Friday, August 19, 2022

'Sleep in Witness' at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, UK

 The presentation of work entitled 'Sleep in Witness' by South African artist Lungiswa Gqunta opened at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds on 8th July and runs until 30th October.

The three rooms have each been treated as an installation, with a single work taking over each space as Gqunta continues to examine how colonialism has restricted and curtailed traditional knowledge systems.

The leitmotif running through this exhibition is water and this recurs constantly through the show in different forms and incarnations. As is described fully in the accompanying catalogue, water stands as a powerful symbol of destiny, for both the regenerative life and development of the region, but also for the terror and suffering inflicted upon people of the region, terror and suffering that came to the shores of Africa from overseas.

The first room of the exhibition opens suddenly before us as an earthen plateau composed of clay and sand, mostly flattened but also featuring cracked lumps seemingly descending into a state of higher entropy. Placed at intervals throughout the space are globules of blown glass in blue, purple and clear examples. The shapes of these globules are irregular, suggesting the liquid state from which they came and also referencing 3D pools of water, somehow remaining on the surface of the sand and clay. 

Lights shine on these glass globules increasing our awareness of their smooth, fragile surface and assisting in their likeness to water pools. The smooth nature of the glass globules seem to emphasise the gritty nature of the sand beneath them, while the sand and dry, cracked clay in turn emphasise the smooth, fragile surfaces of the globules.

As visitors walk around the room, their weight compresses the sand and clay, breaking down lumps and often cracking the surface. As we appreciate the installation, we also assist in the increasing entropy. Areas of the room begin to appear smoother, as the sand and clay begin to combine to form a hard surface as the soil of a countryside footpath hardens and smoothens over time due to the use it experiences and as the soil dries out. It is as if the nature of the materials slowly changes over time.

Zinodaka  2022 (Detail)

Zinodaka  2022 (Detail)

Zinodaka  2022 (Detail)

Zinodaka  2022 (Detail)

The second room changes dramatically once we enter it. The sensation is akin to walking across a beach towards the sea edge, where large waves crash down onto the sand. Walking into the room feels as if the visitor is being enveloped by waves crashing around them. We negotiate the waves by walking through the open spaces left for visitors to explore the remaining space of the room. Once we are accustomed to this division of the room's space, it is possible then to focus on details of the wave structures, barbed wire, wrapped in fabric dyed three shades of blue. The shape barbs are a warning that though these may be waves crashing onto the beach, they are also a barrier, we are unable to enter the water. 

Here and there it is possible to pick out small collections of silver coins, hanging amid the waves. Are these coins the flotsam from some shipwreck or could they be offerings cast into the sea from the beach? 
It is also possible to identify orange threads hanging within the wave structures, the orange resonates against its complimentary opposite - the blue of the wave, increasing their visibility. Could they be signals, or way-markings? Or are they further items of flotsam being tossed around randomly in the turbulent sea? 
As the visitor reaches the far side of the room, rhythmic song can be heard from the third room. The song draws the visitor towards the final, small room and there is the definite sensation of having crossed a barrier, overcome an obstacle, reached a destination. 

Ntabamanzi  2022 (Detail)

Ntabamanzi  2022 (Detail)

Ntabamanzi  2022 (Detail)

Ntabamanzi  2022 (Panorama)

After the physicality of the previous two rooms, the final room feels like a refuge. A bench allows the viewer to sit and relax while taking in the HD video. As the rhythmic singing drifts through the space, large cream-coloured sheets appear to billow in the wind. After a few seconds there are glimpses of figures who seem to be manipulating the sheets, perhaps communally drying them? This work reflects upon the ritualisation of repetitive, domestic activities such as washing and folding sheets on Sunday afternoons in South Africa.
The sheets also resemble waves or even ships' sails being buffeted by the wind. The poetic, sensitive way that this exhibition has been constructed and curated continually throws up metaphors such as these. 

Gathering  2019 (Photo of Video Projection)

This is an enjoyable show and well worth the visit. A lot has been condescend into a relatively small exhibition. 

There are some free research events organised to coincide with the exhibition:

A panel discussion on Wednesday 28 September at 6pm / An exhibition tour on Wednesday 12 October at 6pm / and an online conversation event with Lungiswa Gqunta and Melanie Keen (Director of Wellcome Collection) - date to be announced. Book your place here.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

'Assembly' - Wakefield Cathedral, West Yorkshire, UK

The term 'assembly' could be used to describe a group of people gathered together for a common purpose, or a set of components that could be combined into a larger, loosely or tightly integrated object or relationship. 

At Wakefield Cathedral, the term was used to describe the collection of work submitted from 16 members of the Yorkshire Sculptors Group. Each piece of work sought to respond to, blend in with, or even react with (or against) the beautiful cathedral. 

'Assembly' - Wakefield Cathedral
Exhibition Poster

Following on closely from the exhibition at Sunny Bank Mills in Farsley, a piece was created specifically for the cathedral environment and, in particular, for the north-east corner of the building. The grid formed by the stone floor, the masonry blocks of the walls and especially the memorial plaques attached to the walls at regular intervals were the inspiration for the white relief panel that was created for this exhibition and presented on a simple, wooden easel.

The colours that are usually such a feature of the 'District 7' panels were in this case erased, leaving a monochrome surface of painted wood and mdf squares that emphasised the undulating surface of the work.

Once installed, the piece seemed to work well in the environment. What was not anticipated was the incredible luminosity of the work as the sun traversed the building through the day and eventually focused a glorious shaft of light onto the panel. It is always a pleasure to discover an accidental quality such as this, one that renders the work in a far more sympathetic way than was ever planned or hoped for. 

I would recommend a visit to Wakefield to see this exhibition before it closes on 29th August 2022. There are many other wonderful works to investigate, sited throughout the interior of the cathedral, some of which are discreetly hidden, awaiting discovery.

A pdf of the exhibition catalogue can be viewed here.

The Yorkshire Sculptors Group website can be found here.

'District 7, 11x8, White Relief', 2022
Installed in the North-east corner of the Cathedral

Closer view of the work

'District 7, 11x8, White Relief', 2022 - Detail
(Photo courtesy of Vincent James)

Wakefield Cathedral in all its glory