Parables of Nana by Genesis Tramaine at Almine Rech
That evening when I entered Almine Rech – all I knew was that there is a new exhibition; I knew nothing about the artist or her work, I actually didn’t even know if it was her or his work, all I cared about was just taking pictures for the Purple Fashion Magazine. I was fairly annoyed actually: there was a lot of construction work going on and I had to find different (from my usual) way to get into the gallery. In contrary, I also remember leaving the exhibition with pictures, with happiness in my heart and this idea in my brain - I want to write a very professional review about this powerful work of this beautiful woman.
(Genesis Tramaine, Bearer of Good News, 2020)
It took me more than 2 months to do this writing. At some point I thought that I won’t even do it, and then my thoughts shifted again, and my whole idea about how this reflective piece should be written changed too and now I am sitting here and writing this piece which is surprisingly really meaningful to me and I want it to be raw rather than ‘professional’.
I remember asking Genesis to pose next to one of her paintings and she asked me (with this beautiful smile on her face) where should she stand and what should be done whilst she pose, and I just said ‘you pick, you decide’, and she was doing so great, and I remember her saying thank you to me and I said thank you to her, and we hugged, and she was just so friendly, and open. We talked for a bit – I congratulated her on her solo exhibition, and I told her that I like her paintings, and then she said this one thing that stuck with me, she said something like ‘you know, I am in this small body, but I am a big woman, I am big, there is so much in me, and these paintings reflect that’, and she was moving her hands so expressively, and I was fascinated with her honesty and welcoming attitude, and it simply made me really happy; this conversation with her was really short, but it was beautiful.
After a while I started to read about her and watched some videos that told me more about her ideals and beliefs: what I found was God, so much of it.
(Genesis Tramaine, Saint Jabez, 2020)
As Halima Taha says exhibition ‘Parables of Nana’ (where I actually discovered Genesis) ‘explores the universal identity of the soul though the mortal lens of a spiritual being who navigates the world as a servant of God and happens to be a Black woman, a daughter, a grand-daughter, a sister, a cousin, a friend, an auntie, and a Queer wife. Tramaine invites audiences to contemplate themselves in the presence of Divine spirit through the human face’.
There is also another very important paragraph in the public release of the exhibition which states that ‘Artists like Genesis Tramaine are often characterized as ‘outsider’, ‘visionary’ or ‘self-taught’ because of their examination of idiosyncratic realities that are imbued with imagination and visual power that encapsulates aesthetic criteria defined by the art historical canon. Her work brings together disparate traditions, practices and styles to create a visual collage of lines, shapes, patterns, brushstrokes, portraits and colorful iconography that examines how to restore ‘wholeness’ through faith.’
(Genesis Tramaine, Don’t be Shy, 2020)
However, all I saw at the very beginning of looking was reminiscent of Jean Michel Basquiat, but then with the continuous looking into, my personal interpretation was followed by deep reflective comprehension: I was seeing a woman who is de-tangling what is tangled, uncovering what is hidden, and finally re-writing what is written. I saw a really fresh explanation of what does that mean to have a grandmother, to be Christian, to be black, to be a queer-woman in a church, to be a human and share this universal human-experience which is full of colour, what does that mean to pray, what does that mean to "sit down at the table and let me learn you something," and never teach.
(Genesis Tramaine, Witnessing Grace, 2020)
I think about God and how it does not exist for me, but how it exists for her: how there are always angels around her and how she feels blessed and loved and protected, how she goes to church and feels happiness, how she paints to show people the divinity and faith. I also think about going to church 6 years ago, I was all alone in Vilnius and I strongly knew that I am not a Christian (or believer in God overall). I think about going to church 2 years ago when I was in Faro, and crying so incredibly hard in there - my knowledge of not being a believer in God was even stronger. I still do not believe in God and definitely am not a Christian, but I think about this now, because of the person I love, or people I used to/still love who happen to be Christians or believers - how incredibly strange it is to write all of this down, while actually writing about art?
