16 May - 7 July 2018
There is a deliberately misleading directive, a paradox, hardwired into Hannah Levy’s sculptures that defies, or perhaps, irreverently thumbs its nose at expectations whereby representation links to an anticipation of linear meaning. Rather than jumping on the over-easy bandwagon of ‘surrealism’, to describe or perhaps miscategorise her practice, a case can be made that Levy’s darkly humorous intent is similarly encoded with the ‘real’, or a socially satirical version of such; one that enjoys enticing the viewer down a primrose-lined (les fleurs du mal) garden path, right into the arms of an unexpected mugging, or at least an intellectual ambush, where what you think you see, is never what you actually get. Levy’s intentional misdirection is neither; weird, odd, unreal, dreamlike, fantastic, bizarre, but the antonym of the surreal, “ordinary”, a baseness, that holds fast to the primacy of the direct, the actual, within her work. On differing sides of anticipated perception, or disparate automatic reading; I have witnessed a sensitive parent instinctively re-direct a child’s eyes from a Levy sculpture, where a harmless pair of gourds, okay cast in perfect knobbly detail in squishy pink silicone, resting beside one another like a loving or post-coital couple, on a stretched taupe silicone bed, cut and shaped as a modernist furniture sling. At the same time, the work was also included on an Art Basel Hong Kong, childrens’ ‘art club’ activity sheet, with the edict; “Find these vegetables”!
Evidently, readings of Levy’s work might and have described it as either, sexy, sexual, of the aesthetic of the sex shop, but one thing it is certain that it is never overtly, bluntly, or simplistically, about the mechanics of sex. Like its actuality, rather than its too-common fictional representation, there is so much more, psychologically and emotionally, it is complex. Levy’s work is similarly so, and its undeniable fetish, is nuanced in the dualistic context of both the real and of the psychological fabrication of architectonic fetishism, that which Ludwig Mies van der Rohe described as god being in the details. However, the paradox of redemptive Satanism, claims that “to know God is to know the Devil” 1. Mies van der Rohe’s proposition of ‘skin and bones’ structures seems sensitive to this dynamic; bent tubular metal frames stretched or draped with soft, elastic or pliable forms or skins: An efficacious sexiness of purpose, where sprung steel works explicitly in tandem with function, producing ergonomic armatures that act as a negative space awaiting the intersecting fit of the human body. Again the dialectic pervades, the intimacy of the relationship, body-to-chair, is however best appreciated, aesthetically, by transposition, wherein the human is physically absent. You can only ‘see’ yourself, at one with the chair, by imagined projection in an unphysical idea of the act of sitting. This distanced intimacy behaves the same way in Levy’s work, where the idea of a conjured viscerality is crafted by an artistic slight of hand, an extraordinarily co-option and fusion of inert, prosaic, real-world-things; handrails, tubular steel furniture, gym and medical equipment, fruits, vegetables, the odd shrimp, etc., transmuted into anthropomorphised objects that mimic the presentation of personality, trait or attitude, in manner that in certain instances, justifiably causes the parent to cover innocent eyes. Furniture descending in joy.
Alongside the idea of touch, there is a fetish of taste, the flesh tones of the silicone, frequently employed by Levy, deliberately refers to the prevalence of ‘neutrals’, a palette choice, the pinks and ivories common in contemporary décor, or as Levy describes them, colours socially coded as “white”. Alongside socio-political-satire, the deliberate post-human literalism, in Levy’s work is (equally deliberately) sacrificed on an altar of high modernist aesthetics. The sculptures are neither primarily of, nor directly about, that which they initially appear, namely the body, rather they are abjectly beyond it, an extension of physical intellect, close, but out of reach. Levy takes what we think we know, what we feel we see, and dumps it unceremoniously into a realm she has described as “design purgatory”. Rich and strange, neither-this-nor-that, but real, whatsoever that is. Stuck forever. Any other associations or readings, are evidently, in our collective mental space. To know that God is in the details, means we know the joy of descending.
Hannah Levy (born 1991, lives and works in New York) completed her MA at Städelschule, Frankfurt in 2015. Recent exhibitions include, Being There, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark; Past Skin, MoMA PS1, New York; Things I Think I Want, Frankfurter Kunstverein (all 2017). Hannah Levy’s work is part of the collections of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Panic Hardware is Levy’s first solo exhibition with mother’s tankstation.
1 In writing about the dualistic struggle with the poetry of Baudelaire, Pierre Emmanuel cites the French Philosopher Joseph de Maistre (as does Baudelaire himself in De l’Essence du Rire): “There is in every man [sic], at every moment, two simultaneous postulations, one towards God, the other toward Satan. The invocation to God, or spirituality, is a desire to rise to dignity; that of Satan, or animality, is a joy of descending “ (J.I., 62). Pierre Emmanuel, Baudelaire, The Paradox of Redemptive Satanism, The University of Alabama Press, 1967, pg. 107
Sebastian Lloyd Rees
19 April - 26 May 2018
Some years ago, 1985 to be precise, a thoughtful London gallerist expressed the idea that it was not necessarily the price of an artwork that was its determination of value, but rather the price of the real estate required to give it an ongoing life. In contemporary art terms, this was back in the dark ages of what we now understand as the gallery system, yet the heyday of Margaret Thatcher’s theosophical assault on the culture and essential purpose of council housing and the primacy of property ‘ownership’, despite its comparative European imbalance to income (privatization of public housing stock, by any other name – and the linguistic relocation of what was left of it, to ‘social housing’). Although the gallery in question has long gone (too thoughtful perhaps), the remark remains pertinent, as little has changed in respect of the affordability of housing in the UK capital, other than the scale of the rift between having and getting, and its unfortunate inverse; of not having and losing.
