The exhibition showcases the artist’s porcelain sculptures and drawings, which explore ideas of metamorphosis, evolution and desire.
British artist Rachel Kneebone references both classicism and surrealism while paying homage to Ovid, a prolific Roman poet who was exiled by Emperor Augustus.
The solo exhibition “Ovid in Exile” is British sculptor Rachel Kneebone’s first in Hong Kong and China. Located in the 6000 square feet gallery space designed by London-based architects Maybank & Matthews, the show includes Kneebone’s new porcelain sculptures, as well as pencil drawings on paper. “Ovid in Exile” is on view at White Cube, Hong Kong from 27 May to 19 August 2017.
Born in 1973 in Oxfordshire, Rachel Kneebone is known for her sculptural works that capture the fluidity of movements and the intensity of emotions. They embody the tension between figurative and abstract. Her works have been exhibited widely, including among others at Brooklyn Museum, New York; Royal Academy of Arts, London; Camden Arts Centre, London; Barbican Centre, London; 1st Kiev Biennale Arsenale, Ukraine; Busan Biennale, South Korea; and the 17th Biennale of Sydney.
Recently, her ongoing exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, features a large-scale five-metre high porcelain tower of entitled 399 Days. Simultaneously, White Cube presents another solo show of the artist as part of a special project at Glyndebourne, East Sussex.
Art Radar takes a look at some of Kneebone’s works in the Hong Kong exhibition.
Ovid in Exile
The title of the show draws from ancient Roman history, and particularly, that of Ovid (43 BC – 17 AD), whose full name was Publius Ovidius Naso, a Roman poet who lived during the reign of Augustus (31 BC – 14 AD) in the Roman Empire. His witty love poetry won the hearts of many and his well-known influential literary works include Metamorphoses and Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love). During 8 AD, he was exiled by the emperor to Tomis in the Black Sea region for unknown reasons. Augustus had been implementing moral reforms during his rule, leading to the speculation that the cause of Ovid’s punishment was due to Ovid’s alleged immorality. Kneebone’s works take inspiration from Ovid’s writing, and his exploration of love, sensuality, death and the pleasures of the human body, and our connection to life and nature.
Exploring human condition and morality
In her sculptural work Daphne, Kneebone depicts intertwined limbs stretching upwards. The work exudes sensuality, drawing attention to the anxiety that exists between physical limitations and morality. Kneebone’s sculptures address the theme of life cycles and explore the notions of emergence, ecstasy, transformation, mourning, loss and renewal.
In a press release, the form and subject of Kneebone’s art are described as
Flowers, tendrils, body parts, spheres and more abstract elements are amassed and built up, appearing to merge and multiply, as if in a state of continuous flux or struggle.
Nature, life and death
In Pupa, motifs of flowers and larvae hint at the celebration of life. Fragmented pieces of clay are arranged in a way that resembles flower petals. However, the ambivalence between life and death prevails as these flower-like details are reminiscent of festive garlands and morbid funeral wreaths.
While the material itself is heavy and solid, the sculpted details are delicate and soft. This polarity is a defining characteristic of Kneebone’s oeuvre.
Materiality and experimentation
At an artist talk at White Cube, Hong Kong, Kneebone explained her approach towards the medium of porcelain:
I chose to work with porcelain, initially because of its whiteness. Because I felt that if I kept the work white, then it would not lock out meaning the same way colour does. So I feel that the quality to my work from the whiteness…the meaning is very fluid and the work is ambiguous.
Besides the effect of the colour of porcelain on the meaning of her work, she commented on her experience with experimenting with the material:
But then the actual physical experience of working with porcelain pushes my work to become how it is. […] It’s a somewhat difficult material to work with because it is very definite. […] When I started working with porcelain, I didn’t do a lot of research as to what you can do with porcelain and what you can’t do with porcelain […] because I just got on with making it. I think in a way that has enabled me to push the material to do things that people generally think are not possible. But impossible just means it hasn’t been done yet.
Unpredictablility, chance and metamorphosis
The reaction of porcelain when fired in a kiln is unpredictable, and the artist chooses to allow this to be part of her creative process. The first notable transformation is the shrinking of the work during the process. During the biscuit stage, when the work is fired but has not been glazed yet, shavings of clay plus traces of sculpting are left on the work to give it texture. Furthermore, the application of the white glaze may join or push apart the fissures and cracks created in the firing process. The factor of chance contributes to the final outcome of the work, which differs radically from the initial stage.
In the same artist talk, Kneebone spoke about letting go of the idea of control or manipulation of the material:
I’m not interested in controlling it…because the unpredictability of it and the fact that it changes and responds on its own terms is much more interesting to me. If it’s just me making, then I am the restriction on my work, because I can only make what I know how to make. […] So the minute I step back from having [control] as my intent, and allow the material to respond and do what it does, that’s the minute I start to making something interesting with my work, because it is more than I am.
In the exhibition, a series of two-dimentional pencil on paper drawings portray intertwined and overlapping limbs. The gently outlined forms capture the suspended motion of connecting and disconnecting, as if the limbs are weightless in mid-air. The drawings provide insight into Kneebone’s process of artistic creation.
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