Tuesday, 19 July 2016


Rana Begum – The Space Between

Parasol unit, London 30 June – 18 Sept    

Rana Begum in No. 670 L Mesh Installation, 2016

Anglo-Bangladeshi artist Rana Begum became known a dozen years ago for fetish-finished wall-based works in what one might term two and a half dimensions, that indeterminate space between two dimensional painting and three dimensional sculpture.  They’re legible from front-on but dynamised by the viewer so that physical movement activates colour movement, evoking such street features as railings, billboards, bridges and traffic while still bearing the mark of her childhood in Bangladesh. The patterns of Islamic architecture and the repetition of daily prayer feed in, as she has explained: ‘I remember reading the Quran at a local mosque, in a tiny room dappled with morning light. The light, the sound of the water fountain and the repetition of recitation, all familiar elements, suddenly came together in a feeling of calm and exhilaration’.

No. 531, 2014. Paint on powder-coated aluminium, 200 x 295 x 5cm (30 sections)/ 78¾ x 116¼ x 2 in. Courtesy of the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary. Photography by Philip White

Begum’s substantial retrospective across the whole of the Parasol unit includes two fine examples of these parallel arrangements of powder-coated aluminium rods. You might say they combine effects made famous by South Americans, and filter them through Donald Judd: the changes in colour as you walk past due to differing colours on either side of the rods recall Carlos Cruz-Diez’s ‘Physicromies’; the efflorescence of an unseen colour reflecting onto a white surface was favoured by Luis Tomasello. The conjunction generates a separately distinctive phenomenology, and in No. 531, 2014, the pink between rods transcends the geometry with an illusion which has everyone checking to see that she really hasn’t painted the wall. No. 480, 2013, plays darkness and glitter into the equation to quite different ends.

What’s impressive in ‘The Space Between’ is how Begum has kicked on from that signature approach to produce new, yet linked, streams of work. All play differently with the ability of geometry, colour and light to generate change, somewhat paradoxically, through repetition. The key to that is the movement of the viewer in completing the work, which builds on how, as Begum says, ‘in life we are in constant motion, seeing things shift and change around us. I feel the need to reflect these transitions and changes within my work, and consequently the viewer must play their part’. Begum’s newer works tend to emphasise one of two aspects which are present in less emphatic form in No. 480, 2013 and No. 531, 2014: first, the objecthood of the would-be-painting; second, the softening of the expected rigidities of geometry. 

 No. 161, 2008. Paint on powder-coated aluminium. Each of 16 pieces: 250 cm (98½ in) high. Photography by Philip White

The rods take centre stage as objects in No. 161, 2008, in which sixteen are propped casually against the wall; and in No. 449, 2013, which joins them end-to-end form a zig-zag. No. 563 uses veneer to hint at furniture, but an other-worldly glow of colour gives the game away. No. 207, 2010, emphasises objecthood through contrasting lightness: in a predominantly metallic practice, substance is stripped back to plastic drinking straws glowing in the dark by means of UV lighting, some swaying in the air conditioning. No. 563, W Fold, 2014 uses shapes which emerge from folding processes, and that’s Begum’s primary new form. Aluminium sheets are flattened against and creased away from the wall so that the varying areas and shapes of the edges are folded out towards the viewer at assorted angles. 
No. 394, L Fold, 2013 - Paint on mild steel

The selection here, from 2013-2015, has black or white centres with coloured wings. We seem to have moved indoors from the street, with a resemblance to origami. These take the colour and light effects from the parallel rods in quieter directions. The colour seems hidden from some angles, fluorescent from others.  There can be marked variations in the glow made by the same colour, depending on its positioning relative to the light sources and the angle of the fold on which the colour sits. And there’s a meditative aspect to the folds which encourages a different type of reflection. Deleuze posited the fold as the primary constituent of a seamless reality. Thus ‘the outside is not a fixed limit but a moving matter animated by peristaltic movements, folds and foldings that together make up an inside: they are not something other than the outside, but precisely the inside of the outside’. Without buying into a whole ontology, Begum’s folds could be demonstrations of how the ‘inside’ space is topologically in contact with the ‘outside’ space; and, given the streetlife origins of her rectilinear work, it’s logical to read this as folding together the private and the public.

