The whiff hits you before anything else, on the way down the stairs into the gallery: sharp, vinegary, suggestively pungent like rotting fruit. An insistent low, whining hum can be heard. Fruit flies fill the air. The source of all of these, and the monumental centrepiece of Bianca Hlywa’s exhibition ‘Residual Yeast’, is Thermaloop, 2022: a large, clear plastic vat on the floor, partially filled with a murky, deep amber-coloured liquid, and floating within it a fleshy, gelatinous mass. The mass, a similarly muddy shade of yellowed-brown, is perfectly rectangular, fitting exactly to the vat, while its surface is a terrain of endless wrinkles and patches of dark mould. Perched over the vat at the far end is a metal frame with a motor that winds up cloth straps to which the mass is stitched. The mass is slowly pulled up, dragged dripping out of the water and rolled into a sopping mess over a period of seven minutes, before rolling it back down again.
Imagine being a ghost, hanging out in an afterlife all meticulously planned and set up for your comfort, with dried foods, pets in urns to keep you company, some jewellery and a few model boats. Then things start disappearing from your spectral sitting room, and all of a sudden you find yourself stuck in an anodyne, over-lit hallway somewhere in the middle of the British Museum for the rest of your undead life. Such are the problems explored here by Colombian artist Gala Porras-Kim through a set of drawings and installations which prod at the unthinking outcomes of museum conventions around collection and storage. Ancient Egyptians had many ideas about what happened after death, though anthropological display in far off lands was not one of them. Several of Porras-Kim’s works offer solutions of sorts: the large pencil drawing Sights beyond the grave, 2022, depicts a desert landscape, creased in such a way that would enable it to sit propped up around a small funerary statue of a nobleman named Nenkheftka, currently on display at the British Museum. In his spectral disorientation, the drawing is meant to provide the small gesture of comfort of a familiar view. The sculpture Sunrise for 5th-dynasty Sarcophagus from Giza at the British Museum, 2022, is a full-size Styrofoam replica of the coffin, with a semi-circle marked out on the ground indicating a roughly 50º rotation. Ancient Egyptians buried their dead facing the rising run in the East; Porras-Kim’s work simply proposes that the museum take this into account in its display – at the very least, as a gesture towards the context from which it was taken, but perhaps even as a matter of access to some kind of afterlife.
Twice a day, a trebuchet bombards the gallery. Solemnly set up by an invigilator donning a bacteria-patterned hooded cloak, the oversized weighted catapult is loaded with a small sphere consisting of lard, wax and a black pigment made with animal bones. On release, the lard-bone ball is slung in a lazy arc over a barrier bisecting the room, with a chained metal gate in the shape of large, staring eyes and topped with barbed wire. The ball thuds into the opposite wall and splats to the ground, leaving a dark, diarrhetic mess. This spectacular action at the start of Candice Lin’s ‘Pigs and Poison’ is just the most overt battlefield at play in the exhibition, which stages a fractured web of conflicting histories, ideologies and lifeforms. The unlikely causalities of these conflicts litter the show: in the painting Pig Carcass in the Arizona Desert, 2020, the titular pig lying in a damp clearing is swollen, rotten and grey, but is also dressed in shoes, jeans and a T-shirt. Dotted through the hallway are three Flesh Lumps, 2020, misshapen, pink and veiny blobs that at points sprout ears or half-formed limbs, lined with scabrous wounds. They might seem dead, but here, Lin seems to suggest, is where other lives begin.
Large Glass, London, 29 October 2021 – 29 January 2022
A grid of paper sits in the middle of the floor, four squares each made up sheets of A4 paper with a variety of weights sitting on top: an old, mottled cylindrical weight, a smooth shiny silver one, a rock. This temporary sculpture taking up the floor of the front room, 4 carrés sur sol (4 squares on ground), 2021, is the first thing encountered in Jöelle Tuerlinckx’s small, unassumingly packed show ‘PLAN B – série b’ at Large Glass. Tellingly, though, the immediate impact is offset by a constellation of images and clippings that sit on a wall nearby: a sequence of five small images document four pieces of paper laid out on a flat rooftop, starting as a square and progressively moving further away from each other. The image sequence is repeated as a postcard version nearby and in a framed 2008 newspaper article on Tuerlinckx’s work (next to a drawing planning an earlier version of the work), as well as on a piece of paper detailing instructions on how to make the piece. Each is, apparently, a different iteration of Plan B – série b (#1), 2021, carried out, repeated and replicated right in front of us, whilst also trailing off into the past suggesting that it might yet change again.
“No one / expects the violence of glances, of offices, / of walkways and train stations, of bathroom mirrors,” a woman states. I am standing in a dark basement, the small room filled out with the bulk of three identical black sculptures, something like oversized, stylized Us, that make up the setting for Torkwase Dyson’s performance Liquid a Place: A. Encounters (2021) at Pace Gallery. Standing in the shadowy gallery with these swelling, Minimalist behemoths feels unmoored, as if I’m zooming out from the minutiae of life for a moment. But the poem punctures that sensation with a precise description of casual dissolution, of “wingless days” and smiles of “aluminum teeth,” that seems meant for the renewed weirdness of standing solemnly with a group of strangers in a small indoor space. I listen for a good five minutes before a shadow moves on the floor from under one of the rounded corners of the sculpture, and I realize that what I thought was a recording was actually the Canadian poet Dionne Brand, right there, reading her poem “Ossuary I” (2010).
