Exhibition

Q&A: Gaby Sahhar

'The exhibition considers how an artwork's presence is in a perpetual state of flux'

Partial Presence at the Zabludowicz Collection's London space aims to capture the ever-changing presence of an artwork and how it constantly evolves from conception and fabrication to eventual display and archive. The exhibition has been curated by students from Goldsmiths' MFA Curating course and The Cass London Met University, and what's really special is their choice to exhibit both established and young, emerging artists alongside each other.

This space is an atmospheric location for the exhibition, it was once a Methodist Chapel built 1867-71, and is far from a typical four-white-walls gallery. Each work has been carefully positioned in relationship to its neighbour, some in clusters according to the work's own personal journey and history. Gazing up at the cavernous main room or winding through its narrow back corridors I found myself captivated by the space itself, while each of these works have their own unique story, they also seem to contribute to and soak up a new history specific to their surroundings.

Gaby Sahhar is one of the youngest exhibitors, on display are two pieces from his We are becoming the horse series including his short film, I got the chance to catch up with him at the opening night and talk to him about his excitingly original and dynamic practice.

Above: London based Artist Gaby Sahhar at Zabludowicz Collection

What was the idea behind the We are becoming the horse series, what was it about horses that interested you?

Filmed between London and Tokyo, We are becoming the horse is a projective work that suggests that humanity is approaching a state of redundancy with the evolution and standardisation of technology as a new model. Using my original footage of abandoned horses on the Thamesmead estate and of rush-hour in modern-day Tokyo, it explores the marginalized and redundant status of the horse in a society it helped to build, aligning this equine plight to the human condition. The glitch-aesthetics of the video combined with the broken down display screen and surveillance sculpture take the conversation further, revealing technology itself as an unreliable and vulnerable body. 

Above: Stills from the We are becoming the horse film

I’ve seen some photographs showing how you created the Lake series which are really atmospheric, can you talk me through the process?

I was making a lot of paintings about different forms of energy in the body and exploring the different waves of energy we experience. Originally when I produced the paintings I wanted them to feel extremely fluid and to depict all the forms of energy we experience on the spectrum, from hyperactivity to irritation and energy driven anger. I eventually began to understand that energy in the body was an over controlling thing, which I tried to show in the paintings by using paints such as enamel blacks and inks. However, after making the paintings and seeing them side by side in the studio I wasn’t pleased with them and they didn’t seem to be fluid at all or very energetic or reference the body, so I decided to be self-destructive and take them to a lake - an environment which I saw as very fluid and still dominated by nature, not humans. I then decided to walk into the lakes with my paintings and started drowning them under the water whilst also getting myself very wet and cold in November. I was so much happier with the result as everything felt heightened by the environment afterwards. The paintings in the lake had connotations of body’s now, and the water magnified the colours. To date I think it is still one of the best works I have ever done.

Your work seems really diverse and experimental, is there any particular influence or theme that links it?

My practice consists of film, sculpture, painting and installation. I am driven by environments, humans and animals and in particular the emotional impact that 21st century life in the city has on humans and how our species adapts to it, creating odd narratives in site-specific locations to express this. I often use animal analogies as a metaphor for these themes. 

Above: Images from the Lake series

You seem to take a lot of risks with your work especially as it's so diverse ... are there any challenges?

Sometimes it feels like my practice is one big challenge. Often when I am making site-specific work it can be dangerous if I don’t fully understand my surroundings. I often re-visit places where I know I am going to be doing a lot of work to ensure the best results. I also seem to develop ideas which are a struggle to realise in real life. Adapting my ideas can be hard, especially working in a timescale when you’re studying. More recently, filming wild horses has been a bit of a challenge, I have had to learn a lot about horses to know how to approach them and learning how not to startle them when you’re holding a lens to their face.

Gaby has exhibited and worked collaboratively on shows such as Invisible Hours at SLG 2014, De/Construct at Whitechapel Gallery 2014, Deep within the Bosom of the Night at Harts Lane Studios 2014, Artcube 2014/2012, and Frieze London 2014/2013. He also designed a TATE limited edition handset for Vodafone UK in 2012.

Visit Gaby's website to below find out more about his unique and compelling practice

Partial Presence at the Zabludowicz Collection is on now until 22 February and free, it's an exciting show in an amazing space so catch it while you can

More info here

Tate Collective x Joceline Howe: Shape Studio

This December's Late at Tate was dynamic, exciting and impressively loud! Working alongside artist Joceline Howe, Tate Collective decided to focus on an intriguing and slightly ambiguous artist, Marlow Moss, for our event on the night.

Marlow Moss is another great artist so many of us had never heard of … or at least I, admittedly, hadn’t. Tate’s current display hopes to change that, with a delicate and focused display of her characteristic Abstract paintings and Constructivist sculptures.

Moss was definitely going against the grain in the mid 1920s when she changed her name from Marjorie to Marlow, chopped her hair into a mannish crew cut and began wearing a man’s blazer and cravat. At a time where many women still couldn’t get the vote and gendered conformity was expected, Moss was a daringly obvious and proud lesbian artist.

Living and travelling between London, Cornwall, Paris and Amsterdam, Moss was very much engaged in the International Constructivist movement. She had met Mondrian during her travels to Paris, where she exhibited frequently, and his influence is unmistakable; the same geometric criss-cross grids and black painted shapes float on pure, white backgrounds.

So, back to the entertaining bit ... we'd decided our main aim for the night was that all participants had a heap of fun, as well as the chance to discover and respond to the work of Marlow Moss and bring Constructivist geometry to life ... so a Shape Studio seemed the perfect place!

