phallic forms, to Perspex structures that home artificial eco systems, and oversized dice that contain melting parts of humanity. Each series presented here imagines a post-apocalyptic world where a nuclear attack has cultivated an unrecognisably synthetic nature caused by humanity’s negligence.

Cultivation of Nature & People Who Are Looking at It, 1970-1971
Cultivation of Nature & People Who Are Looking at It, 1970-1971

Kudo’s use of boxes demonstrates the way we live our contemporary lives, how we rely on architectural interiors that simultaneously protect and trap us. In these interiors we stare at electronic boxes that transport us into artificial worlds of colour that help us to forget the reality of nature, much like the way that this exhibition lets us forget about the cold streets and suits just beyond the windows of Hauser & Wirth. Kudo’s regular use of dice presents natural systems of chance but contrasted with the artificial colours used to realise these boxes we may begin to think about the absurdity of humanity’s ever growing fixation with dominating chance in order to adapt nature to benefit our own unforgiving agendas.

Garden of the Metamorphosis in the Space Capsule, 1968
Garden of the Metamorphosis in the Space Capsule, 1968

Growing up in post-war Japan Kudo understood the brutal reality of humanity’s conceivable evil, and later moving to Paris he was struck by Europe’s ‘’Individualist outlook and eager adoption of mass production.” Ultimately this show of Kudo’s political but still highly aesthetic work, although made 50-40 years ago, seems even more relevant today. In this contemporary society even more dominated by technology then it was in Kudo’s time this exhibition gives space to reflect on our own claustrophobic lives where we naïvely believe we can survive inside these aesthetic simulated worlds that we hold on to so tightly.

Anj Smith; ‘Phosphor on the Palms’ at Hauser & Wirth 22.09.15 – 21.11.15

In terms of contemporary art, the exhibition “Phosphor on the Palms” is a rarity. Entering the white walls of Hauser & Wirth you will notice a certain emptiness that dominates the space. Naturally this pushes the viewer towards the small-scale oil paintings that are displayed systematically across the gallery space, letting us discover the infinity of detail and realist mysticism that awaits us there. This is Anj Smith’s biggest solo show to date with over 20 works made over the past three years.

Installation view
Installation view

Smith’s paintings guide the viewer along a path through the gallery space; each is hung at a perfect height for closer inspection. Within these compositions one can easily be transported into another dimension where every intricacy is executed in uncompromised perfection. Despite the beauty of overwhelming detail these paintings hold, they are just as undeniably nightmarish. With your back turned away from the center of the space your eyes flit from one piece to the next, and your feet can do nothing but follow.

Letters of the Unconcious
Letters of the Unconscious

Although visually similar, the themes that these paintings explore are extensive; using iconography Smith explores, fashion, nature, consumerism, gender, isolation and many more all in a dream like hyperrealism. In an exhibition as rare as this in it’s traditional craftsmanship, there is obviously a continued conversation about painting and technology. Smith has said herself “There’s something about painting now that, because we have so much technology, we don’t have an essential need for. I’m deciding to sit there for hours daily just to create one image.”

Faune
Faune

This is not done in vain. The works in this exhibition make the awe that was evoked by grand oil paintings in the past, comprehensible to contemporary audiences. Not only this, but unlike most contemporary painters Smith avoids expressing her relationship with reality in a visually abstract way. Instead, she takes abstract concepts and transforms them into magical realism. Smith does not attempt to simplify these abstractions but instead embraces them ‘in all their complexities’, in a way that allows the viewer to reflect on the truly absurd times we are living in.

Uncurtaining the Night
Uncurtaining the Night

These surreal landscapes and portraits do not only sit on the wall as a window into another world, but throughout the exhibition they gradually begin to permeate into the third dimension. Starting with ‘Uncurtaining the night’ a viewer with a keen eye will notice that very small reliefs of paint have been left to dry at the bottom of the composition, creating the physical texture of a forest floor. Smith’s painting seep more and more into the physical world until we are faced with ‘The excreted’, which is so small in scale and so heavily caked in paint that it barely functions as a physical painting and becomes almost fully sculptural.

The Excreted
The Excreted

This show is as diverse in its readings as you imagine it to be, there are monkeys crawling out of paintings along side sad, sunken eyes, scaled creatures and symbols of high fashion. No carefully composed image in this exhibition talks about the same subject as the last, each creates it’s own individual paradigm that parodies everyday consumer culture into alien landscapes, reflecting the multiple aspects of our ever-changing contemporary society.

Gianni Colombo; ‘The body and the space’ at Robilant + Voena

“The body and the space” is a show that brings together a collection of Gianni Colombo’s most significant works made between 1959 – 1980 at the Robilant + Voena gallery, London. On reading the press release I was informed that; “Colombo’s practice aimed at overcoming the traditional notion of art as an object to contemplate, in order to create work that requires the active involvement of the viewer.” So prior to entering the gallery space I felt excitement at seeing work made over 30 years ago that evokes something that is sorely missing from the art world today, a physical relationship between viewers and art.

