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“Everything we see could also be otherwise (My sweet little lamb)”

The Showroom
63 Penfold Street
September 20, 2017–November 11, 2017

View of “Everything we see could also be otherwise (My sweet little lamb),” 2017.

The exterior of this gallery is covered in scaffolding with large, dark sheets of canvas hanging from the bars. But the space is not under renovation—this is a work by Oscar Murillo called The Institute of Reconciliation, 2017. On the scaffold’s frame sits a Július Koller photograph, Universal Physical Cultural Operation - Defense (U.F.O.), 1970, which shows the artist hiding behind a table-tennis paddle. By the entrance, a text piece by Mladen Stilinović, Nothing Gained With Dice (P. Celan), 1994, reads, “We have seen, we have realized—the more zeroes the less value. One zero, we know, is infinity; but two—two infinities? A more and more evident transformation of all things into money.” The quote is attributed to Paul Valéry.

The scaffold, a sign of ongoing gentrification, can also be a surface upon which to build and start afresh. Reconfigured, signs of investment can become objects with new and unforeseen uses. Inside are also a number of disassembled exhibition structures: Alongside regular walls and fixtures, some works are mounted onto panels leaning against timber frames; the floor is concealed by taped-together cardboard. Hanging on the leaning panels with other works are Běla Kolářová’s hair photographs such as Lesbos, 1964, and Koller’s series of collected waste wrappers, “Junk Culture,” 1966–77. Nearby, a stack of soundproofing material acts as a low-set plinth. On it rests Stilinović’s accordion drawing, Mladen - My sweet little lamb!, 2013. The exhibition is dedicated to him.

The show is a dense collection of striking works that celebrate underexplored histories of Eastern European avant-gardes and the beauty of cast-off or seemingly valueless things. It demands that we reset our sense of what’s good enough to keep and what gets thrown away.

Duncan Wooldridge

Nicola Tyson

Drawing Room
Unit 8 Rich Estate, 46 Willow Walk
September 28, 2017–November 12, 2017

Nicola Tyson, The Gaze, 2015, graphite on paper, 13 x 13".

Nicola Tyson’s forty-six figurative drawings and monotypes here radiate urgency from their fiercely scored lines, febrile contours, and abbreviated limbs. There are no aestheticizing filters here—the violent immediacy of scraped ink and obsessive pencil hatching is thrust against us in these pictures of uncomfortable, sometimes brutally modified bodies.

The five large drawings along the back wall hit you first. Each shows a self-possessed and confrontational woman. In Great Pants, 2016, darkened whorls of scratchy pen lines suggest gouged eye sockets. Her mouth is a cancellation of broad slashes; her hair has the geometry of a helmet. This forbidding figure strides toward you on legs three times the length of her torso. The ink on these drawings has been applied rapidly—an explosion of marks that go from spidery thinness to vast swathes of black bandaging.

An adjacent room holds a set of smaller graphite nature drawings, visionary in their awkwardly looming close-ups of insects, birds, or lizards, as in Hefty butterflies begin their migration, 2015, where irregularly jutting, spotted wings crowd and tilt at one another like warplanes in a dogfight. Their alien angularities present a weird reality, as if experienced by the agitated subterranean creature of Franz Kafka’s 1931 short story “The Burrow.” Tyson’s work arrives at a baleful imaginary that oscillates between the recognizable and an assortment of peculiar contours and tonalities that rebel at their referential function. We marvel at these agglomerations of abrupt gestures that evade any secure or rational knowledge of things.

Mark Harris

Cookie Mueller and Vittorio Scarpati

Studio Voltaire
1a Nelsons Row
September 9, 2017–November 12, 2017

Vittorio Scarpati, Putti’s Pudding (detail), 1989, ink on paper, 8 x 5".

Pink daylight filters through the windows of this former chapel. At its center is a small white box full of drawings. Walking into the space to view these works feels like you’re about to do something very private, such as confess your sins or take in a peep show.

