Tempest at Tanya Leighton, Berlin
In collaboration with Sadie Coles HQ, London
Within the frame of Galleries Curate: RHE
Article by Juli Cordray
Here in Berlin, we’ve recently experienced dramatic transformations of water and weather, shifting from frozen canals and lakes and sprawling blankets of snow to warm, green, spring-like days — all within a week’s time. From this lens, Tempest at Tanya Leighton — an exhibition that is part of a larger, collaborative program concerned with the topic of water — seems all the more timely.
In Tempest, the subject of water is engaged through its transformative potential — its liquidity, fluctuations, changes of state — in the process opening up themes like collectivity, memory, cultural exchange, crossings and collisions. Water itself is mostly represented indirectly — through the presence of haunting, frozen clouds in Alvaro Barrington’s small-scale mixed media on paper works, giant sea creatures in Monster Chetwynd’s Hokusai’s Octapai (2004), through its characteristics, or else its effects.
This thematic focus emerges through diverse media, modes and materials in the exhibition; one recurrence is in the form of collage, or collage-like aesthetics — a visualization of hybridity. Michele Abeles directly employs collage in her series of small-scale works titled after reptiles that inhabit Florida swamps. Framed by crocodile skin patterns, the intimate works are highly textured, layered with translucent blues, fragments of image and color, mirror fragments and even small cameras — porous images that absorb us into them. These are side-by-side with Abeles’ larger digital images, titled Nymphaea, based on waiting-room art, which the artist describes as often vacant, like mirrors for our own reflections while held in a state of suspension. In the Nymphaea series, the enigmatic images seem to exist in between states, with digital traces and pixels visible from a certain proximity and an overall painterly, textural quality from a distance — containing, among other things, recognizable glimpses of Monet’s Water Lilies.
Material and visual hybridity is extended to three dimensions in a nearby sculpture of Hermanubis by Oliver Laric. Here again, a patchwork of textures and translucencies are melded together, this time via 3D printing. Drapery like liquid, iridescent in some places, meshy in others, is left open at the back of the figure, revealing the structure’s internal logic — its pieced-togetherness. Hermanubis, a syncretic deity, is likewise a hybridization of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian Anubis. Laric’s Untitled (2014) video work further visualizes Hermanubis’ syncretism, as figures of all shape and form are sketched and animated in a continuous morphing of matter between animal, human, object and otherworldly being. A frog shifts into a table, a man into a car, all melting and reforming in a matter of seconds. Stylistically varying figures are linked through shared instability and biodegradability. An embodied liquidity makes shapeshifters out of everyone and everything.
Though by more analog, material processes, Sky Hopinka’s video Lore (2019) and accompanying photographs convey a similar sense of fluidity — of continuous reformulations. In persistently rearranging images on an overhead projector by hand, Hopinka repeatedly builds landscapes and narratives anew, overlapping and shifting, adding and taking away. Hopinka’s work is situated across the street — the exhibition spans two spaces — together with paintings by Pavel Büchler. Büchler’s Modern Paintings are also rearrangements of a kind: found and discarded paintings have been stripped down, put through a washing machine, its segments reversed and reassembled. Again the effect is akin to collage — like fragments of torn paper. In some paintings, particularly The Sky and the Sea (1996) — in which a portion of the original landscape is visible on the left side of the canvas, juxtaposed with its reconfiguration on the right — it evokes mosaics made of sea glass fragments, a direct reference to the transformative power of water (compounding the symbolic and literal washing of the paintings).
In Tempest, artists from both Tanya Leighton and Sadie Coles HQ (London) are brought together — making the exhibition itself a hybrid. It is part of a series taking place within the frame of Galleries Curate: RHE — the first chapter of a collaborative initiative of international galleries, which includes twenty-one participants so far. The group came together via WhatsApp last year, as galleries began to build a support network and sense of community at the start of the pandemic.
Water was taken as the first thematic focus of Galleries Curate as “a universal and unifying subject”. After nearly a year of experiencing the pandemic — another more or less universal subject — one consequence within the art ecosystem has been the different ways in which individuals and organisations have come together, locally and globally, to collectively navigate the crisis, open dialogue, share resources and create new possibilities. Taking time to think through forms of collaborative exhibition-making, sharing and exchange, could allow for more sustainable models to emerge; it could carry a transformative potential — like being liquid, susceptible to changing form.
Tempest ran from 18 January to 27 February 2021 at Tanya Leighton, Berlin.