2 November 2015 § Leave a comment
At first glance, the latest exhibition at Pace London appears to be the work of a formidably talented wildlife photographer. A pack of hunting wolves gaze across a frozen landscape as they hunt out their next meal, whilst a timid deer peers from within a dark forest landscape. A group of condors watch from a cliff top, a pair of ostrich protect their clutch of eggs.
Television documentaries in mind, one pictures a patient photographer trekking for days, before holing out in an expertly camouflaged hide for days upon end. He awaits the perfect shot, an image of nature’s ultimate perfection, and wildlife at its most liberated.
We soon discover that the truth actually illustrates quite the reverse. These images are simply capturing large-scale dioramas set inside natural history museums. The photographer is in a warm room. Everything is dead. We long to see nature’s grandeur and majesty, but all we get is a hollow reproduction inside a glazed box.
Hiroshi Sugimoto’s latest exhibition is of large format works from his ongoing Diorama series. Composed in crisp black and white and sharp tones, the pristine quality and stillness of these large-scale pieces reveal the inherent artificiality of the constructed worlds contained within their frames.
Sugimoto dwells in the artifice of the images “The only thing absent is life itself. Time comes to a halt and never-ending stillness reigns.” “All over the planet, nature is being transformed into un-nature at breakneck speed. My life is part of natural history. I long to know where that history came from and where it is going.”
The exhibition highlights recurring themes and images that have sustained Sugimoto’s interest and work for almost four decades. Essential are the concepts of memory and preservation, evident here in his exploration of nature as mediated through the museum. Since beginning this series, the notion of fossilization has become an important concept for him and this permeates his work.
Exploring it as a historical fact and photographic conceit, the fossil serves as a living record and point of departure into history, crystalizing a moment in time into a singular object. Sugimoto’s process echoes this notion, capturing these frozen scenes on his large-format camera with specific lighting and extended exposures, lasting as long as twenty minutes.
Ironically, the very absence – of natural habitats, unspoilt landscapes and animal species – that these images highlight at the same time, serves to inspires our determination to preserve them. After all we do not want to find the human race represented as exhibits in a Natural History Museum.
Hiroshi Sugimoto: Still Life, is on until 24 January 2015. For further information visit www.pacegallery.com
18 July 2014 § Leave a comment
Adrian Ghenie is one of the chief figures of The Romanian ‘Cluj School’ – comprising artists like Victor Man, Mircea Cantor and Ciprian Muresan – a painter who’s star has been rising exponentially since his relatively recent arrival on the art scene. His latest exhibition, Golems at Pace London, provides ample evidence of why he is so highly regarded.
The golem is an animated anthropomorphic creature from Jewish folklore, created entirely from inanimate material; a doer of terrible deeds. Ghenie’s reference here is the creation of a radical idea in society – in this case Darwin’s – let loose to change the socio-cultural environment. Darwin’s personal story holds a special fascination for Ghenie; the skin condition and vomiting that afflicted him, his luxuriant beard and Victorian attire all afford a rich source of textural possibilities that reveal themselves in this series of portraits.
The exhibition consists of a collection of new figurative works of Charles Darwin shown alongside the ‘Darwin Room’, an installation that consists of an assemblage of meticulously sourced 19th century furniture, wooden floor boards and wall panels. Taking the room’s composition from Rembrandt’s Philosopher in Meditation Ghenie has created a three-dimensional environment that perhaps at first glance resembles a two-dimensional painting. Led in by an assistant with torch one reaches a dark and gloomy and life-sized room that evokes an intriguing physiological atmosphere of anxiety and comfort. The only light is that of the ‘light of reason’ which shines brightly through a small, solitary window – the room therefore a prototypical site for visionary thought within European history.
The installation itself devoid of figures. These are supplied by the impressive artworks in the adjacent room. Portraits of 20th century figures whose actions indelibly changed the course of history are a recurring theme in Ghenie’s work and to him the publication of The Origin of Species represents such an inflection point – his ideas stolen by despots and dictators and misappropriated.
Ghenie presents himself in Self portrait as Charles Darwin, 2014 and he himself becomes the arbiter of scientific change, the cliché of the tortured intellectual, and the anamorphic threat of the Golem; the idea let loose to reek havoc. All of these elements are present in Ghenie’s Bacon-esque brush strokes. He highlights an era that questioned man’s significance, the existence of God, and the question of Creationism —through a use of paint that suggests the anamorphic nature of identity through the evolution of scientific understanding.
These works however are not just introverted intellectual exercise or conceptual navel-gazing, they are visually stunning and beautifully executed. The merging of impressive technique with rigorous artistic thought process provides the viewer with a rich and stimulating experience that will enhance Ghenie’s reputation not only critically but in the auction houses of the future.
Adrian Ghenie – Golems is at Pace London until 25 July 2014