“As capitalism in its neoliberal form spreads worldwide, and populism – from Trumpism to Brexit – rises in all corners of the Western world; wall building emerges as a sign of a period one could call ‘post-political’. From the US-Mexico border to Italy’s Lampedusa, more and more fences and checkpoints are appearing, creating zones of exclusion. The theorist Wendy Brown considers the proliferation of separation barriers, both within and between nation-states, a symbol of societal disruption. This resurgence in wall building uncannily appears in a context of transnational power intensification and the erosion of national sovereignty. Globalisation, the quality of which is connectedness rather than division, should have reduced the need for separation barriers and yet it seems to only have increased their establishment. However, cultural production is contradicting this trend, as exchange across the globe – even if maintaining North-South hierarchies – has been growing since the end of the Cold War.” – Miguel Amado, curator of Art Projects 2017 ‘Dialogues’.
Within the field of art, a phenomenon derived from this situation is what could be designated as a ‘geographical turn’ in Western institutions. In the past twenty-five years or so, museums, galleries, art fairs, auction houses and other players have been seeking to broaden their horizons with respect to non-Western art and other ‘subaltern’ practices – ‘art from elsewhere’, as the curator Okwui Enwezor puts it – including those rooted in gender and ethnicity as well as belonging to craft and outsider traditions. This 2017 edition of ‘Dialogues’ reflects the challenging conditions in which one lives today, attempting to grasp these recent developments in society and culture. The section includes galleries based in distinct parts of the UK – from London to the regions, and from England to Wales to Northern Ireland – and areas such as Dublin, southern Europe, the interior of the United States, and sub-Saharan Africa.
By its own nature, ‘Dialogues’ suggests interaction among the participating galleries, and thus the section is even more relevant this year, as the walls that typically split the multiple stands of an art fair are literally broken, metaphorically referencing the need to knock down the walls that have been, are being or will be erected. The featured artists address the issues of our times, looking at history, race and collectivity; alongside explorations of imaginaries, representation and subjectivity. The galleries from outside the UK are from peripheral, often uneven geographies – particularly in economic terms – but it is in these new ‘centres’ that many of the most engaging art is being made today. Putting them in conversation among themselves and with their UK counterparts – who include representatives of some of this country’s innovative art scenes – is intended to contribute to the expansion of a progressive cultural scene, and by consequence to a public sphere in which cosmopolitanism is the rule. – Miguel Amado, ‘Dialogues’ 2017 curator
Noé Sendas’s production brings together references to multiple artists and fields – from literature to film – and explores themes such as representation, narrative and appropriation. Sendas has worked in video, sculpture, drawing and sound, but has been focusing on photography in recent years. His photographic series employ formal devices such as duplication, which references the doppelgänger – the fictional double of a living person, and its psychological, often mystical charge.
The works presented by Sendas in ‘Dialogues’ draw inspiration from modernist imageries, particularly depictions of the female body in cinema and advertising. His images are manipulated, presenting women in various poses, as if in a studio or in domestic environments. They recall ancient photographic techniques that create illusionistic effects, turning the subjects into phantasmagorical characters. These enigmatic pictures suggest stories situated between fiction and fact, inhabiting the space of the mind and playing with the collective unconscious.
P17b Kalfayan Galleries
Aikaterini Gegisian’s production reflects on unstable identities informed by a sense of place and belonging as well as displacement and exile. She considers cultural flows between regions, histories and civilisations, outlining individual dislocations and mapping collective memories. Her works – videos and photographic collages – are multi-layered narratives that drift between the body and the mind, the subjective and the political, the personal and the social.
Gegisian’s For a Place in the Sun (2015) consists of ten photographic collages drawn from archival photographs in Hellenic Tourist Organisation brochures published during the early 1970s, the last years of Greece’s dictatorship. Four of the images depict monumental sites, and the others are made up of yellow circles and black lines – a reference to both censorship and abstraction – as well as the sentence ‘Enchantment in our regional old Greece’.
Gegisian employs the same technique in a new work that mixes representations of neoclassical architecture, folk cultures and the Minoan civilization. Both works address the building of national identity, taking Greece as a case study. The artist explores how stereotypical, paradisiac visions of Greece are a construction of the state’s ideological apparatus, which amalgamates mythology and the colonial gaze.
P18a IMT Gallery
P18b Division of Labour
Andrew Gillespie, Jasleen Kaur, Maggie Roberts, Dallas Seitz
These artists examine the implications of romanticism, particularly as expressed through matter, in the construction of contemporary visual culture. Their output explores materiality, looking at the dichotomy of object and concept, and its idiosyncrasies as a channel for both personal expression and collective memory.
Andrew Gillespie shows that the manifestations of printing in the pre-digital age – posters, for example – are malleable things in themselves. Through his treatments, it’s as if they’ve been repurposed by archaeologists to tell stories of who we were that are different from what we remember.
Jasleen Kaur’s haunting yet playful pieces, made of light, rubble, bricks and chrome, reveal the tensions between nature and culture. Dallas Seitz employs Cold War artefacts to reflect on the aestheticisation of politics.
Maggie Roberts considers the implications of technological excess, from consumption to environmental issues. Her works sit between a geological past and an unknown future: they are fascinating yet terrifying environments in which humans don’t yet or no longer exist.
Richard Butler Bowdon, Troy Makaza, Wycliffe Mundopa, Gresham Tapiwa Nyaude
Africa: Through the Keyhole
These artists provide a glimpse – personal yet drawn from societal conditions – of contemporary urban Africa, from landscape to worldviews, from issues of everyday life to mythological narratives. In its own way, each is a witness to its time and place, and reveals a unique understanding of their surroundings and histories.
