Camden Arts Centre - last 10 female solo shows
After 26 years of leading Camden Arts Centre from a local artist-run space into a future of international stature, director Jenni Lomax recently announced to be stepping down in July 2017. For our International Women's Day monthly feature page, we are featuring some of the great female solo shows on display at the Camden Arts Centre over the past few years.
In our spring exhibition, American artist Zoe Leonard harnessed a natural phenomenon to think about ways of looking, recording and experiencing time and space. Across all the galleries this major exhibition engaged three distinct forms of photography and transformed one of the spaces into a camera obscura. Daylight filtered in through a lens, projecting an image of the world outside onto the floor, walls and ceiling. This work invited comparisons with film and video as the light source changed throughout the day, giving rise to a continually shifting, immersive and cinematic event.
The camera obscura (dark chamber) is a naturally occurring phenomenon that has been used since antiquity as a tool to understand the behaviour of light. The experience of Leonard’s installation was durational and as such invited comparisons with film and video. As the ephemeral panorama unravelled continually inside the space, attention was drawn to the shifts in movement and light - some barely perceptible, some dramatic.
British artist Serena Korda has produced an ambitious, theatrical rendering of animal symbolism and folklore in Aping the Beast. The central spectacle was a towering monster puppet handmade in latex, reminiscent of early B-movies such as Godzilla or The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Within all her work Korda is interested in the way secular beliefs and superstitions are channelled through images in popular culture.
Two new films stared symbolic mystical creatures - a feline psychic who reveals his remote healing powers and a bristling tarantula which parades alongside dancers and musicians taking part in a cult-like ritual in a nondescript village hall. These works and a series of performances involving the monster expanded upon ideas of the spirit and fears of the unknown which were confronted through imitation, spectacle, ritual and humour.
Emma Hart does not make art that tries to make sense of the world. Rejecting the contemplative environment of the gallery space, she makes work that captures the confusion, stress and nausea of everyday experience. For Hart, there is a divide between the overwhelming chaos of reality and the way visual culture smoothes it out. Central to her work is a determined frustration with the limits and restrictions of the lens. Through sculpture, she corrupts digital images and spatially infects videos, ‘dirtying’ the images and squeezing more life out of them.
Hart’s practice often draws on her own embarrassment. Reflecting on her experience of working in a call centre in her early twenties, Dirty Looks served up a cacophony of noise, imagery and ceramic objects. Chipboard cupboards with lopsided drawers, agitated service industry supplies and a homemade water cooler littered the space. Discomfort manifested itself in crudely made ceramic tongues, pulling open doors, escaping from furniture. This unexpected meshing of materials resulted in work that was raw, detailed and fractured.
American artist Kara Walker (b. 1969) filled all three gallery spaces at Camden Arts Centre over the autumn months. Renouncing the sensitivity that often shrouds the subject, Walker’s work critically and unapologetically interrogates underlying racial and gender tensions. Through characters drawn from American popular literature, culture and history, she exposes the myths that lie beneath cultural archetypes and the darker aspects of human behaviour.
Walker’s new work reflected her current research into the White Supremacist movement and gun culture in the US. Peopled with subjects from both past and contemporary history, the work weaved together historical documents of slavery with more recent racial issues.
The exhibition brought together several important bodies of work. Dust Jackets for the Niggerati was a series of large graphite drawings, conceived as book covers for unwritten essays and works of fiction, which investigated pivotal transitions in black American history and the missing narratives of the black migration. Shown alongside a video installation of her shadow play Fall Frum Grace- Miss Pipi’s Blue Tale and intricately cut silhouette installations, the ‘wall samplers’, the exhibition addressed highly-charged subjects of repression, discrimination and sexual violence.
Connecting all of the work was an examination of power, racial myths and stereotypes. Using graphically simple and traditional media, Walker articulated suffering and violence within American history that continues to resonate in society today.
Silke Otto-Knapp (b. 1970) makes paintings of performance and landscape, approaching the canvas as a stage and a site of orchestrated scenarios. Gouache and watercolour are applied in delicate layers, depicting scenes of a fugitive beauty and imbuing the works with an ethereal magic.