Drawing directly on the paintings and sculptures of Marlow Moss we isolated block-coloured geometric shapes and constructed them in cardboard covered in bright fabrics. We invited visitors to get creative at our Shape Studio in Tate Britain's South Duveens, placed against a white backdrop individuals, friends and families arranged themselves and their shapes to create an individual Marlow Moss inspired image and all captured by artist Nicky Giraffe.

Did you come along to Shape Studio? Find your pics, taken by Nicky Giraffe, here on Tate Collective's Facebook

Check out some GIFs from the night on Tate Collective's Tumblr

Sexism/Sensationalism/Seduction? Allen Jones at the RA

Allen Jones still has the power to push buttons, his current show at the Royal Academy has reignited longstanding debates questioning objectification over empowerment inherent in his fetishised female forms.

The show pulls together iconic works like Chair from the early 60s to recent images of commercial icons including Kate Moss. Perhaps I should have been offended, but instead I was entirely seduced by Jones’s women. I was struck by the contradictions and ambiguity embodied in the female representation in his drawings, paintings, sculptures and furniture.

Jones controversial stance was evident from the outset even as a student at the Royal College of Art, where he trained alongside David Hockney and Peter Phillips, eventually being kicked out in 1960. In 1964 a year spent in New York marked a turning point in his career, he established his bright, flattened, Pop iconography and stylised women, launching his name into fame. It was in 1969 that he really made his mark however - exhibiting Chair, Hatstand and Table – cast fibreglass women wearing leather bondage gear in erotically charged poses transformed literally into household objects. When they were exhibited at the ICA in 1970, feminists let off stink and smoke bombs in protest, paint stripper was later poured over Chair at the Tate in the 80s attempting to destroy the offending body. There’s a Duchampian sense about this outrage however; just as Duchamp’s wheel attracted criticism it got people debating, critiquing and most importantly, created a barrage of attention – these protests against Jones ironically acted only to elevate his name as an artist to be reckoned with.

L-R: Chair, 1969 and Table, 1969

Of course the outrage is completely logical; Jones presents us with simplified yet idealised, plastic mannequin-like, objectified women, mostly nude and generally passive while his men are clothed and active. Arguably Jones follows age-old stereotypical female representations; the body becoming object to be viewed by male gaze, his bondage-clad mannequins are intrinsically fetishised and sexualised. John Berger’s comments on art historical canonical trends spring to mind; ‘to be born a woman is to be born into an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men’ he expressed, ‘men act – women appear’. On the other hand, unlike the sculptures from classical antiquity and beyond that Berger was commenting on, Jones’s women make no attempt to conceal their nakedness, on the contrary they embrace nudity with their powerful stance – in one triptych Three-Part Invention the female subjects overshadow and dominate their male counterparts.

L-R: Three-Part Invention, 2002 and First Step, 1966

His focus on figuration both eschewed and embraced Clement Greenberg’s championing of Abstract Expressionism and its focus on flatness. Rather than abstracting form, he found a new way to flatten the human body, “Pop seemed to be a new way of representing the figure” he explains. Even his sculptural works often blend into the flat plane behind them.

L-R: Stand In, 1991-2 and Fascinating Rhythm, 1982-3

Is he a misogynist or merely following in the footsteps of classic sculpture? Jones denies that any of his works have a fine-art source, yet there’s no ignoring that the idealised female form he presents to us follows the traditions of classic painting and sculpture. Jones said recently ‘I think of myself as a feminist’ and perhaps it is a sense of playful pleasure in the female form that elevates them from mere misogyny.

Allen Jones at the Royal Academy of Arts is on now until 25 January 2015

Myth, Memory & Mourning: Anselm Kiefer at the RA

“I am a storyteller with a broken story” confesses Anselm Kiefer. His monumental retrospective at the Royal Academy spans forty years and chronicles his attempt to make sense of his German heritage. Kiefer’s obsession with Holocaust remembrance and emphasis on rich symbolism from mythology, folklore, religion and alchemy to poetry and opera are what he is sometimes criticised for; occasionally labelled as sentimental and contrived. Call me impressionable, but for me his outright symbolism and its accessibility is precisely what draws me in to Kiefer’s web of myth, memory and mourning.

The show begins with his late 60s early 70s series of himself performing the Nazi salute. These works signalled his arrival as a highly confrontational artist and led to him being misunderstood by some as Neo-Nazi. What followed was a lifetime of work which includes painting, sculpture and installations which intertwine recognisable iconography of German history, expose how compelling and seductive images of mythology can be and how, more dangerously, they can tap into the collective unconscious.

His early series of attic paintings feature his own attic studio, and with their theatrical wood grained texture they are the very stuff of German folklore reminiscent of Grimm’s Tales, Norse Myths and ancient legends.

Moving through the gallery we’re drawn in to the claustrophobic Margarete and Shulamith series. Paint is viciously handled, treated like earthly matter, the materials are sacred but appear gouged and destroyed like the lives of the heroic female victims they represent. Here too are representations of Van Gogh’s sunflowers and wheat fields, now decaying and menacing.

Further massive canvases of forests and fields are encrusted with earth, clay, dried flowers, remnants of discarded clothing, even teeth. Layer upon layer of impasto paint cracked like the dried earth they represent, some depict paths though Teutonic forests, railway lines disappearing into unknown destinations alluding to German folk stories but also are powerful signifiers of the Holocaust.

Kiefer’s Morgenthau series, despite being based on an abandoned American Government plan, awakens an aesthetic optimism. Drawn up in 1944, the original plan proposed to turn Germany into an agricultural state, effectively as a means to destroy its weapons industry and create a new pastoral idyll. References to alchemy, destruction and rebirth are themes Kiefer returns to time and again acting as a metaphor for human tragedy and rebirth … “creation and destruction are one and the same” he tells us.

With its wealth of symbolism the show is compelling and profound – it’s on until 14 December, see it and unravel some of Kiefer’s broken story for yourself.