Participating artists include Thomas Bewick, Julie Brook, Alice Cattaneo, Lee Bul, Edmund Clark, Martin Creed, Kate Groobey, Graham Gussin, Arturo Herrera, Carmen Herrera, On Kawara, Lutz and Guggisberg, Haroon Mirza, Ivan Morison, Nástio Mosquito, Grace Ndiritu, Cornelia Parker, Navin Rawanchaikul, Noguchi Rika, Shimabuku, Dayanita Singh, Bosco Sodi, Nancy Spero and Beat Streuli.
In light of logistical difficulties in the current landscape, Ikon has departed from the advertised programme to curate a group exhibition from artworks it has accumulated over time. Though not a collecting institution, Ikon houses an extraordinary range of paintings, sculptures and photographs, as well as the many films, sound pieces and wall drawings held as digital files. With the permission of the participating artists, these works are released back into the galleries in a combination and context that were never initially envisioned. Here, propositions that inform Ikon’s activity shine through; above all, the continuity between artistic experience and everyday life.
Moving imagery fills the entirety of Ikon’s first floor. Seminal early works by Grace Ndiritu and Nástio Mosquito – smart and arresting in their social critique – are presented alongside Beat Streuli’s Pallasades (2001), a video commissioned by Ikon to convey Birmingham’s cultural diversity. Nearby, Japanese artist Shimabuku’s silent film of a sunrise in Seoul is like an epiphany, particularly pertinent at this time, an eccentric celebration of the natural world. Likewise, a sense of euphoria is elicited in Sounds and Colours in Ivan Morison’s Garden (2002), in which the artist tends to his allotment unashamedly naked in bucolic bliss.
In the upstairs galleries, large scale photographs by Dayanita Singh and Noguchi Rika reflect a fascination with human behaviour and ordinary strangeness, also exemplified by Thomas Bewick’s woodcut engravings, or “tale-pieces”, printed two centuries previously. A number of these are shown in combination with wooden book dummies by Swiss artists Lutz and Guggisberg, inspired by Ikon’s Bewick exhibition in 2009. Their sense of fun is shared by Kate Groobey, whose video vignettes are Dionysian in their communication of the “pure pleasure” she feels in the company of her female partner. A silkscreen print by Nancy Spero adjacent, commissioned by Ikon in 1998 which sees a female duo leaping and dancing across the picture plane, is similarly feminist and optimistic.
The finale of the exhibition is marked by a combination of work by Martin Creed and On Kawara. Both artists have been subject to major solo exhibitions at Ikon, characterised by an emphasis on repetition as an existentialist strategy - a stylistic minimalism that foils the unfathomable complexity of what it means to be human. In Ikon’s Tower Room, the Turner Prize-winning installation Work No. 160 (2001), otherwise known as The lights going on and off, plays with our sense of space and time, whilst On Kawara’s One Million Years (Reading) returns to Ikon’s wooden staircase. Leading to the exit, a recording of men and women reading sequences of dates far into the past and into the future offers a philosophical moment of reflection.
In essence, Faster Than Ever is an analogy for the improvisation, the “making do and getting by”, that frames the way we navigate the world. Jonathan Watkins, Ikon Director, explains:
“During these extraordinary times – which call for extraordinary measures – we could not be more aware of the diversions and U-turns required, taking us through unfamiliar landscapes. This exhibition accentuates the positive, highlighting what is possible in the midst of uncertainty. Ikon is an art gallery that has always been fast on its feet, now moving faster than ever.”