In Monday or Tuesday, Otto-Knapp’s subjects were rendered almost entirely in black and silver pigments which appear to bathe the works in moonlight, the source of which at times looms in the distance, ambiguously appearing as a stage instruction or theatrical lighting device. The works brought together the reality of landscape with the pretence of stage design to raise questions around decorative surface, spatial depth and pictorial construction.
The central motif of performance was expanded in the supporting public programme which included a new performance in the gallery spaces by LA based dancer-choreographer Flora Weigmann, a salon afternoon featuring dancer Kate Coyne and a dance masterclass led by Nissa Nishikawa.
Alongside the paintings, the exhibition included new collages and etchings developed during a residency at The Banff Centre, Canada. The exhibition was accompanied by a new publication with an essay by Sabeth Buchmann, co-produced with Charlottenborg, Copenhagen where some of the works in the exhibition were shown in 2013.
The sculptures of Swedish artist Nina Canell (b. 1979) give substance to the intangible and lightness to the physical. Drawn to the subtlety of fluctuating forces and the minutiae of perception, Canell traces the innate bond we have with our surrounding atmosphere.
Her seemingly unorthodox use of objects and materials attempts to transfer, exchange and share forms of intuitive knowledge. Transforming electrical currents, atmospheric elements, stray socks or chewing gum into sculptural components, her assemblages fuse matter, radiance and sound to create delicate and ephemeral testing grounds.
Near Here comprised a new series of works which responded to the architectural environment of Camden Arts Centre. Testing the intimate intersection of audience, object, event and the surrounding space, the outcomes of her work were at once curious and poetic.
Canadian artist Moyra Davey works across photography, film and writing to create intimate, flâneur-like visual essays on the everyday passing of time and her filtered relationship to literature. Davey’s camera often turns towards the overlooked discards and detritus of daily life while she recounts narratives from her collection of novels and philosophy books, weaving these with anecdotes from her lived present and reflections on her relationships with family, literary influences, psychoanalysis, travels and her personal surroundings.
Four video works elucidated Davey’s investigations into text, in particular her fascination with Mary Wollstonecraft, the Shelley sisters, Jean Genet and other literary and philosophical figures. The exhibition presented a major recent work in its entirety, Subway Writers. This series of photographs of commuters writing on the New York subway drew on the history of mail art; creased, stamped and scuffed after being posted directly to Camden Arts Centre, they retained a physical record of their journey.
London-based artist Ruth Ewan brought to life the French Republican Calendar in a new work made for Camden Arts Centre’s Gallery 3. In use from 1793 until 1805, the calendar temporarily redefined and rationalised the Gregorian Calendar, stripping it of all religious references in post-revolutionary France. Months and weeks were restructured and seasons and days renamed in collaboration with artists, poets and horticulturalists to reflect nature and agriculture.
Bringing together all 365 items used to denote the days of the year - such as a lettuce, a cart, wax, a turnip, honey, a fir tree, ivy, figs, mercury, lava, moss, tuna, a pheasant, an axe – the gallery was transformed into a tangible calendar. The title of the exhibition came from the former title of the French folk song Il Pleut, Il Pleut, Bergère (It Rains, It Rains, Shepherdess) written by the Republican Calendar collaborator, Fabre d'Églantine, who allegedly recited the song’s lyrics calmly at his own execution.
For Ewan, the Republican Calendar is an inspiring and innovative example of collaboration between artists and the state. Often cited as a ‘failed utopianism’, Ewan reconsiders the calendar as a complete artwork in itself, asking what can now be gleaned from this bold reframing of our daily lives. Presenting strands of subversive histories, her work reflects on how radical ideas have been transferred, absorbed or lost within popular culture, whilst reopening their historic continuity to the present moment.
This exhibition centred around Jo Baer's series of paintings, In the Land of the Giants. This series, developed since 2009, reflects on her life-long interest in history and science. Inspired by Palaeolithic cave paintings, Baer saw in these ancient marks, with their instilled meaning, a midway between abstraction and figuration. Depicting esoteric and evocative imagery from her years living in the remote countryside of County Louth (Ireland), springs, stone alignments and phases of the moon are montaged against a backdrop of vast rolling green landscapes. The works trace her fascination in Neolithic innovation, eschatology and the sublime, whilst mapping convergences between humans and nature, and timelines of thought and memory.
