“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Bergen, Southend, New York

Madness. Martin Clark's exhibition follow up to the one I was at, plus Björk, plus Paul Johnson (as in: I'll be talking at it next week!) in one place, Art Review's list of ten shows you need to see.

Björk at MoMA, New York, 8 March – 7 June

Even following recent institutional retrospectives for Kraftwerk and David Bowie, a MoMA survey of Björk’s last two decades may register as pushing it. Yet artist and venue effectively meet in the relativist middle, since neither are what they once were – the institution, like many others, now something of a populist funhouse; the Icelandic musician, her lauded new album aside, lately appearing increasingly interested in multimedia projects like 2011’s record, app and invented-instruments live extravaganza Biophilia. Of course, Björk is a cross-media phenom in general, her videos trumping many artists’ work for ideation, her acting winning prizes at Cannes, etc. Björk additionally promises the increasingly de rigueur upending of the survey format, embedding a semifictional biographical narrative (written with Icelandic writer Sj.n) and building to an ‘immersive music and film experience’ made with LA filmmaker/ artist Andrew Thomas Huang and design team Autodesk.

Simon Ling at Bergen Kunsthall, through 5 April

Simon Ling’s exhibition at Bergen Kunsthall, The Showing Uv It, also sets itself against a sci-fi backdrop: Russell Hoban’s exceptional 1980 novel Riddley Walker, set a couple of thousand years in the future in a postapocalyptic Kent where language has regressed (à la the exhibition title) and a new generation is struggling, in part, to understand objects and what can be intuited of their inner realities. This is surprisingly germane to the English painter’s plein-air urban landscapes and studio-constructed still lifes, which intently track – and rebuild through tilted planes and subtle, pulsing distortion – the haphazard bricolage of London streets and tumbling arrangements of objects. If the looking couldn’t feel closer, hot fringes of fluorescent orange amid the realist paint-handling suggests a transfigured world beneath the outward one, one we can’t quite grasp; as Bergen Kunsthall curator Martin Clark has noted, Ling’s method also has resonances with speculative realism, making him a rare painter broaching that philosophic territory. 

Paul Johnson at Focal Point, Southend-on-Sea, through 4 April

At Focal Point, simultaneously, is a mise-en-scène that also feels emphatically after – Paul Johnson’s The Sunless Sea, in which the British artist zooms into futurity in order to consider how we might see the present from then – as a post-utopian scrapyard of sorts, it seems. Processes of time collaborate with the artist’s hand: a dune buggy, made from recycled parts, stands upended and rusted, while ‘sculpture’ as a category also comes to encompass something – seemingly a wallet, though it no longer looks like one – that accreted for five years in one of Johnson’s pockets. Meanwhile, a jerryrigged mythology is suggested by mixing imagery from ancient Yemen with traces of beer crates and plastic bottles. If this sounds like a downer, though, the intent is to blow on embers: to quote the gallery concerning works made from leftover wood in the artist’s studio, ‘The sense of significance bestowed to the objects, which would more commonly be disregarded, offers optimism that these moments of utopia will be regarded in the future and offer a glimmer of hope that such thinking could exist once more.’

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