AboutSumarria Lunn is pleased to present Recasting the Gods, an interdisciplinary exhibition of five contemporary artists, whose works both extend and challenge a tradition of reinterpreting idealised tropes of classicism.
It is clear that over the centuries classicism has become synonymous with notions of stability, cultural value and political authority - consequently its visual languages are frequently misunderstood and misrepresented to serve specific contexts. Contemporary attitudes toward the classical have become so mediated by its modern reincarnations, that arguably present audiences have lost sight of the actuality of its ancient past. Recasting the Gods opens a new dialogue with those past models of classicism presenting artists who forge new counterpoints with the past, and reveal time, history and cultural value as key issues informing their practice. As Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, suggests the study of Classics 'continually finds a richer texture in its works of art and literature its meanings changed and renewed from the multiplications of reactions and reworkings across its vast community of readers across millennia.' Here, the artists' responses are not products of mere counter-reaction, but instead demonstrate a synthesis of contemporary practice with the visual languages of classicism.
The exhibition is heavily indebted to the interrogative nature of present academic discourse, which is re-evaluating notions and upturning the validity of the concept of 'Classicism' and the 'Classical'. Although it is not possible to exhaust the breath of current research here, even to cite a few examples reveals how each of the artists in Recasting the Gods partake and engage with such a reconsideration. Archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann has gone to painstaking lengths to demonstrate how many ancient Greek sculptures were gaudily painted; likewise, David Batchelor considers the notion of classicism as an aesthetic of purity as whiteness has become political and woven into the fabric of culture. In a different vein, Stuart Frost, Head of Interpretation at the British Museum, writes of how unabashedly sexual material in ancient Greek and Roman decorative arts has been carefully edited out of aesthetic and museuological interpretation of classicism. Following the ramifications of Modernism and Post Modernism, today classicism has perhaps fallen from grace, but despite this it remains as culturally ubiquitous as ever.
Continuing her ongoing 'Translation series', Meekyoung Shin considers how the history of classical art might be said to be a series of misunderstandings, where translation is perhaps controlled misunderstanding. Her work questions the meaning and authority of historical artefacts by recreating cultural beacons in soap. In some cases we see the sculpture painted in colour, a vision of the original nature of these statues. Other soap sculptures are placed in public bathrooms and worn down as people remove the dirt from their hands, mimicking the loss of polychromy caused by weathering. Using a domestic material to replace marble, and manipulating it in this way Shin sets up a conflict with traditional notions of permanence, value, purity and whiteness.
Darren Harvey Regan presents objects stereotypical of classicism, painted directly with the Photoshop checkerboard pattern to insinuate empty space. The painted objects are then photographed to create the finished work, leveraging the traditional association of photography with truth over other forms of representation. Manipulating recognizable stylistic aesthetic reproductions, such a Statue of Aphrodite, a bust of Plato and a classic period Greek vase Harvey-Regan suggests that their symbolic association may no longer correspond to what we understand or believe to be their origins. The works offer a recognisable form but effectively create an ambiguous platform for how to understand it. Simultaneously his actions echo the means by which our relationship to classicism has become actively confused; Photoshopping" is contemporary short hand for manipulation, editing or recontextualising. Similarly the suggestion of absence echoes both the accidental and conscious omission of historical material. The Photoshop aesthetic is a contemporary methodology and conflating it with the classical aesthetic invites a kind of parallel. He nullifies the conditions of their forms