Monday, 16 January 2017

Fantastic Artists and Where to Find Them

Upstairs Gallery -'Animality' at Marian Goodman Galley
As one steps inside the familiar white-walled terrain of the contemporary art gallery one is greeted by the shrieking caw of ‘GilbertandGeorge!’ 'CyTwombly!' 'CarlAndre!' and names of other artists in a sound piece titled ‘Birdcalls’ by Louise Lawler [1972]. Above me there is a stuffed magpie, to the right a giant photo of an elephant and ahead a portrait of a tiger looks straight at me between an oversized stuffed squirrel, rows of glass vitrines, plinths and free standing sculptures. These are animals but not as we are accustomed to; myths and conventions around how we perceive animals are challenged in fun and unexpected ways across two floors in a menagerie of film, photography, sculpture and illustration.
Gabriel Orozco 'Goat in Purple Bag' 1996
"Animality quietly crept up on me and completely took me by surprise. It was without doubt one of the most exciting exhibitions I saw during 2016, on for just over four weeks in November-December at the London Marian Goodman Gallery in Soho."
Imagine the best of the science and unusual curiosities of a Wellcome Collection exhibition mixed with works by modern and contemporary artists and you’ll have a good idea of what made this exhibition so special. ‘Animality’ featured the work of over seventy ‘creatures’ comprising of artists, philosophers, writers, scientists and illustrators throughout history (Darwin, Heidegger, Foucault are here and more) seeking to understand the complex relationship humans have with animals; what it means to be human, what it means to be an animal and how the division between the two is sometimes not as distant (if at all) as we thought. What works so well within this exhibition (and other exhibitions I have seen of this type) is this fusion between science, history and philosophy either integrated with art works or presented in context alongside them. This is science and history at its most engaging, its most visual and, I think, is significantly longer lasting in memory for it.
Albrecht Durer 'The Rhinoceros' 1515
 From the graphic illustrations of Charley Harper to the observed biological illustrations of Earnst Haeckel and woodcut of an armour plated Rhinoceros by Albrecht Durer (pic), ‘Animality’ covers a breadth of ways in which humans have not only sought to represent animals in art but in doing so were also attempting to understand and educate themselves and others in outcomes that are in some cases playful and in others personal or documentarian. They each offer insight into either our fear or love of beasts, bugs and creatures of all shapes and sizes; those that can eat us, others be eaten. There is a whole Zoo here, tigers, elephants, cats, slugs, horses, magpies, goats and camels including mythical creatures and hybrids throughout history. Despite being a mixed 'museum meets art' exhibition there is no hierarchy of one depiction of ‘animality’ being more significant than any other which is what makes it particularly rewarding, both the scientific and historical are presented alongside the whimsical and fun, grouped together into themes of origins, markings, crossings, variations, trace and extinction.
Roni Horn 'Untitled no. 4' 1998
Roni Horn’s photos featuring the backs of bird’s heads (pic) are surprisingly confrontational and unfamiliar, unsurprising  as it is an angle we are not accustomed to seeing birds being taken at. Similarly unsettling is Sarah Jones’s ‘Black Horse’ is striking not only in its scale but in its black on black image of a horse that almost disappears and reappears so we are forced to look at the catches of light on the muscles that define the form of the body. Elsewhere another horse piece by Steve McQueen, ‘Running Thunder’ depicts a horse that at first appears to be asleep in a grassy meadow, the scene a relatively still one until we see a fly pitch around its eyes and we make the startling discovery that this horse is in-fact dead. It is more a comment on our relationship with how we perceive and ‘expect’ to see animals in art; here the expectation of the horse as heroic or symbol of wealth as familiar in paintings by George Stubbs is given a dark twist. A goat stands inside a purple bag (pic) in one of a series of photos by Gabriel Orozco but is more photography than it is fitting in ‘nature photography’ as they do not attempt to present an ideal as much as a reality. Danh Vo reminds us of history in presenting a photo of a pekingese on a throne, the dog once belonging to Queen Victoria plundered from Beijing by British troops during the second opium war.
Carsten Holler 'Octopus' 2014 
Amidst this Noah’s Ark-like procession of animals Carsten Holler’s pink octopus (pic) creeps along the gallery floor adding an element of unexpected fun to the proceedings, making us aware of the space in which we inhabit together; like many of the works in this exhibition on its own it doesn’t have a huge amount to say but as part of the whole they form a welcome visual rest bite. Over by the stairs Fischli and Weiss’s projection of a cat lapping up cream plays on continuous loop which is fun if nothing for its almost banal familiarity. There is an almost absurd amount of work to process which only compounds why animals as a subject matter in art is so diverse and why even early George Shira photography first published in National Geographic in 1906 being shown alongside contemporary art works does prove that photography and art are still relevant in aiding education, research and conservation. Seeing Pavia and Gusmao’s slow-motion film of a peacock strutting should be a relatively familiar sight to anyone who’s ever been to a zoo or heritage garden but this film acts as a reminder, as though you were seeing them for the first time, to just how strange, marvellous and remarkable a bird they really are. Or if anything the works in this exhibition only highlight that the real mystery and most complex creature of all is in-fact the artist. Intellectually challenged I proceeded to scramble on two legs out the gallery door and into the jungle outside....
Roni Horn and Gabriel Orozco images Sourced from:;