Art radar highlights 5 great exhibitions to see in London over the winter festival season.
From Ai Weiwei to Dayanita Singh and star architect Zaha Hadid, London offers some unmissable shows of Asian, Middle Eastern and African contemporary art this December.
1. “Ai Weiwei: Fondation” — Lisson Gallery (25 November 2016 – 7 January 2017)
Ai Weiwei is showing this December at Lisson Gallery spaces in both New York and London. In “Roots and Branches” in New York (until 23 December) he presents fragments of trees in rusted cast iron against bespoke wallpaper. The sense of nature’s growth and pliability having been ousted by iron’s associations with heavy industry and the iron will of totalising systems is backed by the wallpaper’s images of military campaigns underway with tents and air support. A calmer, contemplative experience is available in the London show entitled “Fondation”, where the visitor is invited to perch on the stone base of columns from ancient Chinese halls to think about the future.
The entire work is displaced from a past exhibition at the Louvre in Paris entitled “A Brief History of the Future” (24 September 2015 – 4 January 2016). The stubs of the columns are sunk in a characteristic immaculately crafted wooden setting, like an oversized piece of 1960s teak by Hans Wegner. This feature actually makes them hard to sit on; a little too close together and almost flush with the platform. Presumably, this is the point, although invited to think of the future the multiple complexities of the past are unsettled.
Another room of 12 monitors shows 258 Fake (2011), a quickly changing sequence of 7677 images of Ai, his studio, his food, his cats and exhibitions in preparation. The images look pretty inoffensive and could have been taken of any affluent contemporary artist but many are from his infamous blog shut down in 2009 by Chinese authorities. Like Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol or Jeff Koons, Ai’s big grinning persona fronts his art making, insistently speaking of individual attainment and advantage rather than citizenship.
2. “Samson Kambalu: Introduction to Nyau Cinema” — Whitechapel Gallery (23 August 2016 – 8 January 2017)
Developed from his work presented at the Venice Biennale, Malawi-born, London-based, Samson Kambalu’s Nyau Cinema are brief filmed performances where the artist responds to different environments. Based on a Dogme 95-like set of principles, the works are slapstick vignettes, “transgressive, and playful”, with the primitive editing of jump cuts and reverse motion. Reminiscent of early cinema, they have a warm parchment colour and bleached contrast.
A Thousand Years (2013) has the artist standing against a wall dusting down his hat. The film jumps forwards and backwards, the dust is profuse and seemingly endless. Nyau principles demand that the films have a special viewing environment.
For the exhibition “Samson Kambalu: Introduction to Nyau Cinema”, the Whitechapel Gallery is painted black, projectors sit on wooden crates, and the films are juxtaposed with wall text describing the way Nyau was presented in Malawi when Kambalu was growing up. Cinema shows appear to have been a sort of live mash-up, with an MC splicing film together live and filling the breaks with banter.
In the texts, Kambalu relates this to Situationalist ideas – cinema as a vital lived experience rather than as a mediated product. The presentation of the exhibition affirms this as attention must continuously shift between the screen and the text. In an interview with the gallery, Kambalu comments:
One stumbles into Nyau Cinema – then you come and go as you please. Each film flickers and lasts less than a minute. You can look at the installation and experience it from any angle and get the picture – time as gift.
3. “Zaha Hadid: Early Paintings and Drawings” — Serpentine Sackler Gallery (8 December 2016 – 12 February 2017)
It is heartwarming to see this posthumous show of Zarah Hadid’s dynamic early works in the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, itself one of Hadid’s designs, and her first permanent building in the United Kingdom. Many of the images in the exhibition originate before her debut building, the Vitra Fire Station in Germany, was constructed in 1993. Drawings and paintings show the influence of the Russian avant-garde, with cascades of geometric shapes apparently surging against gravity with a united momentum.
This influence is pertinent, as almost all of the avant-garde artist’s architectural visions were never realised, just as Hadid’s architecture, at this stage, remained conceptual, manifest only in dynamic representations of configurations that refuse to settle. The exhibition goes right back to student works from the 1970s, a hotel morphing from a bridge over the Thames.
