At the entrance to “Tomás Saraceno in Collaboration: Web[s] of Life,” we are politely asked to surrender our phones. There is no apparent judgment; instead, the act is more performative as our gadgets are safely slotted in what appears like an old wooden shelving unit and exchanged with an oracle card, “Arachnomancy Card,” with a personalized message (mine read: “planetary drift”). We are free, of course, to choose not to give away our phones. Yet it seems a missed opportunity: to truly immerse in the lively and layered world created by Tomás Saraceno for London’s Serpentine Galleries requires this small sacrifice.
Later, I reflect on what a relief it was not to reach out for my iPhone at every photo opportunity (and there are plenty), to be in the moment and absorb the chapters that unfold in each room and onto the surrounding Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. As Saraceno’s first major exhibition in the UK, “Web[s] of Life” takes on a lot. Ultimately it aims to observe how different life forms, technologies and energy systems are connected in the climate emergency. Art, for Saraceno, has active agency.
‘Isaac Julien: What freedom is to me’ at Tate Britain is a powerful and poetic, and beautifully designed exhibition that reveals a career as compelling today as it was forty years ago, when the British artist began showing his politically charged films and video art installations.
Tate curators Isabella Maidment and Nathan Ladd worked closely with the artist and his long-term friend the architect David Adjaye to imagine and design this first UK retrospective of Julien.
We enter the exhibition wrapped around in large screens showing Julien’s latest film, ‘Once Again… [Statues Never Die]’ (2022), and from a clearing of sorts are then tasked to choose our own path, directed by sound, colour and scent, as a narrative unfolds based on that decision.
The curators have successfully designed an exhibition experience for the visitor that reflects Julien’s fascination with image, sound, space, movement. Maidment calls them sonic tapestries that draw you through the exhibition as it unfolds.
She notes a passage from ‘Once Again… [Statues Never Die]’ that illustrates the show so poignantly. The line is narrated the character playing Alain Locke — the writer and cultural critic, and philosophical architect of the Harlem Renaissance:
‘As we mature as artists in the mythical diasporic dream space, the culture of infinite possibility is ready to receive us. This is artistic freedom as pure and as unsullied as the falling snow.’
In ‘Rites of Passage’ published in 1909, the anthropologist Arnold van Gennep spoke of the concept of liminality, and how we mark critical transitional events through ceremonies with a ritual function that transcend cultural boundaries.
The idea forms the premise for an interesting exhibition currently at Gagosian Britannia St. London. Borrowing the book’s title, it explores the idea of liminal space through the lens of nineteen contemporary artists, primarily based in the UK, who share the story of migration.
The work on display come in various mediums, for a lively discourse challenging linear narratives and fixed concepts of identity.
It’s good to see such complex and varied conversations around movement, migration – really relevant themes that have to be explored further and further, and through multiple voices and lenses.
‘I’m interested in space and the movement of people and objects within space. There is a certain magic to it. It is as if you are inventing an order of things. I believe there is a secret relationship between space, objects and perceptible and imperceptible movements. Every artist working in this field tries to interpret that relationship in his or her own way. It is the composition and balance of those elements that give rise to the essence of drama and – why not? – the essence of life itself.’ These are the words of Isamu Noguchi, one of the most lyrical artists of the last century.
Known today mostly for his much-copied 1944 Coffee Table (an early edition of which sits here before me) and Akari paper lights, Noguchi tirelessly pushed the boundaries of art and sculpture. Working across almost seven decades and with a multitude of materials and mediums, his carved stones, stage sets, paper lanterns, portrait busts, mobiles, and playgrounds were collectively designed to be tools for understanding our place in the cosmos, and our relationships to history, nature, and one another.
The Barbican gallery in London is hosting ‘Noguchi’, the first of a touring European exhibition which sets out to document the work of this visionary creative. Thematically organised and curated to feature only the words of the artist himself, the exhibition successfully immerses the viewer in the mind and the world of Noguchi. The stripped back béton brut halls of the brutalist Barbican and the advantage of the two levels, allow the 150 works to breathe freely, and with the absence of excessive curation, the viewer is left in an almost meditative state to observe and absorb.