This is the first time that Italian artist Vittorio Scarpati’s final project, Putti’s Pudding, 1989, has been shown outside the US. Although included in Nan Goldin’s exhibition “Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing,” at New York’s Artists Space in 1989, Putti’s Pudding was originally conceived as a book. Working in collaboration with his wife, Cookie Mueller, the influential writer and actress, Scarpati created hundreds of felt-tip works on notepad paper—populated by knights, angels, fools, and beasts—some in black ink but most in lurid color, which narrate the grueling experience of living with AIDS in the 1980s (both died of the disease in 1989). Though Mueller and Scarpati’s collaboration is rife with fear and uncertainty, an ethereal kind of joyousness and strength manage to shine through.

Three of Mueller’s texts have been printed in an accompanying booklet. Her intimate and loving words interact beautifully with Scarpati’s powerful illustrations. Both artists died far too soon, but their generous efforts are eternal, infused with a “spiritual stamina [that] rises above all the woe,” as Mueller once wrote.

Philomena Epps

Grace Weir

Laure Genillard
2 Hanway Place
September 30, 2017–November 18, 2017

Grace Weir, A Reflection on Light, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 21 minutes.

“Light refracts through a prism into a spectrum of color.” This laconic observation from Grace Weir’s 2015 film A Reflection on Light articulates the premise of “Unfolded,” the artist’s exhibition here, which foregrounds her concerns with the manifold possibilities latent in perceptions of space and time. The show is bookended by filmic meditations on two breakthroughs in scientific history. The aforementioned work, a multifaceted portrait of Irish Cubist painter Mainie Jellett, is an examination of the perceptual, psychological, and social transformations that precipitated Einstein’s theory of relativity. Parallel, 2017, discusses the history of Euclidean geometry and the pathway to non-Euclidean geometry. Recounting formal axioms of points and lines alongside lucid visual demonstrations, the film muses on the imaginative potential released by freeing geometric abstractions from the page.

Spanning these pieces is an elegantly composed exploration of Weir’s artistic apparatus. In Dark Room, 2015, a two-channel film captures the artist documenting the decaying studio of nineteenth-century photographer Mary Rosse. This transgenerational dialogue between female pioneers is echoed by The History of Light (Betelgeuse), 2015, a suite of photograms that transform the materiality of photographic exposure into a metaphor for memory and historical influence. The video Script (2) Timeout with Albert, 2009–10, adds a welcome note of humor with a slapstick sketch of an inventor blinded by his own genius.

Training her lens on the archive with poise and rigor, Weir illuminates forgotten histories and alternate dimensions. If her formalism effects a certain disassociation, it is perhaps because it intimates another time where theory and material reality coincide.

Kylie Gilchrist

Andy Holden and Peter Holden

Artangel
Former Newington Library, 155 Walworth Road
September 10, 2017–November 26, 2017

Andy Holden and Peter Holden, How the Artist Was Led to the Study of Nature (detail), 2017, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Andy Holden has collaborated with his father, Peter Holden, a notable ornithologist, on an exhibition that explores their fascination with birds. Inhabiting two levels of a disused library, “Natural Selection” includes video installations, archival material, found objects, and printed works. On the first floor, the scent of wood fills the space: Pieces of bark are scattered in piles across the floor, mimicking a woodland pathway. Nearby, three video screens display A Natural History of Nest Building (all works cited, 2017), in which the Holdens knowledgeably describe the mechanics and idiosyncrasies of bird behavior. We’re told of the devious cuckoo, whose first act as a newly hatched chick—from a nest usurped by its cunning mother—is to push out another bird’s eggs. We see the artistic weaver bird construct its home by intricately looping and knotting different plant fibers. There are comical and endearing moments, such as Andy passing a nest to his dad, who appears on the adjacent screen, to receive it.

How the Artist Was Led to the Study of Nature is laid out in the adjoining room. A mass of porcelain eggs in various sizes, colored and speckled like candies, is spread across the floor in an array of tubs and tins, just asking to be pilfered. In the basement is a second video installation, The Opposite of Time, where an animated crow voiced by Andy guides us through the social history of egg collecting, which has been illegal in Great Britain since 1954. It’s a story of fixation and tenacity, with “eggers” going to astonishing lengths to find their treasure.The Holdens, inveterate storytellers, reveal sundry avian and human histories by probing this peculiar aspect of British culture.