As a non-native observer, living and working in London, as well as a natural campaigner and serial pamphleteer, Sebastian Lloyd Rees’s (born 1986, Stavanger, Norway – incidentally about the time of the above comment) body of work forms a fascinating commentary on the societal shifts of a megalopolis, its progressive gentrification, or according to the local authority preferred term, ‘regeneration’. Most explicitly focused in his collaborative work with Ali Eisa, as Lloyd Corporation (represented by Carlos Ishikawa), and more tangentially, poetically or aesthetically realized through his solo practice, Lloyd Rees appears genuinely troubled by London’s socio-economic divide: An odd perversion of the history of land valuation, zoning and planning regulation in the UK means that the intended ‘values’ of it’s post-WWII social architects (i.e. that land sales, re-zoning from industrial or green belt and new builds were intended for the greatest social good of the greatest number; the original directive being a quality of life determined by affordable mass living), are instead, and particularly in greater London, biased in favour of developers and privileged towards asset investment and speculation, increasing the having of the few, at the greatest cost, or complete exclusion of the greatest numbers. The inverse of original intention.
Land and its potential, becomes the valued commodity, rather than extant buildings or the communities upon it, and given the nature of speculation, counter-intuitively, an increased supply of vacant lots only increases and fuels speculative values. History, working people or indeed traditional community, builds a poor wall against a tidal wave of moneyed speculation. Anna Minton’s 2017 book, Big Capital, details the privileged information forced out by social campaigners through the courts, that the hard reality of the ‘regeneration’ of the Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle into the aptly named ‘Elephant Park’, was the demolition of 3,000 homes, predominantly former ‘council’ flats, and the development of 2,704 luxury apartments, while replenishing only eighty-two social housing units.
Over the past few years, Lloyd Rees has been on a quiet mission, patrolling London’s repurposing. He cycles, drives and walks the city, an almost unnoticed flâneur, in search of blocked-off land and occluded pathways. Retrieving and replacing the hoardings that have enclosed vacant sites, or perhaps visually denied or restricted the reality of gentrification from the view from society. The weathered and eroded hoardings, become rescued relics of politicized, civic restriction and are carefully conserved/restored, cut-and-collaged and reconstructed into low-hung wall works that allude to the open-ended mythopoetics of high-modernist abstraction. Lloyd Rees flips the psychological identity of the hoarding from objects of negative, obstructive power, motifs of class warfare even, into symbols of inclusion and intellectual freedom. Here I should clarify, that as a honourable and socially-minded Norwegian, Lloyd Rees doesn’t actually steal things… but rather, goes through a patient legalish sort-of-process, of application, writing, phoning, negotiating, to remove aging hoardings and replace them with fresh new plywood boarding. In the instance of a failure of this process, an occasionally necessary night-heist occurs (in plain sight, with bollards and high-vis work gear…), but without fail, the artist renders or returns the site to an acceptable standard of public safety. New, plain, unpainted hoardings reveal where the artist has been busy at work. Furthermore, detailed nuances embedded in the titles of Lloyd Rees’s cut and collaged sculptures about painting, composed with the ‘brush’ of precision carpentry equipment, reveal their essential status: Their geo and temporal specifics indicate former site location of a hoarding, each carrying its own socio-historical narrative, and its date and time of lift; after office hours, say around midnight…, generally speaks for its self.
Initially, Lloyd Rees hoardings tended towards an enormity of scale, in both visual and physical endeavour. Frequently, works averaged five to seven meters in length, such as the contemplative wall of blue; Hoarding, (Silvertown Way, 9th January, 17.13 GMT), 2015, exhibited at Frieze, London, in 2015, or the wall of faded black panels from King’s Cross St. Pancras, exhibited in Bunkering in Paradise/The Rest Of Us Just Live In It, Turin, 2014, both reflecting the quantity and span of vacant London sites at that moment. As regeneration has continued apace, the availability of the artist’s chosen raw material has diminished dramatically and as a consequence, the colour-coding of some particular areas of the city has become endangered to the point of near extinction. The works related to nearly finished areas, focus down and consequently intensify, distill, into a smaller scale, with the last of the City’s blue panels, for example, featuring as rare collaged jewels, set into rawer grounds of salvaged, but unpainted ply. I wonder if these raw elements are evidence of Lloyd Rees capturing his own surrogate,second-generation replacements, after time and with the city’s pollution having altering their tonalities and meaning? Most recently Lloyd Rees has applied another layer of self-referentiality and process, by employing aged but unpainted ply panels previously used as cutting boards, to give graphic linear movement to his elegant but charged compositions.
I have come to think of Lloyd Rees a little like the fictional forest wizards in Tolkien, embodying and divining the mood of nature, a spirit of things, but rather his work bares the scars of the dialectical hurt of the urban world and its inhabitants, invisible to most of us behind the facade of polite improvement. Past the coffee shops and co-working lounges, Sebastian Lloyd Rees intuits the pain of multi-occupancy slums, rented by ‘Rogue’ landlords, the squalor, physical and emotional crush of beds in sheds hidden from view behind wooden walls.