Mab Jones plunges back into the wild world of up-close, not-on-your-computer-monitor visual art with a thrilling nationally-sourced group show at Cardiff’s G39.
Over a year without seeing a single in-person art exhibition meant that the prospect of viewing Survey II was extremely exciting. Yet rather than being easily pleased and appreciative of just any old thing, I found my art-starved senses were more critical – and more keenly aware of the blend of brilliance on the artists’ part, and thoughtful care on the curator’s, needed to satisfy my eager need for art.
This national group exhibition comes courtesy of Jerwood Arts, who have partnered with 10 early-career artists and showcase them here. That 10 have, in turn, been nominated by 10 slightly more seasoned artists, lending a palpable sense of inter-art world support; patronage and friendship in a time of trial and turbulence; plus, importantly, a high quality of work on show. Passing through each of the artists’ sections, I moved from surprise, to thoughtfulness, to wonder, and on, then, to immersion in some new idea or emotion.
Careful curation of the pieces within the space is partly what’s at work here, for which Jerwood Arts and G39 must be applauded. Saelia Aparicio’s three dead astronauts stunned me. With bodies made of plastic, plywood and glass, adorned with terracotta pots that each feature arms, legs or teeth in place of breasts or genitals, these three figures are an unsettling meditation upon what we label as invasive species and our own invasive, nature-invading nature. Tereza Červeňová’s With And For – photographs and a silent video – are full of grace and beauty, fragility and power, blending a sense of the transient and the eternal most powerfully. Katarzyna Perlak’s beautiful, colourful embroidered handkerchiefs offer up a series of axiomatic statements that, in turn, pose many puzzling questions; I returned to these works several times.
Cinzia Mutigli’s film delivers a wry, confessional rumination upon the nature of rehearsal and self, with so much here that spoke to me after over a year of Zoom meetings. Printed wallpaper in this space is, like so many inkblot tests, open to interpretation, though reflecting how important our domestic interiors are both for “our […] wellbeing”, as per the artist’s statement, and in terms of self-presentation and performance. Angharad Williams’ eerie and fantastical corn dolly-like creations, inspired by the global arms race, conscientious objectors, and the proverb “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”, are things of terrible beauty: totemic yet beautiful, witchy yet elegant.
Tako Taal’s Departures, set in the new G39 cinema space, is a deeply moving film in which a poem by one brother is read aloud by the two who survive him. Absence, presence and, for me, the power of verse to act as a vehicle for communication between us, even beyond death itself, were some themes here. Rebecca Moss’s clever, funny and intelligent triptych of videos seem to explore ideas of fitting in, finding one’s tribe, gender roles within the domestic and being (or aiming to be) perfect: I found myself pondering all the stylised Instagram photos I have seen this year, of others’ wonderful baked creations and showroom-style homes.
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Sadé Mica’s large wall sculpture in the shape of a female body is wondrous. Upholstered canvas is embroidered to give glimpses of nipple, belly button, and an eye; this form is plush but segmented, dancing yet also stuck. There is lots to consider here in terms of the body, performance, representation, and our collective, cultural gaze. Nicolaas Van de Lande’s sculptural installation A Being Able To Change Its Form unsettles and disturbs: David Lynchean in style, it slips from the graphic to the gory, the inane to the surreal. A pile of doll head-sized pillows, for example, made me imagine small, dead bodies, whilst a fuzzy red lump atop another pillow brought to mind an embryo.
Finally, Shenece Oretha’s sculpture and sound piece is markedly original. Here, the speakers themselves have bodies, which intertwine, slender and swan-like. These then emit breaths that are at first discordant, but then blend into harmony. The viewer is all, perhaps, but again, for me, this brought to mind the past year of Zoom meetings, likewise the challenges and triumphs of communication in general.
There was no work in Survey II that I didn’t find stimulating and engaging. I’ve not ever been able to write this of any exhibition, apart from the permanent one in Paris’s Pompidou Centre, before. I would highly recommend you see this show.
Survey II is at G39, Oxford Street, Cardiff until Sat 11 Sept (open Wed-Sat 11am-5pm). Admission: free. Info: here.
words MAB JONES photos ALIX EDWARDS