National Gallery 2: Empire, a group exhibition running at London’s Chewday’s gallery from November 23, 2015, to January 8, 2016, involves an architectural intervention. Seventeen works are placed and presented on a dropped down ceiling structure; a metal grid hanging 130 centimetre height from the ground and forcing visitors to bend down to enter, becoming plunged into a virtual underworld. The only way of approaching the art is by navigating beneath the scaffolding and emerging through the few spots around the works which are not covered with transparent tiles.
To linger through the gallery in a distracted manner becomes unfeasible, as the viewer is forced to stand very close to the works, always at the same point in relation to them. A calculated relationship, in which the spectator looks at the works from a superior perspective, is established. Moreover, the usual power dynamics involved in this relationship between architectural and human bodies, where the former are imposed upon the latter, are here inverted.
All the presented works respond to a simple parameter: to fit into one or two standard tile squares. A wide spectrum of dystopian compositions depict a whole material landscape made out of detritus and fragments of all different kinds. Allusions to transparency and decay in addition to everyday life elements, such as technological props and raw materials like sand, wood or resin, hint perhaps to a posthuman condition. One where other kinds of intelligences and materials could take over humanity’s privileged position in the world.
The most prominent figure in the room, placed at the very centre, is of two models stuck together. These models were formerly used in the movies Batman (1989) and War of the Worlds (2005) and together they compose Dora Budor’s piece ‘Where is your office? What do you do exactly? You know things, I think this is what you do. I think you acquire information and turn it into something awful’ (2015). Budor’s work resembles a large-scale dildo and is the only vertical contribution penetrating the show, along with Chadwick Rantanen’s purple ‘Telescopic Pole [RMS Walker Glide Balls/Grey]’ (2015) –some poles built with telescopes, crossing the whole space vertically and stabbed through purple tennis balls –and ‘Untitled (TV)’ (2015): a circular pipe labeled as TV, hanging from the grid by Bryan Dooley.
Other works lean on the surface of the tiles, such as Andrew Norman Wilson’s dystopian ‘Global Mosquito City Proposal’ (2015), Magali Reus’ piles of hand-built pans and Lena Henke’s sand boobs. Some works vaguely refer to architectural mock-ups, but others are actual ones, including Stuart Middelton’s spoiled model contained with some cheese and milk in a plastic vacuum bag, or Mathis Gasser’s ‘MAS: Mutual Affluence System’ (2015) made out of resin, wood, plaster and oil. Nicholas Cheveldave’s ‘The Incubator – Friends Helping Friends Grow Stronger’ (2015) is the only sound piece in the show, made with friendship bracelets and forming a plant-hanger-looking web.
Yuji Agematsu, Gabriele Beveridge, Vincent Fecteau and Sam Lewitt seem to be adapting to the shape of a transparent container, revealing a bunch of miscellaneous entrails, such as hair, stones, paper or hard-drive magnets. A reminiscence of youth and consumerism is enacted by a plastic gremlin holding some cables and a credit card in Danny McDonald’s ‘Identity Crisis’ (2015). Fragments of organic and inorganic bodies are naively distributed and coexist on the canvas of Jill Mulleady and in the white-tree-branch-looking sculpture by Veit Laurent Kurz. Human limbs dance together with green organisms in one, and turn into a tree branch in the other.
National Gallery 2 combines cinematographic imagery with more waste-made compositions and disrupted hierarchical configurations. The dropped ceiling acts as a sort flattening structure which restricts some possibilities while opening up to many others. It feels itself like a small-scale movie set or a table game, that can be experienced through the projection of little strategies. Ultimately, the visitor’s body becomes a part of the structure, making it difficult to discern whether one is inside or outside of the story.**
Exhibition photos here.