This feeling of excitement was slowly exchanged with a feeling of alienation as I entered the space. On entering the gallery I was met with a plush exterior of marble and stillness along with an overly polite steward who guided me around each piece with watchful eyes. In some ways this was an alternative gallery space, the beige walls and extravagant furnishings are worlds away from the conventional white cube. But instead of an exhibition curated to evoke relationships between viewers and art, this show successfully separated the audience whilst simultaneously turning kinetic art into conceptual artifacts.

‘Strutturazione pulsante (Pulsating Structuralization),’ 1959

All of the works that use electronical mechanisms, such as; ‘Strutturaziune fluida’ and ‘Robo optic’, to release their kinetic potentials are turned on and off individually by the steward as, of course, they are in a fragile state. This staged interaction transforms works that were originally designed to “[change] the spectator’s conventional relationship with reality, both physically and psychically” into relics held in a very wealthy museum. This dynamic between, viewer, work, steward and space denies the viewer of any reflective or intimate moments with the work, creating an awkward tension and inadequate presentation of the works incredible potential to engage viewers.

‘Roto-optic’ 1964

There was one space in this exhibition where this dialogue is allowed, and that is within Colombo’s immersive installation; ‘Topoestesia – tre zone contigue [itinerario programmato] (which translates to: ‘Topoesthesia – three contiguous zones [programmed itinerary]’). This is where I really felt the effect of what Colombo had designed for me as a viewer, I was transported into an other worldly interior that had disorientated my senses in a way that can only be experienced to be understood. I feel that this theme of wonder and visceral experience would continue throughout the show if the works were shown in the way that they were intended to be.

‘Topoestesia – tre zone contigue (itinerario programmato)’ 1965-1970

Of course, the limited function and interaction of these works is not the fault of the gallery but by displaying these originals instead of re worked productions places too much importance on the artist rather than to the experience of the viewer. It is known that Gruppo T (the kinetic art group that Colombo formed), had their works produced as multiples as a way to “distance the works from the artworld’s cult of the author.” These ideals of Colombo’s is something that I feel that this exhibitions curation ignores, thus creating an exhibition of incredibly exciting work that is made stagnant due to the importance placed on the items originality rather than it’s kinetic potential to evoke real awe and experience in the viewer.

Adventures of the Black Square: 100 years of Abstract art and society at the White Chapel Gallery

Almost ironically I found this exhibition to be a visually and intellectually overwhelming display of a genre of art that began by simplifying perspective into geometric forms. This notion of abstraction as a universal language felt absent in the curation here as I fought my way through a bombardment of imagery and descriptions in my own adventure of the black square.

Kazimir Malevich – Black quadrilateral (circa. 1915)

Opening with Kazimir Malevich’s visual representation of utopian ideals through the compositional balance of ‘Black quadrilateral’ (circa. 1915) we witness the birth of abstraction, and with it the notion of revolutionary art. From here on the exhibition traces the development of artistic abstraction over the past centaury, observing its on going relationship with an ever-changing society. We are followed by Malevich’s paintings and those he closely influenced until we are introduced to Piet Mondrian’s painting; ‘Composition with Yellow, Red and Blue’ (1937-42). The exhibitions curation suggests the influence of Malevich’s black square in Mondrian’s foundations of neoplasticism. Yet here we see Mondrian’s visual practice of the dynamic equilibrium theory coming together with the abstraction of natural perspective into primal shapes that influenced a movement of aesthetic design.

Piet Mondrian – Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red (1937-42)

This tangent of abstraction that talks about consumerism in the Western world was the easiest for me to follow due to my own reality. Following Mondrian’s composition I was struck by the lack of colour in both Dóra Maurer’s ‘Seven Rotations’ (1979) and Hassan Sharif’s ‘Drawing squares on the floor using a cube’ (1982) that seemed to continue Mondrian’s message. Both are similar in their process of squashing 3 dimensions into 2 dimensional representations but I think it is their suggestion of the endlessness of both art and abstraction where their strength lies. The presentation of Maurer’s photographs was worth the trip to the gallery itself. The transformation from the initial image to the last exploits the audience’s process of image reading. Demonstrated by the simplicity of the first image of Maurer holding the emptiness of the white square alongside the complexity of the final photograph, where the audience is asked to mentally deconstruct the image to understand it’s origins.

