Exhibition Review – Joey Holder

My latest article for this is tomorrow (see the published article here) – the show is on at the Wysing Arts Centre near Cambridge until November 20:

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We inhabit vast natural resources. We sense everything around, under, and above you. Our research and development activities are based on a profound understanding of the biological processes in living organisms. We develop solutions to accelerate human health and evolution. – Ophiux, 2016.

Following her “Multiverse” residency at the Wysing Arts Centre in 2015, Joey Holder’s solo show, Ophiux, draws us into the possible near future of biology and medical sciences. Pulling the notion of multiverse – the unknown or infinite number of potential parallel universes – back to terrestrial grounds, Holder explores the understanding and mapping of our ecosystems and anthroposystems as well as the potentiality of global genomics.

Supported and informed by computational biologist Marco Galardini and senior biodiversity biologist Katrin Linse, Joey Holder has devised a two-part exhibition comprising an installation room as well as a video piece. Both rest on the premise of fictional pharmaceutical company Ophiux and its claim at mapping every form of life and all genomes. While stemming from reality, with real-life global projects such as Google Genomics or companies such as Illumina devising “complete workflow solutions for easier, more accessible genomic analysis”, Ophiux takes us a step ahead into a future of digitized and fully automated biology.

The installation room is appropriately clinical and sterile – visitors have to wear protective shoe covers to thread the immaculate white floor – boasting larger than life-sized medical machinery, futuristic looking X-ray imagery and specimen tanks with their sea-creatures. To the layperson there is a glimpse of something uncanny (in the strict sense of the word) and intimidating in this imperceptibly oversized, not entirely familiar medical environment. Viewed on its own however, the installation seems somewhat too literal and holds more meaning when visited after the show’s pièce de résistance – the film – which infuses it with the immersive power it otherwise lacks.

The film is projected in an adjacent building of the rural half-farmhouse half-white cube Arts Centre. The obscurity of the projection room lends itself perfectly to the sci-fi-ish underwater exploration the viewer is about to embark on. In what appears like the commercial trailer of this fictitious speculative pharmaceutical company, real arctic submarine footage alternates with medical imagery and computer generated images. The organic, the mechanical and the viscerally amorphous overlap to create a window onto the medical sciences of the future. In accompanying narrative subtitles, Ophiux asserts its total mapping of the marine ecosystem – presently still vastly alien and fascinatingly unknown – and how the extracted genetic data can be used to benefit human evolution and life expectancy. There is something very “Gattacian” in this systematic genomic extraction, this reduction of life to usable data and conceivable DNA manipulations; there is something eerily demiurgic in this potential power. Similarly to high-tech artists such as Stelarc, Holder raises here the philosophical (and topical) question of the increasingly fusional human-machine relationship and interdependency. We can envisage here the immense potential of technology for human preservation but are also confronted to the paradox of pursuing better and longer lives through the lifeless, the mechanical, at the risk of the latter overtaking the former and possibly supplanting human knowledge.

More speculative than critical, Joey Holder’s show is sitting somewhere in-between utopia and dystopia. It is fed by the artist’s fascination with our universe and things yet unknown and poses open-ended questions about the future of science, medicine, biology and human-machine interactions. Wherever science and technology take us Holder is not yet done with the subject and sees her experimentations continuing online (appropriately). Also a trained diving instructor, she longs once again for the life aquatic; we hope her underwater fascination and future endeavours will continue to fuel her explorations of the mysteries of life in all its forms.

– Emilie C.

AWOTD. Franz Marc’s Deer in the Forest I

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Franz Marc. Deer in the Forest I (Reh im Walde I). 1911

Born in 1880 and son of a landscape painter, Franz Marc trained at the Fine Arts Academy in Munich where, under the cover of academism and formality, he would lay the technical foundations on which to develop his own extraordinary artistic progression. It is a first trip to Paris in 1903 that would trigger a great hyphenation with his formal style and engender the explorations of the following years. From there on Marc would become an artistic polyglot, drawing on impressionism, fauvism, cubism, futurism and orphism to create his own language and become one of the leading figures of German Expressionism. Franz Marc thus positions himself as integral part of the Darwinian evolution of an art which echoes the psychological, philosophical, sociological and cultural concerns of modernity.

Looking at Deer in the Forest I, one cannot but recognise a very representative example not only of Marc’s influences but also and most importantly of the culmination of his own formal language. First and foremost the imprint of the father figures of Van Gogh, of Gauguin and of the Fauvists – namely Matisse – encountered in Marc’s Parisian wanderings are here undeniable. Similarly to Matisse and Derain, themselves inspired on one side by Van Gogh, Gauguin and Cézanne and by Signac and Seurat on the other (fig.1), Marc has here left the three-dimensional world to propose his own vision of nature expressed through unnaturalistic colour planes and vibrant brushstrokes. Marc however takes colour further and charges it with symbolic meaning, emotional values and resonances. In a letter to fellow artist August Macke in 1910 he writes “Blue is the male principle, astringent and spiritual. Yellow is the female principle, gentle, gay and spiritual. Red is matter, brutal and heavy and always the colour to be opposed and overcome by the other two.” The importance of colour and its internal resonances are concepts Marc shares with Russian Artist Wassily Kandinsky who wrote at that time his theoretical treaty On the Spiritual in Art in which he develops his theory of colour and abstraction.