(Genesis Tramaine, Blood Brother's, 2020; Joy Comes In The Morning, 2020)
For me, paintings of Genesis Tramaine encapsulate powerful force which flows because of the colour, it moves (itself/others) because of the freedom it possesses, it enters hearts because of the stories it tells and sinks into the minds because of the memories it brings back.
I am looking forward to seeing more of her work – here in London or anywhere else in the world, because it is worth traveling overseas to see it.
The Contemporary Human Condition, group exhibition at JD Malat
I entered the gallery on 19th of February, exactly on the day that it is finally open, but am writing about it only now. It attracted my interest because of how it was advertised on Instagram, it seemed to be really promising: ‘The Contemporary Human Condition’ – it is intriguing to say the least.
First thing one sees after entering the gallery is the descriptive paragraph on the wall which includes the names of the artists. It is extremely disturbing that exhibition which claims to present ‘the best of JD Malat Gallery’s international artists’ has exactly zero black artists and only 3 of them happens to be females. What a great start.
The further one goes and allows space to engulf them, the more of disappointment appears: gallery is exhibiting over 9 different creatives, exhibition is planned throughout 2 floors, there are over 25 pieces, however, only 5 or 6 of them have a tiny sticker on the wall which indicates which artist made it and what is the name of the artwork, furthermore, at the time of my visit gallery didn't even have exhibition catalogue either, therefore, I’ve asked them to email it to me, today is 15th of March, and I still don't have it. Finally, they uploaded it on their website at least.
(Andy Moses, R.A.D. 1704, 2017)
(Henrik Uldalen, Fusion, 2019)
This exhibition made me realise (for the first time in my life) how important curator is. It is especially important when it comes to the small places like JD Malat: it requires very smart and scrupulous decisions, and they were definitely not made there. I was not surprised at all when after asking gallery assistant who curated the show I was told that the whole exhibition was curated by ‘ourselves’ and there was no mention of somebody qualified as a curator.
(Katrin Fridriks, Cosmic Star Messenger, 2019)
Curatorial decisions made me feel very confused because of this overwhelmingly disconnected approach towards the topic which was supposed to be talking about 'contemporary human condition' and since the space which was filled with artworks did not provide any visible answers to the question - what does this contemporary human condition actually mean, I have decided to try and look at the press release.
It says in there: 'In an attempt to tackle this series of complex connections, the exhibition is framed by the question; how does this selection of artists explore and express the many facets of the contemporary human condition? To answer this question, this exhibition responds to themes of conflict and escapism by juxtaposing such politically charged portraits of world leaders by Chinese artist Li Tianbing with the atmospheric and ethereal landscapes of Swiss artist Conrad Jon Godly. The Contemporary Human Condition highlights the range of responses from artists dealing with the complexities of contemporary life.'
I do agree with couple of things: the connections that gallerists were trying to make are indeed complex, because it takes quite long for a thought to go from politics to landscapes, if it is not jumping, especially when it is about the matter of contemporaries and human state. I also agree that this exhibition is only an attempt and to be completely clear - it is a failed one.
Press release just goes on and on explaining what artists are exploring and tackling with their practice or artworks overall: 'Li Tianbing and Zümrütoğlu draw upon their personal experiences to reveal the profound impact of global political issues and conflict.' and how 'Turkish artist Zümrütoğlu alerts us to the baseness of the human condition through a powerful and highly expressive display of work'
(Erdogan Zümrütoğlu, Abra Cadaver (3), 2018 and Abra Cadaver (1), 2018)
There are also bits about how: 'The Contemporary Human Condition highlights the range of responses from artists dealing with the complexities of contemporary life.', however, what the whole piece of writing fails to do is to explain what Contemporary Human Condition actually is. It is not clear from the combination of the artworks and it is not clear from the piece of writing either. It is too broad and open for the interpretation and even though it is finally stated in the press release that 'by combining each artist’s unique perspective on the contemporary human condition, this exhibition aims to unveil the artists’ mutual ambition to engage with the pressures of contemporary life through the creative process.', it just simply seems that gallery was putting bunch of different artists together, these artists are creating in the current moment and, therefore, gallery used words contemporary and human because these two words are literally the only thing that unite exhibits. This exhibition is also very elitist and underwhelming - it doesn't tackle any problematic points of human condition in contemporary era: there is nothing about poverty, inequality, social injustice or environmental issues, etc., you name it. Saying that exhibition includes portraits of world leaders (for example Trump) does not stand as equal to the problem of sexism or racism that he brings into the bigger picture and it does not connect to the artwork which shows 'how art can alleviate the afflictions of contemporary society' at all either.
