Exhibition

Missionary Position

5 Nov 2011 – 10 Dec 2011

ersatz@NGB

London, United Kingdom

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Travel Information

  • 98 Bus from central London stops directly outside. Numerous other bus routes stop 3 mins away on Kilburn High Road
  • 5 mins walk from Brondesbury overground station (Stratford to Richmond line) Kilburn High Road overground (8 min journey from London Euston) Kilburn tube station

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Missionary Position

About

a group exhibition of work by Vanalyne Green, Janice McNab, Sadie Murdoch, Angie Reed, Brigitte Stepputtis, Martin C. de Waal, and Cathy Ward. ersatz is pleased to announce the group exhibition ‘Missionary Position'. The title of this group exhibition is something of a tongue-in-cheek nod to ersatz joining the long tradition of those in the visual arts finding opportunity in parts of urban environments that are not ordinarily associated with ‘high culture'; the journey into a heart of darkness in which only time will tell whether some great undiscovered wonder will be unearthed or whether the intrepid explorers will disappear completely into the uncharted landscape of the hinterland. Quite conveniently, the title also holds true for ideas raised by the selected work of artists —primarily those represented by ersatz- included in the exhibition, albeit in a lateral, associative way. Each actually has a specific and distinct practice in which the thematic premise of the exhibition rarely lies at its core. Evoking notions of tribal fetishism, primitive cultures or the other side of the coin — the anthropological codification of cultures and assimilation of their iconography for new purposes- the selected works loosely engage with the overarching thematics. From the artefact-like qualities of Vanalyne Green and Brigitte Stepputtis' individual sculptures to the deft paintings of Janice McNab and the photographs of Martin C. de Waal, works included in the show all have the possibility of being read in terms of exploration, archaeology, anthropology, a tangible primal sexuality or perhaps even a jaded post-colonial eye suggested by the title. But of course, in each case this is only one aspect of the work that is otherwise driven by its own multi-faceted ideas and discussions. ‘Missionary Position' will see the premiere of a new film-based work by Angie Reed. More usually known for her drawn animations, ‘Diana Rising' sees Reed produce a live action film shot on the Azores that draws directly on the work of Kenneth Anger and Jack Smith. She has produced a characteristically lateral feminist reconsideration of the esoteric posturing of both seminal underground filmmakers. Combining footage of traditional fertility festivals, the unique landscape of the mid-Atlantic islands and a famous Azorean fado singer reworking a song that is straight out of Anger's trope, ‘Diana Rising' offers another unique Angie Reed vision. The work presented by Vanalyne Green takes its cue from the famous medieval tale of Abelard and Heloise. Manifesting in the form of the kinds of wax tablets on which the famed lovers may have written their secret love letters to each other and which, according to certain versions of the legend arising from real twelfth century events, enabled secrecy from prying eyes by pressing out the ciphers in the wax once it had been read, Green requisitions this ancient communication device to a much more contemporary context. Her wax tablets at first have the quiet stark forms of minimalist sculpture. Yet, the eye is deceiving since they actually contain the elided ‘confessional' writings that Green invited those caught up in Britain's notorious Spanner Case to first commit to the tablets before pressing out the letters made in the malleable wax. Janice McNab's paintings often explore the boundaries between abstraction and representation. Her most recent Ice Cream Paintings draw on art historical painterly languages, reworked through a surrealistic feminist lens. The images of dripping, melting ice cream figures come from a strange world, both clear and indecipherable. The surrealistic 'Soldieress', for example, while directly inspired by Titian's 'Man with a Quilted Sleeve', is also a lyrical and poetic image that evokes some of British Modernism's tropes and visual forms or even the fascination with ‘the primitive' more usually associated with European modern painting movements. Yet, it equally recalls early explorers' images of mysterious artefacts left by extinct South Sea Island civilisations brought back from voyages of discovery and exploration. Brigitte Stepputtis has primarily worked with film and photography though, in the sculptures included in ‘Missionary Position', working with both found materials and precision manufacturing, there remains the preoccupation with the sexual and social politics that connect much of her work. Relatively small alterations to found objects connect them with both