With spirituality as one of their hobbyhorse, both artists founded in 1911 – the year Deer in the Forest I was painted – the journal and eponym group “Der Blaue Reiter” (fig.2) with other illustrious contributors such as Paul Klee and August Macke. True to the metaphysical qualities of Marc and Kandinsky’s practices the genesis of the group’s name remains somewhat obscure. The horse is of course a leitmotiv for Marc and the rider a fascinating figure for Kandinsky while the colour blue holds for both a special importance and mystical significance. One can also draw here a parallel with an archaic figure of Christian revelation as hinted at by Marc who wrote in a prospectus for Der Blaue Reiter almanac that “one stands before the new works as in a dream, and hears the horsemen of the Apocalypse”. Be it as it may, the group shared an interest in an abstraction of forms, vibrant colours, and a concern with the spirituality and moral values of the inner self, of the Ego, rather than the material(istic) world.

Franz Marc focalised those concerns towards his depiction of nature and the animal kingdom. In his wondrous bestiary, Marc takes us on an inner emotional journey, playing with colours as the pianist would play his keys. More than pleasing the eye, the painter aimed at making the soul vibrate, at raising his art to a higher spiritual plane. On this journey, Marc wanted to overcome the conflict between world and spirit through the vessel of a return towards nature. There is a fundamental element of primitivism here, as Marc yearns a return to a primal connection and reconciliation with the natural world. Marc saw in animals a purity, something almost holy that he thought humans had long lost; he sought “a pantheistic penetration into the pulsating flow of blood in nature, in trees, in animals, in the atmosphere” (Franz Marc quoted in Hal Foster et al., Art since 1900, Thames and Hudson, 2004, p. 87). Master of animal anatomy, it is however not naturalistic accuracy that was here pursued as the painter clearly moves towards abstraction.  Forms are simplified, expressive, the picture plane flattened, the colours un-referential.  There is in Marc’s work a recurrence of subjects – one would be tempted to say symbols – and amongst horses, cows and foxes the deer has pride of place. It is to be found in flower gardens, monasteries, cavorting in the snow or sleeping in mysterious forests. Its representation oscillates between fluid figuration as in the present Deer in the Forest I and later sister version Deer in the Forest II (fig.3), and more fragmented, cubo-futurist lines – drawing from the later influence of a Delaunay or Picasso – as in yet another Deer in the Forest II (fig.4).

In the present work, characteristic of Franz Marc’s finest period, the deer appears peaceful, as an integral part of its organic surroundings and emanating the innocence the painter so admired in animals. Nature is here uncompromised, unspoiled by human imprint. The viewer is drawn in a mysterious garden of Eden before the Fall, invited on a journey of meditative contemplation. Yet one might feel a slight ambiguity here, a slight undertone of sadness and nostalgia for a paradise lost which gives additional depth to the work. Interestingly, the fall from grace becomes rather palpable in later paintings as the outbreak of war looms over Europe. In works such as Fate of the Animals (fig.5) especially – with the deer as central figure – doom and imminent catastrophe cast their shadows on visions of the primal flux of nature and of genesis and revival. Unsettlingly prophetic of horrors to come, the large painting of Marc’s final year of artistic creation radiates terrible beauty. Soon enough, Franz Marc would be painting camouflage on tarpaulin covers in the mud of the trenches and would look back on the Fate of Animals as an oracle of destruction and write to his wife: “At first glance I was completely shaken. It is like a premonition of this war horrible and gripping. I can hardly believe I painted it! It is artistically logical to paint such pictures before wars, not as dumb reminiscences afterward. For then, we must paint constructive pictures indicating the future, not memories as is now the case”.

Franz Marc would never have the chance to paint his constructive pictures indicating the future, for he was tragically killed during the assault on Verdun in 1916, but has left us sublime visions of the immanent world of nature and of an inner world where colours have spiritual resonances. Contemplating the present painting, one might hope that his soul is still wandering the woods, careful not to wake the sleeping deer.

– Emilie C.