I want to highlight that I am fully aware of how JD Malat is a commercial gallery which aims to produce continuous exhibitions that will lead to profitable result whether it is monetary, public-related, or in any other form, and I am also fully aware of the reasons that stand behind the the making of a group show – combination of the best-selling artists is important for business, etc., but as a professional market/cultural place/space, you should've known better when it comes to the statements such as 'best international artists' when there is massive lack of inclusivity or with the names such as 'The Contemporary Human Condition' and non-existent curator or somebody who writes public release and cannot make any decent correlations among extremely visibly different topics.
The artists whose works were exhibited, individually explore really intriguing and worth-a-while topics, majority of them are also using unique techniques and in their final results show great amount of mental and physical labour, however, this combinatory show made every single one of them shrink and disappear into nothingness, which is a very unfortunate thing to happen.
(Liu Fei, No. 1, 2006)
‘This exhibition attempts to underline the importance of international dialogue focusing in particular on the artistic response to changing global conditions, political events and the impact of contemporary life on the individual.’ – that seems to be a really broad, interesting aim, next time - hopefully.
3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73 by Cameron Rowland at ICA
On Sunday (16th of Feb) I met my friend George, I haven’t seen him for the past 2 (?) years. We grab some Starbucks for takeaway and go for a walk around central London. Around 8pm I suggest that we go to ICA and check out what’s good in there, since it is open until 11pm, we agree on that.
Exhibition by Cameron Rowland is called 3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73; we just buy tickets without thinking too much and are given two handouts: A4, around 10 pages, lots of writing, even more footnotes. We are told: ‘Guys, like, it’s real good’.
First glance at the space makes me confused, I am not used to seeing it so empty, ICA exhibitions are usually different. It actually makes me so confused that I mistakenly think of wheelchair ramp as of an exhibit, George laughs at me, but well, well, well, after 20 or so minutes, on the 1st floor, we get to know that the stairs are an exhibit as well now, sooo, I don’t know if I was completely foolish with this ramp no more.
As mentioned before, space is very minimalistic, for me it is really hard to understand what it is about, especially when I don’t really know what exact focus area in the practice of C. Rowland is.
First thing we get close to is some sort of chain, neither of us are aware of what it is exactly, and since there are no names next to exhibits, we go through the pages of the handout and read: ‘Pacotille’ 2020. We get to know that it is brass manillas manufactured in Birmingham, 18th century; glass beads manufactured in Venice, 18th century 103 x 68 x 3 cm.
It is difficult to discuss any of this, because neither of us (yet again) have enough of the concrete knowledge about it. We read together and then we go ‘ohhh’. It is hard to keep the conversation flowing as we move towards other exhibits: we don’t know what it stands for and there is so much reading to be done.
It is not the same as observing Whitechapel’s ‘Radical Figures’ where you can just look at things and give it your own meaning, where you observe materials used or possible methods executed, for example.
I literally just took bunch of pictures when we were walking throughout the building and the only pieces we actually were able to talk about were ‘probability of escape, 2020 Police car searchlight’, I remember making a remark that it reminds me of the film ‘The Hate U Give’ directed by George Tillman Jr. It was because of the very strong impression film left on me: police violence. I have heard from my black friends who reside in US that ‘they are afraid to die because of the police violence’ and I remember it breaking my heart quite literally; but the movie was even more affecting, I remember crying my eyes out after I saw this exact scene where innocent, a bit rebellious teenager, is shoot for no reason.