Grace Beaumont

Terre Thaemlitz

Auto Italia South East
44 Bonner Road
October 3, 2017–December 3, 2017

View of “Terre Thaemlitz,” 2017.

Stepping into the darkness of trans artist Terre Thaemlitz’s electroacoustic audio-video installation here, Interstices, 2000–03, one hears a calm and assertive voice describing a dick slowly penetrating someone’s butt. With each inch, we hear the bottom loudly grunt with pain and pleasure while the screen moans through rapid bursts of light. The visual absence of flesh in this moment demands a certain level of erotic imagination.

The looped eighteen-minute video repurposes music, text, and images from her 2000 album of the same title. Via techniques of framing and “systolic composition” (creating new material by means of extracting and isolating peripheral sounds), Thaemlitz meshes process and content. The result is a powerful work that addresses gender reassignment, identity production, and sexual labor.

In the video, we also see a tomboyish girl, Wendy, receive a full makeover on a TV talk show; we hear a panel of speakers discuss the effects of surgical procedures to “correct” the sexes of children; and we read about phalloplasty, mastectomy, hormones, and mental health. In a particularly memorable sequence, the camera zooms in on the shadow of someone deep-throating an erect cock against a sunset-pink background as choppy electrical noises climax with a comfortingly romantic melody. The cock is static, its veins unaffected, and it seems more like firm silicone than an engorged dick. Focusing solely on the one giving head, the scene arouses a desire for the synthetic. It places the dildo, divorced from gender, as an instrument of gratification for any kind of body.

Eliel Jones

Gianfranco Baruchello

Raven Row
56 Artillery Lane
September 29, 2017–December 3, 2017

Gianfranco Baruchello, Impudique Venus (Shameless Venus), 1979, industrial enamels, ink, Plexiglas, cardboard, aluminum, 16 x 16 x 2 1/2".

The star of Marcel Duchamp’s handpicked progeny never shined outside of his native Italy. While Gianfranco Baruchello exhibited in New York and Rome in the 1960s, the story of his polymathic career has rarely found its way into common knowledge. After more than six decades in the field, incredibly, Baruchello is now making his London debut with a museum-size retrospective.

Painter, sculptor, performer, filmmaker, writer, political renegade, and occasional horticulturalist Baruchello’s appeal comes from his interdisciplinary approach. Like his famous postwar literary compatriots (e.g., Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco), Baruchello eschews the essentialism of a single, core aesthetic; instead, his art circles within a broad repertoire of conceptual and formal approaches that beg comparison to those of Joseph Cornell, Francis Picabia, and Joan Miró.

Fortunately, what distinguishes Baruchello from the crowd is curator Luca Cerizza’s primary focus here. Scrawled with notes of illegible cursive, Baruchello’s best works are schematic, translating psycholinguistic tautologies into biomorphic horrors. Impudique Venus (Shameless Venus), 1979, a work of painted Plexiglas, dissects the titular deity as both commodity and weapon (“Hey you cast-offs of the degenerate bourgeoisie !” one scribble yells). The extreme flatness of Baruchello’s works is cartographic, providing a visual parallel to the metamorphic municipalities in Calvino’s 1972 novel Invisible Cities. This crystallization of existential flux, itself a Wittgensteinian loss of balance, encourages Baruchello’s loose systems of perspective and order to tumble off the page. As empty signposts, works such as Altopiano dell’incerto (Plateau of Uncertainty), 1964, engage our fear of the unknown and disjointed. In this painting, an avalanche of symbols falls from on high. The collapse of verbal and pictorial language becomes both the challenge and the goal, evoking equal parts intrigue and panic.

Zachary H. Small

“Melancholia. A Sebald Variation”

King's College London | Inigo Rooms
57 Waterloo Rd, Strand, Somerset House East Wing
September 21, 2017–December 10, 2017

Guido van der Werve, Nummer veertien, home (Number fourteen, home), 2012, video, color, sound, 56 minutes.