Amsterdam based, American artist Jo Baer (b. 1929) is considered one of the key figures in the Minimalist art movement in New York during the 1960s and early 1970s. Her paintings were characterised by precise composition of line and space and her distinctive use of the peripheries of the canvases. Baer describes her early ambition as to make "poetic objects that would be discrete yet coherent, legible yet dense, subtle yet clear." In 1983, she dramatically announced ‘I am no longer an abstract artist’, turning towards figuration and symbolic imagery, fragmenting familiar images in order to render them discomforting.
This exhibition drew a lineage from her earlier minimalist works, through her experiments with the figurative in the 1990s, through to her current emboldened aesthetic. It brought attention to her continued consideration of composition as a means of stimulating an active way of looking, drawing the gaze back and forth across compositions and the canvas as a delineation of time.
Rose English’s reputation for humorous and highly analytical performance began within Britain’s vibrant feminist scene in the 1970s. An influential figure for many artists, her work has crossed boundaries between performed installation, vaudeville, film, spoken drama and opera in a mix of philosophical, aesthetic and political commentary.
At the core of this exhibition was a new sound work, Lost in Music - an operatic piece for ten voices and percussion, scored by composer Luke Stoneham for English’s libretto. A chamber opera for Chinese acrobatics past and future, the music traced trajectories of their movements; the body and the breath, singing and glass-blowing, shattering and flying, together concertina time and space in a close investigation of the capacity for metaphysical embodiment of physical objects. English placed her audience at the still point of the split between word and image, making songs solidify and objects sing.
Rose English has been writing, directing and performing her own work for over thirty five years. Her productions feature a diversity of co-performers including musicians, dancers, circus performers, magicians and horses. Rose’s shows range from her site-specific performances and collaborations of the 1970s including Quadrille, Berlin and Mounting, her acclaimed solos of the 1980’s including Plato’s Chair and The Beloved, to her large scale spectaculars of the 1990’s including Walks on Water, The Double Wedding and Tantamount Esperance. Abstract Vaudeville – the Work of Rose English, a monograph by Guy Brett with scripts by Rose English and interviews by Anne-Louise Rentell was published by Ridinghouse in 2014.
Romanian artist Geta Brătescu’s (b.1926) vivid practice has comprised performance, textiles, collage, print-making, installation and film. Living and working in Bucharest throughout Ceauşescu’s totalitarian regime, Brătescu embraced the studio as an autonomous space, free from economic or political influences.
Concerned with identity and dematerialisation, Brătescu conjures questions of ethics and femininity through her longstanding curiosity in mythical and literary figures, including Aesop, Faust, Beckett and Medea. These concepts have underlain much of her work through experiments in material rearrangements, charting the movement of her hands, the disappearance or concealment of her own image, and performing to the camera through her photographic series and films.
Her exhibition will focus on this lifelong approach to the studio as a performative, contemplative and critical space to reflect on one’s own position in the world.
Geta Brătescu (b. 1926, Ploiesti, Romania) lives and works in Bucharest. She has had recent solo exhibitions at: Hamburger Kunsthalle (2016); Tate Liverpool (2015); CAM, St. Louis (2015); Berkeley Art Museum (2014); MUSAC, León (2013); and Salonul de Proiecte, Bukarest (2012). Her work has been featured in major group exhibitions such as: Construction to Transmission: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960-1980, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2015); Straight to Camera: Performance for Film, Modern Art Oxford; 5th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Moscow (2013); Il Palazzo Enciclopedico, La Biennale di Venezia, Venice (2013); and A Bigger Splash: Painting After Performance Art, Tate Modern, London (2012); IntenseProximity, La Triennale Paris, Paris (2012); and Istanbul Biennial (2011). In 2008, she was awarded the title Doctor Honoris Causa from the National University of Arts, Bucharest, for her contribution to the advancement of contemporary Romanian art.