I would say that I made a mistake by going to this exhibition with somebody rather than by myself (no offence George, it was fab to see you one way or the other), but it is hard to immerse when you are there to entertain somebody else with a discussion and apparently I am not the only one who thinks that: ‘this is a show you go to alone, but not one that you process alone’ says white pube. I agree to that: you go there, you read, you research and you discuss it only then: to fully understand the exhibition you need to be knowledgeable within very certain period of history, within symbolism and also within the problems that artist tackles.
Exhibition is curated through lower and upper galleries, as mentioned before it contains very few objects, some of them are not even objects, but rather constructive parts of the building. As I am writing this I do not know what else I could add when it comes to exhibits, I do not even know what to add when it comes to the way they were made or the way they are displayed, I am not even sure what to say about the impact they bring with themselves as a collective piece of influential shift for thinking. I am not sure if I see it as an exhibition or rather political statement, if I see it as a reminder of history or a reminder of how consequences of it are still visible now? I write this text as a long question, which is for everybody: for those who are and are not socially aware, for those who are in the position of privilege and those who feel social injustice creeping into their daily lives, for those who would never care and would never bother to read all of what Cameron Rowland wrote in the handover sheets that are given at the entrance, and those who would go to every single reference. I write this as an invitation to contemplate and discuss and please correct me if I am wrong or if my opinion is highly lacking experience and knowledge.
In my opinion unconditional willingness for full-immersion to the space is very important – white cube approach really distinguishes objects that are exhibited; on the one hand it looks quite disturbing: some might say that this amount of minimalism is a joke and a complete ridicule that art can sometimes become, however, in this instance I completely disagree. I think it is definitely about seeing bigger picture, about literally showing how much effort it is needed to understand and fully comply with this artistic expression.
I read the only reviews I could find online and they were by the white pube and The TimeOut, both so different and completely opposing. (I must admit that I am not the biggest fan of the white pube, most likely because they are more radical than I can take for now, but I understand their youthful approaches and I understand their importance). This time I completely agree with them when it comes to the opposition of what Eddy Frankel wrote after rating exhibition 2/5 which involves: ‘But for something so interesting, so important, it misses the mark so badly. A couple of almost empty rooms and a dissertation don’t make for an engaging, affecting art experience.’ or ‘Rowland's work holds you at arm’s length, refusing to let you in. It’s the kind of academic, unyielding exhibition that makes people hate contemporary art. It feels like art for people with degrees; it feels like it’s saying: ‘If you don’t get it, it’s not for you, and that’s your fault, not mine.’, and finally it ends with ‘It’s elitist, and it stops people from engaging. Rowland has powerful ideas; they’re just expressed really weakly.’ Well, in my opinion, that’s just bunch of words coming from somebody with a very outdated views, let’s upgrade.
I think this approach is so wrong, I do not understand how people expect everything to be silver-plated-delivered to them? I do agree that culture is for everybody and that cultural expressions or comprehension of it are as well, but for god’s sake – people are doing degrees on it, people are paying huge money to be able to call themselves artist and curators, etc., they are literally studying for 3-4 years at least, to actually know what is it that they want to say and what is the best way to do it? And then there are people who want complex and extremely deep sociopolitical ideas be squeezed into something that can be read while walking around the space, slurping frappuccino with double cream, taking selfies and having a chitchat about John from the love island (I don’t even know if there is any John, but you get my idea). No. You want access to something which is deliberately important, educating, touching and disturbing? Something that might change the way your thoughts flow for the following week, two or maybe the whole life? You want to comprehend and immerse? Go and put some work and effort into it: read and listen, discuss and ask, and write and listen again, and be open.
White pube says: ‘Frankel says it himself, ‘It’s saying: ‘If you don’t get it, it’s not for you, and that’s your fault, not mine’’ and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! I will defend Black artists’ rights to opacity till my dying breath!’, and then they add: ‘This question of opacity is still a valid one, but my GOD, it is not for the Eddy fucking Frankel’s of the art world to gesticulate around, not for him to offer jurisdiction over - reader, it isn’t even for me. If there is a gap in understanding and engagement, then there is the potential for it to be closed within the space of the live program that’s part of this show.’