Born in Los Angeles in 1904, Noguchi’s mother was an Irish American writer and his father a Japanese poet who had abandoned the family on his birth. At the age of two, his mother took him to Japan to reunite with his father, sending him back to the US and onto Indiana for schooling for fear that the biracial child would receive racism in Japan. Noguchi eventually settled in New York where he trained in traditional sculpture, but his real break came while on an internship at the Paris studio of Constantin Brancusi. Here Noguchi gained a seminal introduction to the modernist principles of abstraction and presumably met the international avant-garde who were gathered in Paris in the 1920s. It was thanks to Brancusi that he became passionate about materials and craft – elements that remained fundamental to his work throughout his career.
By the end of the decade Noguchi was back in New York sculpting portrait busts, mainly to make a living, many of which are on display at the Barbican. They are a curious mix of expressionist and whimsical. He later referred to them jokingly as ‘headbusting’ since it was a useful way to make money and meet people. It seemed to have worked as they attracted the attention of the pioneering choreographers Ruth Page and Martha Graham for whom Noguchi went on to design sets using an interplay of his sculptures. He also befriended the architect and theorist R. Buckminster Fuller, who he referred to as the ‘messiah of ideas’. The two shared a vision for shaping a more equitable world through technology, innovation and design, collaborated on several projects including a futuristic car.
By the 1940s, Noguchi was working with manufacturers Knoll and Herman Miller. He continued to explore the possibilities of material and form with his interlocking marble slab sculptures and Lunars lights, created after his devastating experience of ‘voluntary’ internment at a camp for Japanese Americans in Poston, Arizona in 1942. The Lunars went on to influence some of his best-known works, the sculptural and ethereal Akari light sculptures – a contemporary take on traditional chochin paper lanterns using washi paper and electric bulbs. After the war, Noguchi travelled to Europe and Asia to understand the different uses of sculpture in a spatial and cosmic sense. He wrote at the time, ‘I find myself a wanderer in a world rapidly growing smaller. Artist, American citizen, world citizen, belonging anywhere but nowhere.’
Noguchi went on to complete over twenty public works around the world – gardens, fountains, playgrounds, plazas – using space to challenge civic and social life and its intersections with nature and time. His final contribution was Moerenuma Park. Located on a reclaimed municipal dump outside of Sapporo in Japan, it included play sculptures, fields, and fountains, and a revised version of his first-ever play rejected concept, the monumental, stepped pyramid he called Play Mountain (1933). Moerenuma Park was realised two years after Noguchi’s death in 2000.
Ultimately his was a life dedicated to sculpting the world he wished to inhabit. With a deeply humanist perspective, heightened by his prison experience, Noguchi understood the power of art and artists to make sense of the world. His work was political art. Wandering the exhibition, immersed from above and below in his delicate paper lanterns, colourful furniture, architectural playgrounds, and expressive and often funny abstract and figurative sculptures, you get the sense that in life and work, Noguchi remained an explorer with a philosophical and playful eye. In his own words: ‘Art for me is something which teaches human beings how to become more human.’
In 1972, Associated Press photographer Nick Ut snapped a nine-year-old naked girl fleeing the Napalm bombing with a group of children. In a single frame, ‘The Terror of War’ captured the horrors and human loss of the Vietnam war. The Pulitzer Prize-winning image helped change the course of history, sparking public outrage around the world. Shortly after the image was published, the war came to an end.
The power of a photograph to influence humanity’s collective consciousness cannot be understated. And, Émeric Lhuisset’s work is a critique of a global culture where fact and truth are in danger of losing all meaning. The French visual artist would like to tell an alternative story to contemporary photojournalism and its often sensationalized images of war and migrants, shocking at first yet quickly vanishing from memory. He wants to use the medium of photography to tell real stories of people – displaced people, the migrant, the refugee, the immigrant, the émigré.