From its visionary apologists we might think of melancholia as an exceptionally creative and redemptive form of despair. Yet the intense beauty of work by the likes of Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag, Julia Kristeva, Laura Nyro, and, for this exhibition, W. G. Sebald, is barely salvaged from the crash into painful states of mourning. At the end of the day this is still a hazardous depression that you wouldn’t wish on an enemy.

From Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I, 1514, on through books, documentation, and artworks, this show reveals the artist’s studio as a site of catastrophe. Dürer’s remarkable engraved image of discarded tools and despondent creatures is not so far from Hermann Claasen’s or Richard Peter’s featured photographs of World War II ruins or Wilhelm Rudolph’s drawings of the aftermath of Allied bombing raids. Moreover, Anselm Kiefer’s series of postapocalyptic black-and-white photographs, such as Melancholia, ca. 1980s, showing lead airplanes in a gloomy studio, directly reference Dürer’s nightmarish slump. The exhibition pivots around Sebald’s 1999 book On the Natural History of Destruction, which recounts the erasure of German cities by British carpet-bombing toward the end of the war. There is even a recording of John Wynford Vaughan-Thomas’s live commentary of a Lancaster bomber over Berlin, and video of a 2001 discussion between Sebald and Sontag about the former’s photograph collection, among other things.

The pulsing heart of the show has to be Guido van der Werve’s Nummer veertien, home (Number fourteen, home), 2012, a fifty-six-minute video commemorating that Polish master melancholist, Frédéric Chopin, with an epic endurance triathlon beginning in Warsaw and ending at the composer’s grave in Paris. An exhibited quotation from Sebald helps account for such extreme aesthetics. Melancholy, he says, “is a form of resistance . . . In the description of the disaster lies the possibility of overcoming it.”

Mark Harris

David Panos

Pump House Gallery
Battersea Park
October 4, 2017–December 17, 2017

View of “David Panos,” 2017.

For David Panos, the fabric of a sneaker, text on a high-fashion T-shirt, or the detailing of a baseball cap have the ability to trigger memories. For Reveries & Street Madeleines 2016–17, 2017—one of the pieces that open the exhibition here—the artist has recorded such sartorial cues in furtively shot clips on his iPhone while out and about. For Panos, these moments of now call to mind the aesthetics of 1989: specifically, through the gestures and other forms of expression belonging to various fashion and dance subcultures. His work asks what the revival of these idioms says about how we recycle and manufacture “culture” in 2017.

In the video Memory Assemblages 1–12, 2017, a group of dancers performs a series of moves associated with certain musical genres: waving rave arms, pounding industrial feet. For Untitled (Archive), 2016, clothing and accessories from the archives of the Museum of London and the Victoria and Albert Museum have been selected by the artist and photographed against a green screen. Though the items are pictorial signs of a particular era, they also represent how quickly high street brands replicate fashion trends, as well as nostalgia for authenticity.

Goth is reduced to a series of emojis in the video Untitled, 2017: Black roses, hearts, and painted nails transform a whole movement into miniature cartoons. The collision of online clips, digital samples, and new footage throughout the show appears to have roots in ideas surrounding the remix. Though a remix traditionally acknowledges the differences between the original and the copy, here, everything is combined in such a way as to suggest literal and metaphorical continuities, assorted decades and styles existing on a single temporal plane. This is particularly evident in the immersive four-channel video Time Crystals, 2017, in which a disorienting nightclub scene simultaneously evokes yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Philomena Epps

Stan Douglas

Victoria Miro Gallery | Mayfair
14 St George Street
October 26, 2017–December 20, 2017

Stan Douglas, Pembury Estate, 2017, C-print on Dibond, 59 x 118".

The digital image file can be an object of a newly assembled and complex truth, an artifact prone to faults and error: Beyond conventional reportage, the postdocumentary photographies of artists have increasingly addressed how a picture might contain a more sophisticated notion of testimony or even verification, while acknowledging the limits and programming of the very same processes.

Stan Douglas’s four-work exhibition provides a two-step take on the image and its relationship to the event. One pair of works present long-term responses to the 2011 London riots, which were quickly characterized by media as acts of “looting” to veil their origins in police violence and racial profiling; the other two are colorful, abstract pictures, made using the coding of the digital file through discrete cosine transform, or DCT.