To conclude and go away from factualities and institutionalism that this exhibition is surrounded with I want to say that I liked it. I liked it in a very strange way: it made my heart go soft. I was sad, but at the same time happy, inspired to talk about it, to ask and see if I understand things the way they are, or not. I was also really scared to write all of this, because of the possible mistakes that I made along the way, but this is the way I see now, the way I think, and please, correct me if I am wrong about any of that.
No pictures, because go and look at it.
Cameron Rowland is an artist making visible the institutions, systems, and policies that perpetuate systemic racism and economic inequality. Rowland’s research-intensive work centers around the display of objects and documents whose provenance and operations expose the legacies of racial capitalism and underscore the forms of exploitation that permeate many aspects of our daily lives.
Live In Your Head: Richard Artschwager's Cabinet of Curiosities by Richard Artschwager at Gagosian
Gagosian gallery residing in Davies Street are hosting current exhibition from 17th of January until the 7th of March, and even though that the exhibition went live in January, I only got a chance to see it now. Gallery space is not huge, however, in this instance it made the whole experience even better – since the name of the exhibition itself is talking about small spaces: head and cabinet – it aligns very well.
Gagosian made really great job when it comes to curatorial decisions: exhibition contains 22 art-pieces, it is a combination of works that artist made as early as in 1962 or ones that he made during his last years of life, no matter this amount of exhibits or timely diversity curation makes it easy to move around, give equal amount of attention or comprehension to each of the artworks.
As gallery says in its public release 'The installation will be visible from the street, its components arranged like objects in a Joseph Cornell box. It also recalls a sixteenth-century Wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosity—a collection of specimens, relics, and other marvels that was displayed as a microcosm of its owner’s knowledge and experience.'
When it comes to the name of the whole exhibition gallery adds: 'The exhibition is named for a sculpture titled Live in Your Head (2002) that is itself a reference to Harald Szeemann’s paradigmatic 1969 group exhibition of the same title, in which Artschwager participated. Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form upended fixed ideas about the art of the time—namely, the relationship between artist, viewer, space, and curator.'
(Live in your head, 2002)
I like Artschwager’s art so I felt like writing about it. I like it because of how commercial it is/can be, I find it accompanying Jeff Koons or Andy Warhol. It is bright, popsy, and brave enough to admit that yes – I am here for you to buy me, however, as in everything, one can always find the meaning in these art pieces. Most of the time Artschwager's artworks are literally about the object, its minimalistic features, occupational capacities, or spacial role, it is about moving through space and making sense out of it, it is about experience being aimed towards the viewer, but at the same time making her think of the work that is hidden behind it, what artist/curator were going through, etc... Or it is also about nothing. About the commerce. About the artwork being there as a symbol of status if someone owns it. However, it is said by Gagosian that 'none of these classifications adequately define the aims of an artist who specialized in categorical confusion and worked to reveal the levels of deception involved in pictorial illusionism. In his work, an anonymous sheet of walnut-pattern Formica is both itself and a depiction of a wooden plane; a table or chair is furniture, sculpture, and image all at once; and a painting or sculpture can be a “multi-picture” or “three-dimensional still life.” Artschwager foregrounded the structures of perception, striving to conflate the world of images—which can be apprehended but not physically grasped—and the world of objects, the same space that we ourselves occupy.'
(Splatter Table, 2005)
I feel that every time I enter Gagosian when they are exhibiting something non-political, but rather playful and not soaked with feelings/thoughts, I feel lighter myself. It is refreshing – I personally enjoy this part of capitalism and consumerism – these type of artworks show me that sometimes, very rarely, it (capitalism/consumerism) can actually be beautiful.
I enjoyed the exhibition, it didn’t take much of my time and I don’t think it should've. For me it is literally beautiful to look at, that’s all, it is attractive and greatly curated, but as all beautiful things that only contains beauty and no depth – it can become boring and it finally fades in my memory folds. Maybe public issue by Gagosian could’ve been written better – with enclosement of what kind of value it brings to the culture, besides of the obvious – monetary one for those who are selling/buying it; but all in all I guess it really is what it is – just beautiful pieces put together.