Wycliffe Mundopa addresses the fractured biographies of the women and children of Harare’s underprivileged neighbourhoods. He considers themes such as poverty and exclusion, the clash of moral codes, and finance. The trajectories of the individuals he depicts illustrate the competing demands of modernity and tradition.
Troy Makaza considers the yearning of a new generation to find its own unique and authentic voice, which is unapologetically contemporary while standing firm on the foundations of the past. Gresham Tapiwa Nyaude speaks to political issues in Zimbabwe, operating against the sweeping identity that has been defined by the state’s propaganda.
Richard Butler Bowdon reflects on the impact of African and Western exchange, characterised by the slave trade, exploitation of natural resources and displacement, among other outcomes of the colonial enterprise. He challenges stereotypical visions of African people, creating new ways of subverting exoticism and other marks of otherness.
P19b LLE Gallery
Lindsey Bull, Aly Helyer, Ben Risk, Toby Ursell, Casper White
These artists consider the classical themes of portraiture and figuration in new ways. They look at history, yet their subjects are resolutely contemporary, a diverse troupe based on themselves, their observations and their imaginations. They address the self from both a physical and a psychological viewpoint, examining existential questions.
Lindsey Bull paints lonely, introverted figures in melancholic scenes, who seem as if they’re trying to distance themselves from the real. Toby Ursell puts himself in dialogue with characters from historical paintings.
Ben Risk’s output is an ongoing exploration of ‘socio-mythic’ characters who appear as a semi-fictional cast. He depicts them distorted, as if lost, as a means to illustrate their lack of a sense of belonging.
Casper White conceals and reveals the sitter, playing with the traditional idea of a backdrop of a portrait. Aly Helyer interrogates personal identity, excavating the tensions – and sometimes violence – at stake in one’s own image.
P20a Gibbons & Nicholas
Anita Groener’s Citizen addresses the migratory condition. The artist considers that the current influx of persons seeking asylum – including but not limited to those leaving Syria due to the ongoing civil war there – is just one symptom of a story that has historical roots worldwide. The project explores the tension between free circulation and border control, and experiences of displacement and exile.
Groener traces connections between the current plight of Syrians and her family’s history. She counters an emerging collective alienation by encouraging us to walk in the footsteps of a multitude of anonymous people on the move, without a country and without a home, questioning our ethics of witnessing.
Her installation is made up of figures based on individuals depicted in the thousands of photographs that she has been compiling. Together these silhouettes become a mass, symbolising the magnitude of the phenomenon. The work suggests a journey between here – the geographical and cultural locations of the spectator – and there – the site of the represented trauma.
P20b Jack House Gallery
Amartey Golding’s CHAINMAIL – a film and a group of related works – explores stereotypical perceptions of black identity often associated with poverty, gang culture and violence. Golding focuses on ideas of masculinity and sexuality associated with black men through the lenses of a fictional urban tribe and its collective rituals.
The film features a performance by a black dancer who interacts with chain mail, moving in a state of trance until physical exhaustion. Chain mail is a type of armour that both protects the (usually male) body and projects the wearer’s status. In Golding’s fictional young people’s group, creating and wearing this type of garment is a means to self-empowerment and collective cohesion.
In addition to the film, the artist presents a photographic series that draws on historical visual references such as medieval paintings and ethnographic images of tribal cultures. The images show black men posing in a scenario of decay, suggesting marginality, but also revealing pride and dignity.
P21a Maus Contemporary
The Lost Voices
Travis Somerville’s The Lost Voices references Britain’s Home Children programme, initiated in 1869. Through this scheme, around 150,000 orphaned or poor children were sent to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa, and what started out as a legitimate charitable deed became a scheme to provide a free labour force for these countries. The work taps into themes of colonial history, migration, collective memory and justice, and uses them as a catalyst for discussions of current social issues, among them the migratory condition, particularly the so-called refugee crisis.
Somerville’s installation consists of drawings in various media as well as found objects and ephemera, including christening gowns. The artist drew inspiration from portraits of those orphaned children, posters from the British child care agency Waifs and Strays Society, and representations of Syrian children seeking asylum in the UK. Somerville evokes the headlines, past and present, around migrants, attempting to illuminate the truth behind fear-mongering reports in which they are vilified, and considers their diasporic experience.
Graham Fagen’s The Garden (2016) was originally made for Radio Delay, a series of works looking at histories and contemporary collective perceptions of conflict commissioned by Belfast’s Golden Thread Gallery. The work was a development of Fagen’s early pieces around the expression ‘Come into the Garden and Forget about the War’, taken from a sign in the Talbot House Museum, Poperinge, Belgium, a club for British soldiers founded in 1915 by Reverend Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton.
The Garden premiered at Grey Point Fort, Northern Ireland, in the summer of 2016. It mixes references to the Scottish poet Robert Burns, the singer Bob Marley and Ethiopia’s regent and emperor Haile Selassie I. The work is an homage to Scotland, his homeland, and to Jamaican culture. It also explores memories of the First World War, both personal and mediated by the media.
The same takes place at ‘Dialogues’, for which Fagen re-created The Garden, complementing it with a limited-edition vinyl record. Through the work, our engagement with the First World War, from recollections of trauma to experiences of nationhood, turns into a reflection on the universal concepts behind dissent and struggle, whether between countries or between people.