Mare Street and Pembury Estate (both 2017) show portions of Hackney at the time of the August riots. Aerial views that the artist has captured in high detail are synthesized with collected on-the-ground footage and accounts, to produce large-scale photographs that are simultaneously reconstructions and concrete documents of events. Douglas, akin to the research group Forensic Architecture in using reconstructive mapping to reevaluate an event, reveals that beneath a media reporting—which is prone to quick headlines and opportunistic characterizations—an event leaves traces that can be reassembled and rethought. The DCT abstractions may be less specific or indexical, and they are painterly, but they show how an image is built from the ground up, to act as a reminder us of its constructive, and not extractive, realities. Douglas presents how each and every event requires a viewer who is equally deconstructive, analytical, and willing to probe.

Duncan Wooldridge

“Dalí/Duchamp”

Royal Academy of Arts | Piccadilly
Burlington House, Piccadilly
October 7, 2017–January 3, 2018

Salvador Dalí, Surrealist Object Functioning Symbolically – Gala’s Shoe, 1931/1973, shoe, white marble, photographs, glass, wax, gibbet, matchbox, hair, wooden scraper, 19 x 11 x 4".

The Royal Academy is a step away from Soho, once the sleazy sex epicenter of London. Just when you’re struggling to find anything raunchy in that newly sanitized zone, along comes “Dalí/Duchamp.” This salacious pair make a good team. In the exhibition catalogue, we read Marcel Duchamp explaining that “eroticism was a theme, even an ‘ism.’” As if in hyperbolic response, Salvador Dalí fantasizes about oral sex, gazing at Duchamp as they vacation together near Cadaqués: “I eat Gala and an iron erection stops my copious peeing before it has finished.” Whoa! I just came in to check out the work, and I have to deal with this?

Their shared prurience partly explains the unlikely relationship’s endurance, stimulating subversive realizations of outer-orbit lasciviousness. Duchamp persuades the Moderna Museet to buy Dalí’s The Enigma of William Tell, 1933, and in 1959 is helped by his friend to complete the Landscape study for Étant donnés, 1959. Through a sometimes chronological display of intermixed work the installation demonstrates asynchronous but related investigations. Duchamp and Dalí’s early depictions of their notary fathers hang side by side, suggesting an Oedipal drive to their fierce renunciations of painting later. They deface images of the Mona Lisa, explore public personas as projects, design chess sets and compete against each other, experiment with film and photography, and assemble boxed collections of artwork. Duchamp gives a version of Boîte-en-valise, 1958, to Dalí, who responds in homage with 10 Recipes for Immortality, 1973, an attaché of foldout engravings. Both write extensively, although Duchamp’s terse comments and puns are inversely matched by Dalí’s Surrealist logorrhea.

Our gaze careens around the exhibition’s surfeit of wildly heterogeneous concepts and hallucinatory imagery, from readymade, photo, and magazine cover to painting and construction, suggesting perpetual tactical movements with Dalí and Duchamp playing the art world like a game of chess.

Mark Harris

Flo Brooks

CUBITT Gallery | Studios | Education
8 Angel Mews (off Pentonville Road), Islington
November 24, 2017–January 14, 2018

Flo Brooks, Full of sediment, full of doubt, 2017, acrylic on wood, 57 x 54".

Flo Brooks’s sextet of acrylic paintings here is rendered with precise strokes in bright colors. The artist depicts himself and his parents in the middle of sundry familial activities. You feel like a voyeur running your eyes over these intimate, quotidian tableaux. The maintenance of objects and people is a running theme: Brooks dyes his mother’s gray hairs, helps her deal with a dodgy washing machine, and lies on the floor while working with his father to repair a bathtub. Nobody wants or wants to be a broken thing.

