Douglas White: Elephant Totem Song

15 May 2009 – 13 Jun 2009

Paradise Row

London, United Kingdom


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Paradise Row presents Elephant Totem Song, Douglas White's second solo show at the gallery. The works on show extend and deepen the language and sensibility of White's sculptural practice, at the heart of which lies an engagement with the transformative and the poetically redemptive possibilities of art. White works as scavenger and collector, retrieving discarded, overlooked and forgotten objects, natural and man-made. Through minimal, though profound sculptural interventions, namely reconfiguration and re-contextualization, White imbues the objects and materials with new life and new meanings. Ted Hughes' Crow's Elephant Totem Song has long been an inspiration and touchstone to White. Forming part of Hughes' celebrated series of Crow poems, a dark, sprawling, 'folk-epic', full of subtle and oblique metaphor, the poem features an elephant, a walking innocent, killed by hyenas who envy his grace and peacefulness. They tear his entrails out and dismember him, and at 'the Resurrection', the elephant reassembles himself, so that though misshapen and his brains completely altered, he is now wise and disconnected from the world. Physical dismemberment and reconfiguration become metaphors for inner transformations. In Elephant Totem Song, strange and wonderful parallels are drawn between the sculptures and the poem. The main body of new works are taken from a single, fallen beech tree, a huge carcass White found in the woods. White completely dismembered the tree, chain-sawing the massive trunk and excavating the roots, down to its thinnest tendrils... And in the gallery, the material is reconfigured, and is at once the thing-in-itself, the raw wood and fibrous material and also re-imagined as flesh, hunks of muscle, veins and capillaries. Sections sit on plinths, forming a display that serves as an essay on scale - from the monumental to the minute and fragile - and the eye is drawn in, observing forms within forms, and once again invited to experience myriad imaginative transformations. At the end of the poem, we find the reconfigured elephant walking safe from the world of 'graves of fever', dreaming 'About a star of deathless and painless peace / But no astronomer can find where it is.' In the gallery, alongside the wood pieces, White displays a monumental new work from his Dark Moon series, employing wax and light to create a quietly exquisite work that glows - a mysterious, lunar surface.

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