Artschwager was born in 1923 in Washington, DC, and died in 2013 in Albany, New York. After receiving a BA in 1948 from Cornell University, New York, he studied under Amédée Ozenfant, one of the pioneers of abstraction. In the early 1950s Artschwager became involved in cabinetmaking, producing simple pieces of furniture.
Transcend by Tom French at Unit London
Throughout the 30th of January – 29th of February contemporary art space Unit London represents Tom French (1982-2019) and his retrospective named Transcend: it is a tribute to the artist who passed away in December in 2019 after battling cancer.
According to the gallery, artworks are created with rather finite, however, hopeful notion: "In his final months, Tom poured every morsel of hope, determination and strength into this body of work. He spoke of the tranquility it instilled in him – the therapeutic nature of executing a skill that you have been honing your entire life. And the joy of continuing to find variation in something so familiar, to find foreign pleasures in native spaces. In some ways, the chaotic mess that is premature illness was brought to heel by Tom through his work."
The Unit London is uniting two major bodies of work by the artist: Duality and Parallax. ‘This is work that emphasises art’s ability to transcend a definitive visual experience and intellectual conclusion by creating an illusory framework for interpretation. Both sets of work are monochromatic, figurative combinations of photorealism and abstraction that depicts a psychological landscape as well as material space', gallery claims.
(Sorocco, 2018; Parallax Portrait 9, 2017; Dualities 8, 2019; Parallax Portrait 8, 2017; Parallax Portrait 6, 2017; Vessel, 2018)
As a visitor of a gallery I must say that the first thing that attracted my eye was technical methodology that artist used to enhance the possibility of scrutiny of a viewer, another thing was mediums (charcoal, acrylic paint, oils, spray paint).
Artworks seem to be easily flowing, however, very detailed and precise as well; the combination of these two impressions creates rather obscure occurance where double image is born, which, if one gets closer, can lead to the immersive experience.
(Parallax Portrait 5, 2017; Vestigo, 2017)
Besides of the technicalities of the artworks, one can find endless interpretations of what the painting actually means: it could be covering themes of psychological space, mental activity, external and internal worlds, etc.
I would say that Tom French’s work thematic s are deeply rooted around the imagery of a person no matter if it is a male or a female: artworks explore peoples' inner experiences, detachment and attachment (or rather possibly of experiencing it) the human condition and duality overall; it touches upon ontology and seemingly questions existence - how body cannot exist without essence, but also interrogates if essence could exist without material body.
Gallery comments on themes and interpretations with the claim that ‘[…] paintings are meditations on the theory of dualism: the idea that mind and body are distinct entities. In these works swirling abstraction captures consciousness and material activity, whilst glimpses of the figurative bring attention back to the physical.’ The experience of the observer, according to the gallery, could possibly be endured as something where ‘[…] the composite shape begins to appear, encapsulating both realms of dualistic existence.’
Personally, I think that besides of existential explorations and melancholic defiance Tom French’s artworks also contain aspect of sadness and maybe even horror. I might be experiencing these feelings because of the context that I am aware of – these paintings were made by a young artist who didn’t stop painting until his last days in December last year; artworks were supposed to be expression of bravery, strength and determination, but for me, these elements come in hand with grief, nostalgia and anguish.
(Dualities 6, 2019)
(Dualities 7, 2019)
Tom French (1982-2019) was British artist from Newcastle upon Tyne. Creative was educated by Newcastle School of Art and Design, and Sheffield Institute of Art and Design, from which he graduated in 2005 with first class BA Honours. Tom French held solo shows in UK and abroad including Scope New York and Scope Miami Beach. Artworks by Tom French were also featured on magazine covers including ‘Upstart’ or ‘Los Angeles Where’. Artist passed away in December in 2019 after battling cancer.
(Parallax 3, 2019; Parallax 4, 2019)
Article written by Vaiva Kisarauske; person writing on behalf of the gallery is Will Hainsworth.