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June 2011, NOT (An Exhibition)


Leonie Lachlan, Zirma (2011)
Pencil and chalk on paper, 82.5 x 137 cm
Courtesy of the artist and the NO Way agency

NOT (An Exhibition)
Print House Gallery
18 Ashwin Street
London E8 3DL
8 through 30 June 2011

The characters in the artwork adorning the walls of the Print House Gallery are watching as you. Some are defiant, as if egging you on to argue with them, some are puzzled, as if they can’t quite fathom the state of things. Others are funny, others again grotesque, but what they all have in common is a boldness, punctuated with a chuckle. There’s a playful absurdity at work in NOT (An Exhibition).

Or it could be that the displays aren’t meant to evoke any particular feeling at all; after all, curator Charlotte Jansen doesn’t care much for conceptual art. This is the first show by NO Way, Jansen’s new visual arts agency, which launched earlier this month in East London’s Dalston. It’s possible it’s all about the sass; after all the six artists making up the show have a solid amount of “cool” credentials between them. Gustavo Ortiz is hailed as one of Argentina’s rising stars, while JMF Casey has been called “mysterious and cult-like” by Dazed Digital. But this isn’t just art for the hipster in-crowd, as the work is highly accessible. Take Ortiz: six small canvases in bright colours, encouraging us to lean in to study the details. There’s a naivety to his presentation, but there’s rich detail too; in the body of a doll there’s a skull, in a head there’s a wolf. Hong Kong-born artist Hin does something similar with his three “Dream” tambourines; pretty pictures at first glance, hidden messages at a closer look: dolls making up facial features, a door in the belly.

Cataclysm (The Black Madonna) by JMF Casey evokes thoughts of religious iconography, having been scratched out on a black-painted board as if in a church. But the melancholy piece is like the dark flipside of the usual heaven and salvation of religious imagery, a theme that carries over to Hin’s Super Jesus and Wonder Mary. Hin, also the founder of artist collective East London Art Company, has presented Jesus and Mary as superheroes, drawn in child-like crayon and surrounded by cotton clouds. The result is a nod to the innocence of childhood and the harshness of the adult world, but the obvious contrast creates a feeling of absurdity, almost as if having heroes and saviours to right the world’s wrongs would be the natural order of things.

Absurd is a key word also for the works of Philip Harris, whose highly detailed drawings show animals taking on human roles. Only 23 years old, the Devon-based illustrator’s work makes beautifully crafted narratives, with a touch of the Victorian grotesque such as the fish shopkeepers selling human bones. New York-based photographer Adam Ianniello, who makes his first foray into the London art scene with this exhibition, depicts regular people in the streets in line with the tradition of documentary photography. The images throw up some interesting juxtapositions, with the life-sized Mickey Mouse character acting as the backdrop to the old man, staring into the camera with his shirt in his hand. With no answers available, the image becomes less about the man and more an observation about the city. Cities and the labyrinths that they make are also the theme for Leonie Lachlan, whose large pencil drawings bring to mind architectural diagrams. But the lines don’t add up, creating spaces that are impossible to build but still somehow seem to be an accurate representation of what a big city feels like.

NOT (An Exhibition) is a well-presented show, combining what may at first glance seem like a group of very different artists. While the curator has had some success in creating a common thread, a slight feeling of randomness remains. This trait can likely be attributed to this being an introductory show by a new agency, rather than a traditionally curated exhibition. When viewed in isolation, each artist has a unique voice, which may not necessarily be amplified by the works being shown as a group. But the NO Way agency is all about supporting emerging artists, meaning this exhibition is mostly about whetting the appetite.

 



Gustavo Ortiz, Onas (2011)
Collage with paper, watercolour and wax on canvas, 30 x 30 cm
Courtesy of the artist and the NO Way agency


Philip Harris, Doctor (2011)
Dip pen and ink on paper, 21 × 29.7 cm
Courtesy of the artist and the NO Way agency


Hin, Super Jesus (2010)
Mixed media, 62.5 x 86.5 cm
Courtesy of the artist and the NO Way agency

Jessica Furseth


Jessica Furseth is a freelance journalist living in London. Read more of her writing here: http://jessicafurseth.wordpress.com/

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