Dóra Maurer – Seven Rotations (1979)

Upstairs this theme of materiality and disorientation in abstract art lead me to Gunilla Klingberg’s video piece ‘Spar Loop’ (2000) where I began to see evidence of contemporary abstractions perception and interaction with society. Klingberg’s kaleidoscopic animation of logos explores the abstract of the everyday in Western society by mimicking the spiritual capacity of consumerism. In some ways this piece echoes the realization that Roland Barthes had that; ‘the cultural work done in the past by gods and sagas is now done by laundry detergent commercials.” Spar Loop demonstrates the way that the general public is exploited by capitalist structures of society that allow advertisements to excite us in a way that was once done by transcendental powers.

Still: Gunilla Klingberg – Spar Loop (2000)

This is not the only place in the exhibition where Barthes theories seemed relevant. For an exhibition that explores the liberation of abstract art I felt that too much emphasis was put on the authors. Alongside each piece was a lengthy description citing the authors past inspirations, although useful, this meant that it was easy to spend more time reading than looking. As Barthes points out ‘To give an Author to a text is to impose upon that text a stop clause, to furnish it with a final signification, to close the writing.” This is precisely what I felt happened here, although the artists exhibited used abstraction as a universal language to cover a variation of themes and mediums, the emphasis put on Malevich’s realization of the Black Square meant that all focus was on the fact that the work was abstract. In this space the works cannot individually grow or adapt to their audience as they have been forced into a curated timeline where there only purpose for display is the fact that they were in some way inspired by a black square, all other purposes are cut off within the walls of the White Chapel Gallery until the 6th of April.

History is Now: 7 Artists take on Political Britain

Christine Voge’s ‘Untitled (Three Children and Woman)’ (1978)
Christine Voge’s ‘Untitled (Three Children and Woman)’ (1978) 

As a 20-year-old student I am statistically set to boycott the general election in May alongside 2 million other young people. As a nation we are constantly concerned with the fact that young people are not engaged with politics, and that we can’t determine why. The Hayward Gallery’s most recent exhibition ‘History is now: 7 Artists take on Britain’ attempts to highlight the inadequacies of our recent political history, whilst accidentally mirroring the tediousness of understanding and engaging with British politics.

Between the honesty of Christine Voge’s photographs of London’s first women’s refuge centre from 1978, the accumulated documentation of the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common from 1983-84 and the loneliness in Mona Hatoum’s film “Measures of distance” from 1988, the general consensus of Jane & Louise Wilson’s section was that politics has failed women. Or at least it would have been had the curators thought to focus their space rather than overwhelm the audience with such a broad history of British politics. In some ways including the multitude of unconnected narratives was effective at highlighting the spectrum of political failures but ultimately this was too much to tackle in such a small space. The shame is that the pieces that focused on women created such a strong narrative, which was only compromised by the inclusion of too many others.

Mona Hatoum – Measures of Distance (still) 1988

The selection of black and white arts council collection photographs presenting dark truths of the 70’s to the 90’s in comparison to the colourful columns of advertisement collages from the same era in Hannah Starkey’s curation made for an obvious

John Hilliard – Cause of Death 1974

comparison. It was strange that John Hilliard’s quadrant of photographs “Cause of death” (1974) was tucked in a corner, or that it was shown at all. This piece concisely proves the objectivity of photography as a medium, demonstrating through 4 examples that the way images are cropped, shot and composed can completely change our interpretation of a narrative. Showing this powerful statement next to so many other photographs was jarring, as ultimately Hilliard’s piece renders all other images around it as objective depictions, so therefore it is impossible to read Starkey’s desired curation of propaganda vs. truth in this space.

Despite coming from the madness of Roger Hiorn’s mad cow disease research, it was actually John Akomfrah’s curation that finally made me give up on the exhibition. Consciously choosing to show 17 films with a total running time of over 500 minutes, Akomfrah effectively cuts off communication with the audience before a conversation can even be started. Although inconvenient and aggravating, this does feel rather appropriate. This unrealistic demand echoes in concept what is asked of young people when it comes to politics, where we are asked to vote into a system that time after time proves to us that it doesn’t work.

This exhibition, in parts, does uncover the failures of recent politics and the fact that it coincides with the lead up to the general election is interesting, but if this is so important, where were the politicians? Addressing the public with such an overwhelming depiction of political failures seems pointless when the over riding sentiment of the exhibition is that politics needs to change, not the people.

Ai Weiwei at Blenheim palace exhibition review

In 1917 Marcel Duchamp caused controversy by placing a urinal within the white walls of the art world, a centaury later Ai Weiwei removes his creations, a combination of ready-mades and specifically made sculptures, out of these white walls and into the luxurious setting of Blenheim palace to spark a debate that undeniably puts art back into the service of the mind.

The curator, Michael Frahm, has described the exhibitions aims as ‘trying to give an insight into how contemporary art can look in a 300-year old building.’ But with Ai’s pieces being so politically charged, it is not so easy to read the contrast between setting and work as simply aesthetic, and the tribute to Duchamp hanging above Winston Churchill’s birth bed makes it near impossible.