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Fig.1. André Derain. The Turning Road, L’Estaque. 1906

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Fig.2. Wassily Kandinsky. Cover of the Journal Der Blaue Reiter. 1912

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Fig.3. Franz Marc. Deer in the Forest II (Reh in Walde II). 1912

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Fig.4. Franz Marc. Deer in the Forest II(Reh im Walde II). 1914

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Fig.5. Franz Marc. Fate of the Animals. 1913

 

Olphaert den Otter at the Averard Hotel

I had to chance to do some freelance work for 27fleurus – not only condition report the works exhibited but also write their press release (versatility baby). The show has now unfortunately ended but do keep an eye on what’s cooking at the amazing place that is the Averard Hotel ; young artists and curators in an abandoned hotel in central London – yes please ! 

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Olphaert den Otter at the Averard Hotel

27 Fleurus is delighted to take over the breakfast room of the Averard Hotel to present, for the first time in the UK, a selection of paintings by Dutch artist Olphaert den Otter (b. 1955). From his home city of Rotterdam, Olphaert den Otter produces series of paintings in the long standing medium of egg tempera to achieve clear, bright, pure and pastel-like colours to invite the viewer into his rather darker elsewhere(s). Inspired by, and often referencing, art history, philosophy or literature, den Otter draws from the past – not the least in his technique – to reinterpret the present and future of the humans of which his compositions are paradoxically exempt. Rendered universal rather than personal by this absence, his paintings allow the viewer to inhabit their shelters – as in the Refuge Morphology Series (2004-2007) – or reflect on his own imprint on the world as in the World Stress Paintings (started in 2009) and The Four Elements (2015) both presented here.

Diverting the classical idea of the water, air, earth and fire as fundamental constituents of everything that is, The Four Elements depict a pre-apocalyptic world where the nature we’ve been trying to grip and exploit escapes our control and floods, submerges, turns over, destroys and burns. Those visions, far from dystopian, depict the floods (Water), hurricanes (Air), wars (Fire) and mass killings (Earth) we know all too well from the news photographs that inspire the artist’s compositions. The elements feature as strongly in the World Stress Paintings – twenty examples of which are presented here – collection of beautifully eerie landscapes, burning buildings, wreckages and other manmade disasters, of contemporary Vanitas. In both series, the topicality of the subject matters makes the viewer loose his apparent innocence and forces to reflect on the traces we are imprinting on both nature and mankind. But it is not all doom and gloom, as den Otter insists on the sublime aspect of apparent destruction. There is always hope in change and renewal. Flowers grow again on the killing field. Humanity still stands.

The looming destruction in Olphaert den Otter’s paintings is beautifully paralleled by the surroundings of the Averard Hotel. There, the amalgam of abandonment and past grandeur echoes harmoniously with the subjective notions of waste and value so dear to the artist.

Standing proud since the 19th century, the exquisitely derelict hotel is lending its quarters, for its last few months before refurbishment, to a series of projects by young curators and artists. A sight not to be missed.

About the artist

Olphaert den Otter was born in 1955 in Portugaal in the Netherlands. He studied at the Willem de Kooning Academy (1976-1981) in Rotterdam, where he lives and works. He has had numerous solo and group shows including :

Solo (selection)

016 Caves Gallery, Melbourne, Australia

2016 Galerie Phoebus, Rotterdam

2014 Centraal Museum Utrecht, presentation purchase World Stress Painting Series

2008 Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Group (selection)

2016 Snapshot of a larger order, De Ketelfactory, Schiedam

2015 Nieuwe gezichten op Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum, Dordrecht

2015 Gevaar en Schoonheid – Turner en de traditie van het sublieme, De Fundatie, Zwolle en Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede

2014 Utopie Picturale 2, Fonderie Kugler, Genève

2014 Bruegelland/Hoge Horizon, artist’s initiative Voorkamer, Stedelijk Museum Lier, in collaboration with Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen

2014 Nothing but Good, Park Tilburg

2012 Secret Postcards, Jan van Eyckacademie, Maastricht

2012 Secret Gardens, Tent, Rotterdam

2011 dessin d’aujourd’hui et demain 6, espace Kugler, Genève, Switzerland

2010 Mode de Vie, Halle Nord, Genève, Switzerland

Public Collections 

Museum Bijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Centraal Museum, Utrecht

Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag

Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

Stedelijk Museum, Schiedam

– Emilie Cloos

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Yours truly working her best dervish pose (?) at the Averard Hotel

 

Exhibition Review – Tania Kovats

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Tania Kovats – Watermark (exhibition view)

This is an article I wrote for the online contemporary art magazine this is tomorrow back in Feb. 2015 ; not so relevant now but the artist is worth a glance so here goes:

Tucked a few meters away from Regent Street’s busy pavement, Pippy Houldsworth Gallery has set aside a little alcove of tranquility for the urban stroller in presenting a selection of recent drawings by British artist Tania Kovats. In the continuity of ‘Oceans’, her recent solo show at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, Kovats explores in ‘Watermark’ the liquid element in its multitude of textures, impressions and geological implications.