The mistake—misplacing liveness or just not registering what was right in front of me—was an unintentionally apt start for my attempts at exhibition-going. It turns out that the majority of art on display this autumn across London isn’t about subtlety, but presence, bald and puckered. From grandiose gestures that at this point feel grotesque or just tone-deaf (like Marina Abramović’s endless deaths at Lisson, or George Condo’s mildly deconstructed horny paintings at Hauser and Wirth), to Frieze London’s return after two years with a heavy preponderance of fey abstract paintings, to more pointed appearances (like the four women in the painting Republic #2  who disinterestedly oversee Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings’s Disgrace, a quietly epic dissection of conservative feminism at Arcadia Missa; or Claudette Johnson’s crackling and direct self-portraits at Hollybush Gardens) it seems a moment for galleries and artists to raise a hand, to note that they are, as Johnson’s show is appropriately titled, “Still Here.” Though stepping out, or indeed going into rooms and giant tents amidst the latest wave of the pandemic in the UK, is not without its dangers. Aside from the obvious health implications, there’s also a metaphorical risk, where gestures are taken to mean more they can bear, objects are given more authority than they are due, and signs, as Homi K. Bhabha long ago put it, are taken for wonders.
It’s an unlikely benediction: two identical photos frame Dozie Kanu’s exhibition “Owe Deed, One Deep” at Project Native Informant: a small, slightly blurred image of a tower with a hand at the top, reaching awkwardly towards the sky. Emo State (2020) seems to have been taken from a moving car, the landscape around it giving some sense of the sheer scale of the tower, a religious monument modelled on the tower of Babel in southern Nigeria, constructed only a few years ago and torn down in 2019. The ghost of this demolished structure, the two hands waving over the five sculptural assemblages gathered below them, casts the works as their own temporary monuments, momentary markers to whatever spirit or feeling has possessed us, before disappearing. In a corner, St. Jaded Extinguish (2020) is a gray fire extinguisher stand placed forlornly on a flimsy, short set of black stairs, a bottle opener attached to its base that spells out a nihilistic mantra: “SELF SERVE.”
The world is burning. This is not a metaphor. The sky is bleached a searing lime green, tinged with burned orange that reflects off relentless choppy waves. Suddenly, the sky goes blood red and the horizon blackens, the sun a dull hole punched in the sky. Our view shifts, panning quickly to the left, then back again, as if searching for something, anything. The sky then changes again to a blinding sherbet yellow. The screen depicting this scene, mounted on a metal rack above a whirring circuit board, gives us a certain vision of our current reality. The shifting colors are a translation of information from a small atmospheric monitor mounted on the back of the rack. It’s not clear what directly causes the hues to brighten or waves to get that bit higher or more intense in Yuri Pattison’s sun[set] provisioning (2019) at mother’s tankstation—whether the car exhaust from the street outside, or the hungover breath from bodies in the room might make the scene that bit more trippy. The contraption offers a heavily mediated fiction, but it also makes an actuality visible and present: a drowned world, made hallucinatory and beautiful by toxins that saturate the air and water. Continue reading →
Laurie Robins, ‘FREE TRADE OR ELSE’*, 2019, installation view. Image courtesy the artist and South London Gallery. Photo: Andy Stagg.
South London Gallery, London
8 March – 26 May 2019
The age of Airbnb and crowdsourced local knowledge is meant to have made travel more insightful and more ethical, but Antiguan writer Jamaica Kincaid’s words from her book A Small Place (1988) still ring true: “A tourist is an ugly human being.” Free-floating consumers devoid of responsibilities, the tourist flaunts their ability to move around the globe freely, dispensing their disposable income. British filmmaker Laurie Robin’s new fifty-minute film “‘FREE TRADE OR ELSE’*” (2019) takes as its starting point German writer Heinrich Böll’s Irish Journal (1957), his collected writings based on being a tourist in Ireland throughout the 1950s. Using an edited selection of excerpts from the book as voice-over narration, Robins revisits the cities and sites that Böll described in order to see how Ireland has changed over the past sixty years, while at the same time implicitly asking if the tourist’s gaze, rather than their wallet, can reveal anything about a culture. Continue reading →
James N. Kienitz Wilkins, The Dynamic Range, 2018, VR film still. Image courtesy the artist.
Gasworks, London, September – December 2018
‘I’m tired of moving images,’ the narrator of the short video Indefinite Pitch (2016) tells us. It’s easy to sympathize: the twentieth-century avant-garde dream of everyone being a filmmaker is upon us, incessantly uploading videos of ourselves eating and unboxing tat, surrounding us constantly with loops and flashes. ‘Hearsays,’ which is the first gallery-based exhibition by the filmmaker James N. Kienitz Wilkins, is a refuge from this deluge, with a single photograph The Second Person (2018) presiding over two moving image works in a mostly empty space. The photo, a lunar selfie, captures the 1969 moon landing as reflected in a space helmet, a photo drawn from NASA’s archives, but apparently, the press release claims, slightly modified – though the artist’s manipulation seems invisible. Similiarly, in Indefinite Pitch and the virtual reality (VR) film The Dynamic Range (2018), the artist seems to be absent from the picture, with both works featuring austere and largely inert visuals. The movement is instead provided by male voice-over narrators, each video defined by dense, meandering monologues. Listening to both men go on and on, the audience is cast as a therapist of sorts, listening to two neurotic but smooth-talking patients describe their doubts and troubled projections as they both try to negotiate a relationship with cinema. The artist might be trying to give up on moving images, but he apparently hasn’t given up on the “movies,” as he calls them. Continue reading →