Here is my exhibition review for Monday 12th December. I chose to look at an exhibition which is very much about processes and that chimes with our current focus on process in our ‘conversations’ for the online exhibition:
The Natural Flow of Things – Casa Encendida – 14th october 2016 to January to 8th January 2017
The idea of process and taking the necessary time for a task are embedded in this exhibition through its starting point: a quote taken from Joan Miró in 1958 when the artist was in his 65th year. Miro is quoted by Yvon Taillandier as saying ‘I work like a gardener’ during a long conversation he held with the artist about how he worked. The curator Tania Pardo has taken this quote as a starting point for an exhibition which is spread over 3 spaces in Madrid’s Casa Encendida. Each space interprets this theme differently which I believe leads to a rich experience and although the whole show is relatively small it leaves one much to ponder on.
Adolfo Schlosser, El Cielo sobre la Tierra (The Sky/Heaven above the Earth) 1994
How then is an artist like a gardener? Let us start in Room A, although there is no prescribed order. In this space we find a wealth of materials that could be found in a garden and with which the agricultural labour might feel at home. They have been manipulated and displayed in a thought provoking way. The natural materials have been categorised, framed and stuck together at times to form figurative images, but were perhaps their most convincing when displayed in a way they themselves had so strongly suggested. In the ‘Heaven Above the Earth’ by Adolfo Schlosser we see cut and burnt pine branches placed on the floor of the gallery in concentric circles of ever smaller pieces. There is a sense of how we can use natural elements to reflect upon our lived experience through the considered repetition and use of simple humble materials.
In a small annex to Room A, a video of Francis Alys’s 2002 ‘When Faith Moves Mountains’ was playing. This work, for the 2002 Lima Biennale tells the story of a how a group of volunteers, mainly engineering students, use shovels move a dune on the outskirts of Lima by 10cm. The action took place at a time of great upheaval in Peru’s political life: during the final month of Fujimori’s rule and as a direct reaction to the dictatorship. This is an allegory which is an enormous effort physical effort to achieve something so imperceivable. In the video they form a quite beautiful line as they all dig together.
From ‘When Faith moves Mountains’ Francis Alys 2002
Here the work of the gardener is the most physically demanding but also is about working as a team in close harmony, not only with nature and the elements but also in time with a large group. At the end of the video the students joke about the next project which they say could be to ‘paint the sky’. There is a great sense of achievement in modifying the Peruvian landscape, which of course is unnoticeable and seemingly pointless.
The act of digging and planting like a gardener is most literally seen in Room B which includes actual soil and planting. Nicolás Paris for example uses elements of an allotment as part of his work ‘Garden needs Watering’ and adds the idea of an educational function to the piece which is displayed as a slightly raised wooden bed and invites one to get on a small ‘stage’. However we are not allowed to get up there. The staff do the watering and this stage will change with the time however this feels disappointing and in relation to education and possibly restricts our learning. We read about it and we look at from one point of view at the installation but is ultimately frustrating as we can not participate.
Polly Apfelbaum – Buttercup 2000
A more satisfying aspect of Room B which were the works which relate to gardening in a less direct way. Here the idea of stopping pausing and looking more closely was easier and one could see the smallest details. Polly Apfelbaum’s enigmatically lit ‘buttercup’ in particular made one stop and examine the marks and subtle colour changes whilst circling the floor and worked as a sensual experience as a symbol for a huge spiral flower and, on closer investigation, as hundreds of small velvet paintings each different and yet the same. The form echoing Schlosser’s pine installation in the previous room. This alongside the small delicate twigs on rotating mirrors of Daniel Steegman, in ‘Split Branches’, invited the viewer to look closer at familiar shapes and forms from new perspectives. These works drew one in.
Although the exhibition can be visited in any order, the final room (C), which is very much about colour does make a fitting finale to the exhibition. In this space we see work from a range of artists who all work with organic forms using a wide variety of media. On entering the room there is a great burst of colour and also sense of play. Here the sense of flow feels like a celebration. The ceramic mural of Betty Woodman is made up of movement and flows across the far wall acting as a great backdrop to the smaller pieces.
Room C works by Melena Muzkiz, Betty Woodman (from left to right) and Matthew Ronay in the distance.
Plantlike ceramic pieces by Melena Muzkiz are like a small exotic and exuberant plot in the middle of the room and appear to be growing from an eclectic and non homogeneous combination of textures and materials. As with most of the pieces in this and the other spaces, there is a great sense of play in these organic forms which allow us to consider our relationships to nature, working and perhaps most importantly contemplation and time. The curator Tania Pardo sees the exhibition as a story, It felt rather more like a journey to me, a journey which we could take at our own pace and using our own compass. Although they might be very different what artists and gardeners share are worth considering and looking at.
We read our reviews at the hangout on 12/12/16. The idea being to reflect about this type of writing for our exhibition catalogue piece or other writing about our work. It was interesting to hear what other people had chosen to focus on in their reviews. We had only 1000 words to use for the piece so it was hard to choose. I felt at the end I could have described individual pieces in more detail and in the end I skated over some things and therefore did not get enough depth. I also felt that I do not have the review voice yet. Although I talk about artist’s work and exhibitions from a personal interest view point in my journal this more detached but not academic writing was a bit of a challenge. I don’t think I would have made a good journalist.
The exhibition webpage in English There is also a video on the page in Spanish with English subtitles.
Video of interview with Tania Pardo – Curator
Francis Alys video