No. 624, M Drawing, 2015 - vinyl, powder-coated mild steel

Two new streams of work speak a language of softening and provisionality even though they use steel.   Three large pieces on the canal-side terrace outside Parasol unit (No. 626, L Drawing, 2015, No. 674, L Drawing, 2016, No. 675, L Drawing, 2016) and a related group of smaller wall and floor based works all combine a monochrome coloured shape with a wire frame. That jumps out like a cartoon animation of a shadow thrown by a well-angled sun. Outside, the drawn frame is big enough to tremble marginally in wind; indoors the smaller works are more rigid, but a sense of movement is still generated, as different vantage points alter the relationship between originating form and possible shadow. Begum has said that these, together with the originating No. 207, 2010, come out of ‘the need to draw’, then nake the drawings ‘more present in the space’. Rather like the folds, they are open forms which seem to welcome the viewer in to their effects.
 No. 647 L Mesh, 2015. Paint on stainless steel. 213 x 136 x 2 cm/83 x 53½ x ¾. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Jack Hems

Begum’s newest tack, and her most radical softening of geometry, is the use of steel mesh designed for fencing. While Begum –  like Albers and Judd - never mixes her colours physically, colour mixing does occur here by layering. This simple effect generates a meditative presence in the three overlapping diamonds of No. 647 L Mesh, 2015, yet when a whole room is taken over by the multiple mesh colours of No. 670 L Mesh Installation, 2016, the effect is far busier as we glimpse people disappearing in networks of colour.  This turn to the environment makes explicit the potential of repetition to stand in for what might have proved an infinite process. These mesh works are geometric, but with a softening which suggests contingency and perhaps human uncertainty, even as it adopts the eternally unchangeable nature of geometric shapes. In fact, all of Begum’s work has an additional contingency, in that the decisions behind it are intuitive where they could – as one might at first assume – be the result of applying a mathematical approach. That gentling of form, then, sits well with an unconstrained method, and the  mutability of colours in shifting light - and put me in mind of James Turrell’s ungraspably immersive installations.
No. 670, L Mesh Installation, 2016. Powder-coated galvanised steel. Dimensions vary. Courtesy of the artist. Photography by Philip White 

‘The Space Between’ has proved very well visited. In part, that’s down to the ‘Kusama effect’ of people dropping in from the selfie-inspired queues for the Japanese’s artist’s mirror rooms at neighbouring Victoria Miro. I’d be surprised if a high proportion of those somewhat accidental visitors aren’t lured into Begum’s exhilaratingly poised world.

This review was written for SATURATION POINT at http://www.saturationpoint.org.uk

Saturday, 16 July 2016



ARTHOUSE1, 45 Grange Rd - Bermondsey

7-30 July:   www.arthouse1.co.uk

Special opening with artists present Sun 17 July 1-3 pm

Tours of show with me: Fri 29 July 5-6 pm

Curated by Paul Carey-Kent

London’s art scene benefits from an international outlook, much of which comes from the presence of European artists. Yet that’s doubly threatened: first, by the troubling referendum outcome, which risks reducing artists’ ease of access; and second by the increasing difficulty of finding living and studio space in the capital – a problem, of course, for all artists. ‘Secret European Studio’ celebrates, somewhat mournfully, the current diversity of the London art scene by focusing on what’s being made by artists who come from EU countries, but live here. Carlos Noronha Feio (Portugal) makes paintings which seek abstract equivalents for power structures, and also sets the show’s soundscape as he reflects on what ‘Universism’ might be;  Alzbeta Jaresova (Czech Republic) puts her figures into tense psychological relationships with transparent yet unfathomable versions of London’s infrastructure; Simona Brinkmann (Italy) uses metal and foam-padded leather to form half-fetishistic, half-architectural objects which suggest shifting boundaries between private and public; Willem Weismann (Netherlands) seems to mock both dystopia in general and the putative death of painting in particular in his colourful cartoon-tinged tableaux; Franco-German collective Troika bring sublimity to trauma as they draw intricate webs of lightning, and run a smoke bomb through a labyrinthine maze; and Nadege Meriau (France) lets snails and mushrooms impose their own dark logics on her photographic underworld. The works emerging from these Secret European Studios cohere in a darkly intelligent overview of where we are now, with a focus on boundaries and borders – and we wouldn’t want to be without them…  The vote to leave is a serious concern in that and other respects. Let’s hope we use our supposed increase in freedom to make it easier for artists to find the space to tell us how they see the Brexit world.

Carlos Noronha Feio - UK / Portugal

ON LONDON AND EUROPE: I believe that nationhood, citizenship, race, ethnicity, are all constructs designed to allow for a better division of the peoples of the world into manageable assets. The EU is, for me, an interesting experiment on transnationalism and its freedom of trade, and more importantly the freedom to move and settle outside one’s place of birth with minimum bureaucracy —is something that I cherish.

