Scanning the promotional page for the “Origins” exhibition at HEIST Gallery London, I find it contains everything that appeals to my particular aesthetic...
Scanning the promotional page for the “Origins” exhibition at HEIST Gallery London, I find it contains everything that appeals to my particular aesthetic, from rich saturated photography of exotic subject matter to beguiling ceramics and a life size feature sculpture of a baby elephant. Beyond the visual sensuality, this gathering of works by known and developing artists, does what art should, indeed must do, if it is not descend to the merely pretty and decorative, it makes me think and question. It raises issues, some that for me, have been an ongoing inquiry, such as the shape of elephants in all forms or art. Others are persistent itches and arise at any time without warning, like the politics of photography and in particular when the lens is trained on people of non-western cultures.
My last blog post rambled on in a loose discussion of tourism and photographic avarice, as a response to a Guardian article on ecocultural tourism in the Amazon, and the complaint that tourists simply take photographs, from which in some way they benefit or profit, but do nothing to help (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/11/ecotourism-amazon-shortchanges-locals-ecuador). This exhibition, initially, through the work of Jimmy Nelson, shifts the focus of that discussion to the arena of fine art, without detaching it from tourism. The artist may scoff at such a linkage, but then many do – I should add I know nothing about Nelson, he may be much more democratic in his view. Nevertheless tourism and art, especially ecocultural tourism and souvenirs share an indelible relationship.
My personal feeling on work like Nelson's and Mario Marino's, more intimate portraits, also in this exhibition, is that they are valuable works, not just for their visual beauty, but as much in their ability to convey an understanding of other cultures and breakdown the prejudice and racism. There is in Marino's Suman, Portrait of a Gypsie (sic) Girl, 2014, a rich texture of humanity and emotion, and in it and Surma Girl a study reminiscent of Edward Curtis's project of over a century ago.
Xavier Guardians reframing of similar subject matter, in Window Series from 2006, seems develop the discussion that revolves around the camera and non-western people further, perhaps citing the lens as the window, or a safe space from which to view the Other. While denying the viewer the spectacular colours of Nelson and Marino's work, these photographs show a more interactive subject reaching beyond the frame, into the safe zone of artists and tourist alike, with unphrased questions.
Wildlife and environment has also featured recently, in my thoughts, see my ramble on voids and empty spaces, so Claire Rosen's Birds Of A Feather series from 2012, strikes an amused chored, with the birds set against various wallpaper type designs, the inside and outside are brought together and again the barrier between nature and culture is challenged. While find Patrick Colhoun's ceramic works are always equally haunting and humorous, in his “Triptych of Cohorts” ceramic masks I am reminded that the Australian Central Desert Aboriginal dot painting tradition has achieved global reach.
As for Andries Botha's “Elephant” I will file that image away with Daniel Firman's Elephant-in-the-Gallerie, and most fittingly, Ernst's Elephant of Celebs, as I continue to investigate the form that artists, through time and from all arenas, hi and lo, give to this most unique creature.