Axel Vervoordt Gallery is pleased to announce El Anatsui’s exhibition titled, Proximately, consisting of seven new works. Proximately continues the artist’s exploration into the diverse language of his chosen materials. Anatsui uses aluminium bottle caps and the labels of liquor bottles that are stitched together with copper wire to create sculptural installations often mounted to the wall like a three-dimensional draped tapestry. The transformation and reuse of simple, everyday materials draws attention to contemporary ideas about waste, consumption, and recycling, but the artist prefers to imply and suggest meaning rather than enforce it.
El Anatsui (°1944) was born in Ghana and now lives and works between Ghana and Nigeria. Growing up in the 1960s, Anatsui experienced a period of time typified by a profound search for social and personal identity. This search has become a central theme in his work. He investigates the erosion of tradition, as well as its survival and transmission into the future. He has addressed a vast range of social, political and historical concerns, and embraced an equally diverse vocabulary of media and process.
"Art grows out of each particular situation and I believe that artists are better off working with whatever their environment throws up…"
The exhibition includes several large-scale sculptures. Anatsui has focused on large tapestry-like metal sculptures made up out of thousands of colourful liquor caps. When local distilleries in Nigeria recycle each other's bottles, the screw caps associated with each brand are discarded in the process. By collecting these materials, and laboriously sewing them together with copper wire, Anatsui's transformative process aims to "subvert the stereotype of metal as a stiff, rigid medium and rather showing it as a soft, pliable, almost sensuous material capable of attaining immense dimensions and being adapted to specific spaces" (Anatsui 2005).
He reworks and rearranges materials and transforms them into something new without them losing their own history. These reconfigured found objects break down the definition of conventional painting and sculpture. The repetitively hand-stitched bottle caps evoke the cultural tradition of handcraft and of a graphical system that is used to form patterns on African textile. The sculptures’ formal language is another key to understanding the aesthetic sensibilities of Anatsui’s work. Elements of colour and the three-dimensional qualities break down the definition of conventional painting and sculpture.
A large, fluid, colourful installation draped over the wall is visually overwhelming. Voluminous, undulated folds and luminous colours invite viewers to touch and walk around the work, viewing it from all angles. The form’s playfulness and the freedom to shape the works before and after installation are reflective of the openness and fluid aspects of Anatsui’s work. Additionally, the repetitively hand-stitched bottle caps evoke the cultural tradition of handcraft. Although the material comes from mass-produced products, there’s no industrial feeling to it. Hints of the touch and craft of human hands are embedded into the work, bringing a sense of emotion and contemplation.