Blue plain pierced by striking red continuum (and a delicate apparition by a friend), 2016

Carlos Noronha Feio is a multi-disciplinary artist known for film, performance, rugs and collage as well as the three strands of his practice sampled here. The sound collage in the hallway combines construction and deconstruction, including a granite boulder being split, and the chanted letters of 'univerism', which doubt into the idea of ‘universism’.  Just as, Feio has reflected, he isn’t easily slotted into the category ‘Portuguese’, being blonde, with an Angolan lineage, and with relatives throughout Europe, he says that ‘universism is one word that says that nothing is unquestionable and that everything can change’. Linked investigations of national stereotyping feature in many of the objects collected by Feio as an adjunct to and stimulator for his practice: here he selects musket bullets, a roman ring used to make seals with a lion relief and a small propaganda token for the abolition of slavery with the sentence ‘am I not a man and a brother’ surrounding a praying black man. They in turn face two paintings which seek abstract equivalents for the power structures implicit in colonialist world views.  The first is one of a series using the photographic background of images representing the different ‘native peoples’ inhabiting the Pacific Ocean area during World War II - taken from a book instructing American servicemen what to look for, and so associating the images with the US's nuclear testing programme. Here he layers abstract marks onto that ground and – as is always sociologically critical – its framing. He talks of fighting to stop the background from influencing the manner in which he paints the foreground – and losing that fight.  The second painting is from a more recent series in which the abstract ‘response’ has floated free of the context it was fighting against. We’re left with a rather beautiful painting haunted by history at several removes.   

Assemblage of found objects - Includes: 9 musket bullets, roman ring with embossed lion, abolition token.

ON STUDIO LIFE: I constantly travel between three countries. I hold studios in Portugal and the UK, and would love to be able to establish a studio in Russia.  Yet the different visas, the permissions to work, the overall feeling of transgression on another's space — something I have not felt in the EU — makes Moscow the most difficult of my 'homes’.

Alzbeta Jaresova – UK / Czech Republic

The mixing of ideas, talent and cultures is what has kept me and thousands of other artists here. Its diversity and openness spearheads progress in the artistic community. 

Spatial Composition, 2016

Two traditions of architectural geometry and their psychological impacts feed into Alzbeta 
Jaresova’s combinations of plan-like models with figures in drawings and paintings: on the one hand, the blocky pre-fab concrete building of the Soviet era housing in which she grew up, on the other the airy modernism of London’s expanding skyline. In both cases she explores the interface between impersonal and potentially depersonalising structures and the way in which individuals experience themselves within the resulting spaces.  You might call the resulting tableaux an exploration of the phenomenology of habitation. The mock-ups combine an implicit critique of utopian thinking in the architectural realm with a parallel window onto social isolation in what Jaresova sees as ‘the aggressive technological era in which we live’. Here the drawn hands act in spaces topologically analogous to the models. Moreover, the precise delineation of bodily elements comes out of a technique which builds in its own constraints: Jaresova sets her drawings up on a very light grid, and limits her gestures, as if in her own equivalent of architectural construction, to horizontal and vertical lines.

Position XX, 2015

Since moving here to study in 2011, Peckham has become an important part of my identity as a London-based artist, and I am part of a larger artistic community, which has seen my work develop. I’m in the Bussey Building, originally a Victorian sporting goods factory, which was built to allow for maximum natural light and has a bustling nature which seems ingrown.

Simona Brinkmann – UK / Italy 

I have lived in the UK for over 25 years and am a firm believer that any jeopardisation of the European project from a national perspective could only ever be a big backwards jump. Ideologically, I have a deep attachment to the principle of internationalism. The fewer borders, the better - more so because the abolition of borders demands greater equality as the basic precondition for its workability.

Installation view with Bridges Become Doors (2012-2016)

Simona Brinkmann is a sculptor whose work deals with power structures.  She addresses spatial borders and boundaries, and politics of movement control and enclosure in ways which can be seen to relate to issues involved in free movement between nations. Perhaps constraint is intrinsic to the logic of all architecture. Brinkmann goes so far as to suggest that the built environment 'often seems to articulate an inherent violence', and that 'one could talk about a fundamental power relation that is at play in its very nature'. The work selected here fuses the languages of architecture with that of fetishisation, suggesting a parallel between the way built environments control the body through material processes of exclusion/inclusion and how master/servant relations can operate to similar or related ends. This feeds into a sleek aesthetic which puts the tropes of minimalism slightly out of whack by potentially sexualising them and building in contrasts of hard and soft, erect and fallen, shiny and matt. The barrier-like sculpture ‘Checkpoint’ features foam-padded leather; the floor-bound ‘Bridges Become Doors’ uses steel and graphite paste, but quite apart from being spread across the floor, looks too fragile to serve as a fence.  All of which can be read across to the classic philosophical question: if we don’t want anarchy, how many restrictions should we accept? 

checkpoint, 2016

At a time when neoliberalism is hell-bent on exterminating any sort of activity whose primary logic is not to generate a profit, it is crucial to hold on to these sorts of spaces… particularly in London, where art and artists are gradually being stamped out. So to stand our ground on studio provision means resisting the gradual extinction of creativity for creativity’s sake. It becomes a very urgent thing.

Willem Weismann – UK / Netherlands

In London you can meet anyone from anywhere. Everyone brings something unique, and it creates a sort of equal footing in my mind as no one is completely at home. It greatly relativises your own viewpoint as you engage with different perspectives from all over the world.