Having recently moved back to his provincial hometown in South West England (Brooks describes himself as a “rural queer”), the artist’s show deals with the perils of renegotiating life where you grew up (the artist was transitioning, undergoing hormone-replacement treatment, while making this new crop of images). Giving and receiving care is a part of this process, enacted in the absence of “other” (i.e., queer) support structures and friendships he left behind in the city. The physical and emotional labor required in “taking care” translates into moments both funny and tragic. Domestic scenes feature meetings of disparate objects, such as a purple butt plug clogging a household drain in Passing objects (all works 2017). Yes I am too, but who am I really? is the only work in which we see Brooks alone. He’s lying in bed shirtless with a laptop, trying to, says the gallery, watch porn. A text appears in a white bubble at the upper left edge of the painting: “Hello. Phone died. Is now good?” Is it ever?

Eliel Jones

“Starless Midnight”

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art
South Shore Road
October 20, 2017–January 21, 2018

Karon Davis, Waiting Room, 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable.

In November 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. accepted an honorary doctorate from Newcastle University with a powerful improvised speech that railed against three “great and grave problems that pervade our world”: racism, poverty, and war. On the fiftieth anniversary of this speech, “Starless Midnight” confronts King’s hard-won insights with contemporary realities. Curated by Edgar Arceneaux and Laurence Sillars, the nine-artist show opens with the heartrending juxtaposition of Louis Cameron’s NOW!, 2016, a black wall branded with the one-word call to arms, against Karon Davis’s Waiting Room, 2016, a painstaking re-creation of a public clinic—the poor man’s purgatory—down to the shoddy wooden play set and a coffee-stained copy of Us Weekly.

For all its unflinching blows—from Charles Gaines’s musical manifestos to Cauleen Smith’s “maladjusted cinema”—the exhibition belongs to Barby Asante’s iron-veined, two-part film, The Queen and the Black-Eyed Squint, 2017. Drawing from Ama Ata Aidoo’s searing 1977 novel, Our Sister Killjoy, Asante restages the 1957 visit of the first Miss Ghana to England, just months after her country had wrangled its independence from the British Empire. As Miss Ghana, Asante is a picture of forbearance against the obsequious hospitality of her chaperone, Miss Britain, who proudly points out the monument to Earl Grey and cathedral frescos of Jesus and his snow-white saints, blissfully immune to the tactical omissions that make up her own heritage. Lest this history belong solely to the past, in the accompanying South Kensington segment (filmed just days before the exhibition opened) the beauty queens make their rounds in the shadow of Grenfell Tower—the public-housing complex that caught fire this past summer, killing seventy-one people—and the lingering logic of empire it carries in its darkness.

Kate Sutton

Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley

Tate Liverpool
Albert Dock
November 17–March 18

Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley, This is Offal, 2016, HD video, black and white, sound, 12 minutes 51seconds.

In “We Are Ghosts,” Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley perform an antic kind of haunting: dark jokers leering from the unquiet slumbers of history. In their new video, In The Body of The Sturgeon, 2017, we’re plunged into the claustrophobia of the fictional USS Sturgeon at the end of World War II. The twelve-minute narrative is saturated with various fluids: You can almost smell the thwarted testosterone, the sweat, the ethanol swigged straight from the can by a desperate sailor. There’s even an ode to golden showers, in which Mary, with drawn-on chest hair and metal funnel bra, performs a gender-warping burlesque.

Mary (who plays nearly all the characters) pops up again in presidential drag as Harry Truman, announcing the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The frame moves in seasick waves. All this screwball capering is overlaid with the mock grandeur of the script: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1855 epic poem “The Song of Hiawatha,” enunciated to emphasize its portentous tetrameter. The crew eventually meet a watery end when the submarine hits a mine and sinks. Brainy and allusive (nods to Carson McCullers and gender theory abound), the overall effect is cartoonishly serious, thrilling, and demented.

The show’s second film, This Is Offal, 2016, similarly taps comedy from tears. Inspired by Thomas Hood’s 1844 poem “The Bridge of Sighs,” Mary plays a drowned suicide victim, whose internal organs are resurrected as surreally bickering talking heads at her autopsy. “You lily liver! How can you treat a faithful foot so callous?” Punning and garrulous, it answers back for history’s doomed heroines (“I feel ya, Ophelia”). Patrick as the lugubrious, Lou Reed–look-alike coroner is hilarious, while the highbrow references to Greek mythology are worn with rapid-fire irreverence. Rarely has laughter in the dark been this fun.

Daniel Culpan