the tradition of the vanitas and a rather tongue-in-cheek punk sensibility whilst beautiful objects in metal take their cue from the ultimate fetish object, the high-heel. Another work relates very directly to the buttock-emphasising forms of clothing about which both animal behaviourists and Freudian analysts have had a lot to say over the last hundred years. In the works presented by Stepputtis, the connections of cultural forms lifted by westerns societies from elsewhere — we are reminded exactly how the idea of ‘fetish' became engrained in western culture, for example- hover in the ether around delicate and precious things that have morphed into objects of desire (in numerous ways) for western consumer societies. Martin C. de Waal's eclectic artistic practice has always included photography, the medium on which he has focussed in recent years. In particular, he has produced works that intentionally use his stark black and white photographs to reference both art historic genres and artistic schools heavily associated with his home of Amsterdam. But, whilst the connection between his work and, for example, Dutch 16th century painting is self-evident, he nonetheless frequently retains the connection to the demimonde of Amsterdam's underground and nightlife scene with which he has been associated for many years. Much as art history teaches us that the models for famous paintings were often hardly the upright and respectable citizens of their day, so too is it difficult to determine whether a particular portrait is of some notorious Amsterdam club kid, a bohemian artist or, indeed, a highly respected feminist thinker or serious actor. Yet, in De Waal's precise hands there is always a tension between the relative safety and seductive beauty of the art historical references and a certain icy coldness beneath. On one level, his are equally photographs that suggest a calculated anthropological cataloguing whilst the works that focus more heavily on the body in the aftermath of cosmetic surgery often have a clinical whiff that undeniably suggests the horrors of medical eugenics. Sadie Murdoch's work, with its ongoing engagement with the history of modernism, is perhaps best known for its feminist re-approach —and, indeed, reproach- of the gender politics of modernism and its various canons. But, if much of Murdoch's work is concerned with reconsidering the role of women within classic twentieth-century modernism in the realms of architecture and design, then there is also a strand of work that persistently engages in a similar way with the race politics of modernism from a post-colonial position. Sometimes — such as in the works about Josephine Baker- these concerns intersect. Baker's own complex engagement with images of colonialism and more particularly the racist sexual fantasies projected by white western cultures onto ‘primitive' African cultures is something that fascinates Murdoch and has formed the basis for an expansive body of work. It is not too presumptuous to say that from her own contemporary position Murdoch's admiration for Baker's artistic strategies as a woman restricted by —and ultimately personally circumventing- racist and sexist attitudes of her own particular time is often evident in these works. This is perhaps felt most intimately in the work on paper that Murdoch produced as a form of study for the subsequent large-scale photographic works about Baker. Cathy Ward has a long history of producing collaborative works (with Eric Wright) in addition to her individual practice that deploys everything from photography and drawing to video and sculpture. The spread of her practice is only intimated at in the solo works included in ‘Missionary Position'; a work that is indicative of feminist positions at the time of its making and a sculptural work with an entirely different aesthetic quality. What connects theses works — and indeed the joint practice of both artists- is the constant recurrence of iconography and artefacts loaded with strong folkloric meaning and associations. Indeed, many of the appropriated objects or reworked motifs in the works are frequently taken straight from folk craft traditions or obscure subcultures that have literally created their own worlds. Long before the contemporary curatorial revival of interest in arcane folklore or ‘outsider' visual cultures, Ward (and Wright) had been formulating an artistic reaction to the strange and mysterious realities —current and historic- that sit side-by-side with normative mainstream cultures. One part DIY archaeologist of esoterica, one part classically-trained artist responding to these obscure substrata of human existence, her work often reminds us that no matter how homogenous and globalised we think the world has become, there always remain some uncharted realms. Ersatz thanks the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the United Kingdom for their support for this exhibition.

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