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Chandelier 2002

Ai is most famous for his provocative destruction of historical Chinese artifacts so to see the largest UK exhibition of his work in a world heritage site that functions solely on the preservation of historical artifacts is dizzying to say the least. On entering the ‘green drawing room’, visitors of Blenheim are greeted by several Han Dynasty Vases that date back to 202 BC. Unlike the perfectly preserved artifacts native to Blenheim, these vases have been defaced, smoothed into a slick metallic gleam by auto paints. Within the white walls of a gallery space this act of destruction instantly transforms the vases from historical Chinese artifacts to an anonymous tribute to industrialization, highlighting the negative experiences that Ai has faced with the Chinese government, but the uncomfortable contrast that occurs when placing them in a historical time capsule achieves much more than this.

Not all of Ai’s pieces are so easily distinguishable from Blenheim’s extensive collection though, the grand Chandelier which opens the show spectacularly seems right at home within the confines of the 300 year old architecture, as do the beautiful floral plates in the China Ante room which are said to be inspired by the flowers that Ai puts in the basket of his bike everyday to mourn the freedom he had before his long standing house arrest in 2011.

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Han Dynasty Urns (202 BC) in auto paint 2014

In the finale of the exhibition, held in the Long library, Ai’s series ‘Study of perspective’ is impossible to miss. Whether the viewers focus is on the borderline explicit content, or the fact that landscape prints have been presented at a head turning 90 degree angle (an inevitable miscalculation caused by curating an entire exhibition from another country), these images are unavoidably confronting. This is where the exhibition really comes to a climax, the pictures hassle the viewers, whether they have come to see Ai’s work or not, with a semiotic view of authority, so much so that they obstruct access to the books that the library holds.

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Study of perspective 1995-2003

On leaving this exhibition my strongest impression was one of discomfort. Ai’s use of destruction throughout his work is heightened at Blenheim in a way that a white walled gallery could not achieve. Frahm’s curiosity as to what contemporary art would look like in a 300 year old building has not been successful because of its aesthetics, but because of the revolutionary discovery of what happens when you take art out of normality and into an interior that harshly contradicts the work, just as Duchamp did back in 1917. The conflict between preservation and destruction is on going here, it is mentally jarring to experience Ai’s work, which destructs and belittles the culture of his country in the context of Blenheim, which preserves and glorifies material objects that once belonged to the inherent elite.

Lance Nixon Review

The bike is said to symbolize human reason at work. To quote Angela Carter’s ‘Lady of the house of Love’, “To ride a bicycle is in itself some protection against superstitious fears, since the bicycle is the product of pure reason applied to motion.” Although here Carter is referring to the fear of the super natural, this theory can also be applied to Lance Nixon’s work.

I first came across Nixon in late 2010 with his publically interactive piece based in London, ‘Roadrunner 2’. Inspired by, or some may say in retaliation to the ‘Boris bikes’ installed earlier that summer. Nixon collected over 300 old bikes, saving them from scrap and placed them around zones 2 and 3, as the Boris bikes only covered zone 1 at the time. These bikes were chained outside tube stations, in bike shelters and on streetlights with signs attached giving the user information on how to operate the bikes. Nixon specified here that the bikes could be used for any length of time and could be left wherever best suited the user so long as they were locked up. This free alternative that was given to commuters on the 27th of September resulted in only 9,000 people taking out a Boris bike on that day in comparison to the usual 14,000.

Although most of the bikes where inevitably stolen by the end of the day, the aim of Nixon’s interactive stunt was achieved. He gave daily commuters an alternative to the faults of the Boris bikes which made, and continue to make, revenue from unavoidable late fees due to the docking station to bike ratio.

Nixon came into the public sphere of performance and interactive art in 2007 when he debuted with his piece ‘Roadrunner’ based in New York City, which worked similarly to it’s sequel in London. Nixon was criticized for critiquing such new systems but has since commented that he was simply trying to “expose existing problems before the general public comes to accept them as fact.’” With this statement we can apply Nixon’s work to a much wider context, going beyond the realm of city politics and into semiotics, proving that his work not only provides comment on existing systems but also challenges them.

Alongside interactive art, Nixon is also well known for creating sculptural pieces using bikes. His piece ‘Speed’ (2009) consists of two bikes warped individually in their centers, which come together to create a circular form, whilst still appearing to be functional. As Carter describes in ‘the Lady of the house of love’, bikes are a symbol of reason, and by warping these two bikes into a continual circle and titling the composition ‘speed’ we can interpret this as a juxtaposition between the way that companies use materials to make profit as fast as possible, thus creating and continuing a cycle of profit.

Ultimately Nixon uses the art sphere and the symbolism of the bike as a way of exploiting both truths and lies simultaneously, contrasting reason with unreason and creating opportunities where the ‘readers’ use of systems come before the ‘authors’ benefit of it.
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