Chunky notebooks of sinuous futuristic ideas anticipate the practical application of computer modelling and sectional construction that have allowed some of her visionary structures, such as the Dongdaemun Design Plaza of 2013 in Seoul, to be made real. For Hadid, invention could take many forms and making paintings of new architectural possibilities was a potent means for her to transcend convention. The exhibition uncovers the genesis of this approach.
4. “Dayanita Singh: Museum Of Shedding” — Frith Street gallery (18 November 2016 – 13 January 2017)
Goa-based artist Dayanita Singh said to WS Magazine that “Things evolve, things change – they must, and thank God that they do! So don’t try and box me in, I can’t bear that. I want to play with you, I want to be mischievous.” Singh’s work extends the possibilities of the photograph by embedding it in modified contexts of presentation. In keeping with this, the Museum of Shedding exhibits a space that is inhabited by a notional curator.
The curator is provided with a place to sleep and to work, in the form of a desk labelled ‘director’, and storage for the museum’s collection. The exhibition that is being constructed is displayed in a grid on the walls, simple monochrome images of different places, images of boxes, presumably to store and rearrange the chosen works, and rooms occupied by large boulders.
Nearby a further set of photographs show rose coloured fabric parcels each bundled up with a unique knot. The packages all seem to contain books or documents but there aren’t any clues. The exhibition provides plenty of enigmas but little that leads to a conclusion. The photograph remains the preeminent vehicle for ambiguity despite its nature as objective witness.
5. “Rehana Zaman: Tell me the story of all these things” — Tenderpixel (30 November 2016 – 28 January 2017)
For London-based Rehana Zaman’s first solo exhibition entitled “Tell me the story of all these things” at Tenderpixel, she presents a new video that is installed on screens over two floors of the gallery. “Tell me the story of all these things” takes its title from Korean-American writer Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s novel Dictee (1982). Like the novel, which embodies the unique history and experience of Asian-Americans through multiple narratives and voices, Zaman’s work addresses the experiences of British Muslim women.
The characters are involved in disconnected scenarios and conversations, including staging a cookery demonstration, CG animation of a woman in a desert landscape and e-learning on the prototype UK government anti-radicalisation platform called ‘Prevent’. In the exhibition, the audience moves between screens and encounter films as dislocated episodes that work together to evoke the shifting ambience of contemporary experience. Upstairs screens are mounted on slender yellow stands, suggesting the dissemination of information, whereas the basement is informal with a projection and cushions.
The work extends the strategies of Zaman’s previous works such as Some Women, Other Women and all the Bittermen (2014), a wry segue between a faux TV soap opera and a candid view of consciousness raising sessions with female migrant workers. Zaman has a good feel for disjuncture and many conflicting styles and idioms collide in this show. “Tell me the story of all these things” is a sensitive account of the experience of contemporary life as it is mediated by multiple ways to socialise.
- Design Society and V&A Gallery to open in Shenzhen in 2017 – December 2016 – this collaboration is the first of its kind between a UK museum and a Chinese partner
- “Raster – Emerging from the Grid” at Experimenter gallery Kolkata – December 2016 – Art Radar takes a closer look at the artists who are participating in the show at Experimenter in Kolkata
- artnet’s Global Chinese Art Auction Market Report 2015 – highlights – December 2016 – Art Radar analyses the highlights of the the fourth edition of artnet and the China Association of Auctioneers’ report
- Iranian artist Shadi Ghadirian’s photography series at AB43 Contemporary, Zurich – November 2016 – AB43 Contemporary is holding the first exhibition in Switzerland by Iranian artist Shadi Ghadirian
- “Both Sides Now III”: exploring cultural frontiers with experimental Hong Kong, Chinese and British Films – November 2016 – “Both Sides Now III: Final Frontiers” features moving image works by Chinese, Hong Kong and British artists
Subscribe to Art Radar for more on gallery shows in major cities around the world