Annie Attridge  Jonathan Baldock  Sarah Gillham  Anthea Hamilton  Eri Itoi  Mindy Lee  Paul Westcombe
Eri Itoi 2011
Eri Itoi Works in Progress 2011

25 February to 27 March 2011

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Seduction isn’t just beauty’s privilege. The abject, the kitsch and the mundane are all potential triggers for desire; the further one gets from a canonical idea of pulchritude, the wilder the attraction can become. Conceived like a museum of curios, Condensation stages this apparent paradox and invites the viewers to navigate the complex mechanics of seduction. The female body is here fragmented and reconfigured like Hans Bellmer’s doll, or rendered functional like the Greek goddess in Dalí’s Venus with Drawers. But it re-emerges stronger from these abuses - perhaps because, in line with the Surrealist tradition, these partial bodies have something of the psychological (self) portrait, made all the more accurate by multifarious transformations; perhaps because, as the outstanding details of inaccessible wholes, they gain in seductive power.
Most of the material used by the artists in Condensation – cheap fabric, found patterns and disposable crockery – is lifted from everyday paraphernalia, and turned into a springboard for the imagination. There are no straightforward readymades though: the artists in the show commit as much to their primary sources as they do to their manual alterations. They seem to advocate the relevance of the handmade in a society dominated by the mass-produced. Their use of crafts and found items also brings a palpable sense of domesticity to the works on display, one that is particularly unsettling when the pieces reference male giants of the Western art tradition. In CONDENSATION, the throwaway and the amorously assembled, the intimate and the historical collide.

In Annie Attridge’s porcelain Heart Fortress (2010), a naked lady is crouched over a lying androgynous figure. As in several of Francis Bacon’s depictions of lovers, the two bodies are so intertwined that they appear like one single beast, a lusty monster of flesh. And yet, there is also something deeply attractive – even decorative – to this small porcelain island of Cythera. Attridge contrasts the crudeness of her subjects with an elegant format and technique redolent of the 18th Century, the heyday of Rococo and hedonism. The overtly graphic scene becomes a landscape of ornate corals, at once appealing and venomous.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Sarah Gillham made I think I might be drowning (2009) shortly before getting married. On the round mirror, atop a short glass pedestal, an alluring black and white nude seems to peer down to a little girl, locked under a bell jar. The artist’s future self is looking at her past self: the mother-to-be remembers the infant-that-was. This sense of anguished introspection is reinforced by the two looking glasses; the piece literally mirrors some of the anxieties occurring at a crucial stage of Gillham’s life. There’s also a feeling of languorous abandon to this three-dimensional assemblage. Spread on the floor, I think I might be drowning seems to ask the viewer to kneel down by its side, look at it – and after it.

Using the reoccurring motif of a leg silhouette modelled after her own, Anthea Hamilton also gestures towards self-representation, but hers is of a more remote kind. Starting with the very personal, the leg comes to embody a somewhat stereotyped female appeal. In Leg with Fanning Skirt (2008), the pin in question delimitates a Greek sundrenched seaside view – the perfect setting for the Marilyn evoked by the floating white pleated skirt. In Leg Chair (2010), two limbs are spread, offered and available. The piece calls for the viewer to settle in between them, and the artwork shifts from sculpture in space to potential theatre prop.

The supports Paul Westcombe has chosen for his series In the morning, in the shower, I saw the shit run down your leg (2010) have literally already been used. The artist drank from these now-soiled espresso cups before planning for each a cartoon-inspired storyboard that he later painstakingly transcribed onto the stained surfaces with pencils, ink and watercolour. Westcombe started to produce these pieces while working as a car park attendant, ‘to relieve’, he says, ‘the tedium of a twelve hour shift’. One of them pictures the artist at his narrow desk, so bored that his little finger starts sinking into his right eye, a key unlocking a parallel world. The omnipresent holes and apertures suggest that there is more than one level to this world – but most can only be glimpsed at.

Mindy Lee’s series of acrylics on recycled plate Have your cake and eat it (2010) also radically transforms supposedly single-use materials. Each one is covered with thick impastos loosely copying an historical painting, most often representing a saint in martyrdom. Have your cake and eat it, Agatha has Saint Agatha in a Baroque dress presenting on a tray her own breasts, severed during her torture. These are repeated in three-dimension on the paper plate, two blobs of white paint smeared with pinkish blood-like drippings. From afar, they could be taken for fairy cake leftovers. In Lee’s series, the saints’ attributes – proof of their faith – are trivialised, turned into food detritus. And the long display table has something of a Last Supper set, on which the saints’ bodies become painterly meat.

Jonathan Baldock tackles another foundation of Western art: sculptural representations of the human figure, particularly those associated with the heroes of modernity. His Reclining Figure (2010) borrows its outlines from one of Henry Moore’s favourite motifs, but instead of bronze or marble Baldock has used felt and embroidery, a material and technique reminiscent of female crafts and evoking a particular sense of comfort and homeliness, reinforced by the bedspread-like pattern. This doesn’t prevent Baldock’s figure from having a powerful presence, even a majesty that has perhaps less to do with Western canons and more with the jewel-adorned deities of South America. In Baldock’s work, art history is internalised and re-surfaces other.

Eri Itoi’s intricate drawings don’t represent persons; they embody types and moods. The three drawings shown in Condensation, picture the ‘angry woman’. Her thoughts are so dark that they become visible and hang, cloud-like, above her head. Itoi’s characters tend towards the universal but they also have a past and an individual history. The young woman represented here, the artist has said, has been hurt by past traumas that have left her unable to cope with the grind of daily life. In these drawings, feelings are worn like so many ornaments. The character’s hair – perhaps standing for an overwhelming timidity – becomes a mask, protecting and transforming her delicate features into a frightening werewolf’s face. What is usually hidden is revealed.

Jonathan Baldock Reclining Figure
Jonathan Baldock Reclining Figure 2 2010
felt and embroidery
Mindy Lee Celia
Mindy Lee Have your cake and eat it Celia 2010
acrylic on recycled paper plate
Mindy Lee Saturn
Mindy Lee Have your cake and eat it Saturn 2010
acrylic on recycled paper plate
Sarah Gillam
Sarah Gillham I think I might be drowning (detail) 2009
mixed media (fabric, mirrors, collage, bell jar & glass salt cellars )
Pauk Westcombe News from the Sun 1
Paul Westcombe News from the Sun 1 2011
ink on medium coffee cup
Paul Westcome News from the Sun 2
Paul Westcombe News from the Sun 2 2011
ink on espresso coffee cup
Paul Westcombe News from the Sun 3
Paul Westcombe News from the Sun 3 2011
ink on medium coffee cup