Leftover geometry, 2013

Willem Weismann conjures a self-contained world from his East End studio: he imagines weird scenarios, often apocalyptic but communicated in a jauntily upbeat style, and leaves the evidence of his whole process on view by using the painting itself as his palette – you can see where the colours have been tested. Convention is part of a series of paintings where human figures appear as fragments, like broken statues. Weismann says he was interested in making human and object of equal importance, so that ‘there seems to be a mutual understanding between them, as they are having a discussion, making plans for the future’.  An object edges toward the human in Status Quo, as it seems a pillar is wearing a tie, bolstering one symbol of authority with another and what could the light of a revelation.  ‘I don't like simplification and reduction’, says Weismann, ‘real life is always more complex, chaotic and dirty than people generally would like to see it’. It’s tempting to apply that as a corrective to the Leave camp’s crude arguments for how Britain will be freer and better off out of the EU. Either way, Leftover Geometry has squeezed the whole of a complex still life painting into a column which compacts it like trash: that, too, could be read as a caustic comment on misguided attempts to corral the world into an overly straightforward template. 

Convention, 2014

I like being in London for its unceasing activity and hecticness. The relentless flow of everything coming at you is both nauseating and exhilarating and this is an important subject of my work.

Troika – UK / France / Germany

We have worked together, in London, as a collective for the past 10 years. The three of us have varied academic as well as cultural backgrounds. These differences in combination with a shared interest to make sense of a complex, often contradictory world is what draws us together. 

Cartography of Control  (detail), 2015

Troika (Eva Rucki, Conny Freyer and Sebastien Noel) occupies a railway arch near Hoxton which is effectively a laboratory, for the collective operates at the interface of art and science, often through large scale installations. Cartography of Control is made by  what they have called  'invisible lightning': the application of 15,000 volts of electrical charge to burn irregular and unpredictable bronchial patterns into wet paper as the current tries out various paths of least resistance. The series Alternate Pasts results from setting off one or more coloured smoke bombs in a labyrinthic wooden structure (which is also displayed here). The structure is removed and only made visible on the paper by ghostly traces of soot, so that in Troika’s words we see ‘two colours/textures, two timelines that occupy the same narrow space and remind us of an architecture of sorts that is only defined by the way it is used over time, by the sum of all events that have taken place in it’. Both works illustrate a constant loop between control and the inherently uncontrollable, typical of the synthesis of apparent opposites in Troika’s work: a demonstration of how to bring differences together such as, the Brexit vote showed, was sadly lost on the majority of the British people.

Conny Freyer making the smoke bomb piece

Our work involves an active cooperation between many different people that work with us in and outside of the studio, thus needs a space to make this happen. We believe in the importance of the studio, not just as a functional space for making our work but also as a site for exchange and dialogue. 

Nadege Meriau – UK / France 

As an artist in London there is a feeling of being at the forefront of what is happening in the art world and in other realms too. I often get ideas while travelling on the tube. There is something liberating and inspiring about moving anonymously amongst a sea of people who come from all over the world. 

Petite Mort, 2016 -  lightbox

Nadege Meriau spins a varied practice from a photographic core which frequently sees new systems emerge from the conjunction of natural and human, as in many works touching on the world of the bee. The lightboxes of Petites Morts and the small Daguerreotype-like prints on metal of The Fall stem from an ongoing collaboration with snails and mushrooms. The Fall show the constellation-like results - made in around twenty minutes, snails being 'fast' according to Meriau, of placing them on a flatbed scanner. She also gathers mushrooms from her local woods, positions them face down – led by aesthetic instinct, not scientific investigation – and then leaves the fungi to do their work overnight through touch, movement and the release of oxygen. Their intimate encounters with the photographic device climax as they propel their reproductive spores. The ‘little deaths’ so recorded do indeed have a ghostly air as well as evoking the contrasting mysteries of sexual attraction and asexual reproduction. We might also be reminded of the chance processes introduced into many approaches to abstract painting, and of the frequency with which Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of ‘the rhizome’ is invoked in explaining contemporary art.  

The Fall II, 2015

My studio is at home, where lack of space fits with using the flatbed scanner and my computer as a studio and darkroom in which I can explore, experiment and make a mess... Sometimes this creates tension with other members of my family…  

TEXT: Paul Carey-Kent with quotes from the artists

At the opening....


Talk on 17 July - photos by Uliana Apatina:

About Me

My photo
Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom
I was in my leisure time Editor at Large of Art World magazine (which ran 2007-09) and now write freelance for such as Art Monthly, Frieze, Photomonitor, Elephant and Border Crossings. I have curated 20 shows during 2013-17 with more on the way. Going back a bit my main writing background is poetry. My day job is public sector financial management.