Entering the gallery it is the large-scale ‘Sea Mark’ that first catches the eye, carving up a window towards the horizon into the room’s back wall. Reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s ‘Pier and Ocean’ (1917) series, the blue brush marks decreasing in a grid of ceramic tiles instantly draw the viewer into the meditative contemplation of a tame ocean. With very simple means yet immediate effect, the work’s seemingly abstract composition succeeds in recalling a vivid naturalistic image. One cannot help but see – or rather feel – the slow yet constant motion of the waves, while the glazed ceramic support of the piece enhances the sensation of flickering reflection of light on water. The smaller-scale sister-work on paper nearby, ‘Sea Mark (Blue)’, prolongs the sensation with slightly less vigour but not without poetry. The colour of the light has shifted it seems, but again we are transported to the shore of an infinite ocean slowly lapsing towards an unknown horizon. With her seascapes, Kovats successfully manages to provoke impressions, a mental image of the ocean as gestalt.

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Tania Kovats – Sea Mark – 2014

 

Alongside the infinity of the ocean we are invited to consider water on a more invisible scale. In her ‘Evaporations’, Kovats mixes inks, salts and water on paper. This reaction allows the water to be the main player and to leave its own imprint on the support through evaporation. Despite the relative predictability of the final result, the element of chance seems here paramount. We find in the ‘Evaporations’ something redolent of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Unhappy Readymade’ (1919) – a textbook left outdoors to be exposed to the elements. Each incorporates a natural process, one which shapes landscapes, and determines the appearance of the completed artworks. The results are not only visually appealing, with their multifaceted mineral qualities or their evocation of a fluctuating tide, but also emanate a strong contemplative essence. Looking at the ‘Evaporations’, as well as ‘Sea Marks’, one cannot help but be reminded of the serenity and spirituality of oriental landscapes and find in Kovats the qualities of a Lee Ufan. Indeed, in both series, the artist effectively prompts the eye to linger and the mind to wander.

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Tania Kovats – Evaporation (Black) 21 – 2015

In this regard, other works on show – ‘Only Blue (British Isles)’ and ‘Arctic Circle Islands’ – might find themselves slightly overlooked, yet rightfully complement the exhibition as being essential to the understanding of Kovats’ practice. The show as a whole offers a small yet astute selection of the artist’s recent works and admirably conveys the poetry of Kovats’ waterscapes.

(see the original article here)

– Emilie C.

AWOTD. Picasso’s Tête

Pablo Picasso. Tête. 1911

Pablo Picasso. Tête. 1911

Cultivating the seeds planted by Paul Cézanne and his treatment of nature “by the sphere, the cylinder and the cone”, Pablo Picasso’s Tête epitomises crucial explorations in the painter’s practise of the period and in 20th century art history. Himself working in French bucolic surroundings in close collaboration with acolyte George Braque during the summer of 1911, Picasso somewhat leaves his primitivism behind and reaches what Carl Einstein has described as “a period of analysis and fragmentation and finally a period of synthesis”. Opening up the delimitations of his objects and subjects, the painter develops the cubist syntax of fragmentation, condensation in multiple viewpoints and representation of the world in overlapping geometrical planes.

Tête thus emerges in this crucial year of 1911 on the fantastic avant-garde stage that is the Bateau-Lavoir, Picasso’s studio at 13 Rue Ravignan in Paris. The key features of Analytic Cubism are here in full bloom, albeit in simpler means than in the painter’s otherwise busy compositions of the same period. Characteristically, Picasso verges here on complete abstraction by means of shifting geometrical planes while yet giving the viewer tiny clues loosely anchoring us to representation, to the external world. Not the least of those clues is of course the referential title – Tête (head) – but also the circles crossed by lines and the larger triangular plane as eyes and nose etching the premises of a face.  Also typical of Picasso and Braque’s Analytic Cubism is the almost monochromatic muted palette, here in shades of earthy ochre. The indeterminate background lets some vibrating – almost shimmering – brush-strokes puncture the flatness of the picture surface. They penetrate the shapes left open in a merging of boundaries, a negation of interior and exterior and of depth and perspective where three dimensions are simultaneously laid down on the picture plane. The composition is also given rhythm by patches of light and dark but one cannot however speak of shadows per se because of the absence of a single, naturalistic source of light.

The present work is representative of a momentous in Picasso’s – and interdependently in Braque’s – cubist experimentations, placing itself right in the bull’s eye of what Clement Greenberg later described as “the unbroken progression towards the compression of pictorial space, beginning with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and ending with the 1912 invention of collage”. Featuring a key subject matter (see below), Tête also relates to the immense importance of portraiture in the practice of the artist whose treatment of the human face has redefined the genre and stands as a testament to one of the most ground-breaking artistic development of the art of the twentieth century.

– Emilie C.

Pablo Picasso. Tête. 1911.

Pablo Picasso. Tête. 1911.