The directors of Blain|Southern are delighted to present Gravity and Disgrace, a group show curated by Rachel Howard which brings together the artist’s own work with that of Jane Simpson and Amelia Newton Whitelaw. Inspired by the Hayward Gallery’s 1993 exhibition Gravity & Grace: The Changing Condition of Sculpture, 1965 – 1975, the exhibition considers how select artists today continue to explore unconventional materiality through painting and sculpture.
Gravity and Grace celebrated the transitional nature of sculpture during the late 1960s and early 1970s by presenting some of the most important and provocative works made during these years. Illustrating the revolutionary influence of Arte Povera upon sculptural practice in America and Europe at this time, the exhibition highlighted a rejection of sophisticated methods of construction and traditional materials.
Using this specific show as a springboard, the curatorial parameters of Gravity and Disgrace focus on artworks in which materiality is key, as is the perception of the viewer. This exhibition also encapsulates the idea of opposition, which is present in various configurations in all of the featured works.
Jane Simpson’s practice challenges the idea of permanence and stasis, using materials such as ice, which itself is variable and unfixed. Her deep absorption with ‘an everyday magic’ constantly informs her work, as is demonstrated by one of the two sculptures presented in this exhibition, the 2008 installation, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, in which an ice-covered sewing machine sits upon an ornate cabinet, its drawers gaping, full of cloth and thread. Though it may be barely perceptible, the work undergoes a constant continuous process of change as the machine is submitted to a constant cooling and the layer of ice continues to build and expand.
Led by a longstanding interest in the concept of ‘Schadenfreude’, Amelia Newton Whitelaw has created a new work entitled There are no Accidents (2012). Societies have had obsessions with concepts of failure or accident throughout history, from Greek Tragedy to the contemporary internet journal of comic errors, FAIL Blog. Sigmund Freud not only proposed the idea that accidents in everyday life were in fact always the intention of the unconscious, but also that its ultimate intention was suicide. Both sculptural and performative, Whitelaw’s time-specific installation incorporates notions of dependence and impendency; a solid rock anchors a rope which suspends, via a pulley, a net of raw salt dough. The rock’s upright position in turn relies on the strength of a thin but supporting stick, while its balance depends on the contents of the net. It could be a comic trap but a narrative of a dicey symbiosis lurks behind. As the flesh-like dough is pulled downwards, as in a slow motion replay, the sculpture’s fate will hang in the balance and await gravity’s ruling.
Howard’s works engage with the discourse of Albert Camus, specifically with his contemplation of man’s attempt to find meaning and hope in an unintelligible world in The Myth of Sisyphus (the Greek mythological character of Sisyphus was condemned to forever repeat the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain). In one of her two featured paintings, Eva (2005), Howard depicts a faceless figure hanging from a rope – the movement conveyed by the downward torrent of paint offset by the sense of stagnant finality and hopelessness of the figure. As with much of her oeuvre, this work is a meditation on what it means to be human, focusing on subjects including religion, sin and suicide. While Camus concluded that the actual struggle of life presents sufficient meaning in its own right, Howard pauses to consider the opposite, whereby the absurd wins and no meaningful truth can be found anywhere.