Jenga was first commissioned for the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015 as part of the group exhibition Vita Vitale, curated by Artwise for the Azerbaijan Pavilion. The theme of the pavilion asked artists to explore the human impact on the natural world and the future preservation and sustainability of the planet’s environment and ecosystem. Stephanie Quayle has long been fascinated with the animal form, and creates expressive life-size sculptures fired in clay that capture the movement and character of the creature, from imposing elephants to mischievous monkeys.
For this commission she responded with her most ambitious work to date. The monkeys were specifically chosen for being endangered species – Golden Lion Tamarins, Cotton Top Tamarins, Snub Nose monkeys (with the blue faces), little Emperor Tamarins (with the white whiskers) and the larger Vervets and Macaques. Jenga is the well-known game whereby wood blocks are placed in a tower-like formation one on top of each other. Each block is then tentatively removed one by one until the structure collapses. The ‘jenga’ reference here is a metaphor for the instability of the monkeys’ plight, that they sit all over it unknowing of their fate, the fragile nature of their existence out of their control and in the hands of humans – will we continue to destroy the planet, one by one pulling the wooden pieces out of the structure until it all tumbles down?
The wood itself is old and decaying, reclaimed joists from timber barns and old wooden railway sleepers, with the lingering smell of creosote a reminder of man’s toxic influence. It also alludes to the wood lost in deforestation, the senseless bringing down of habitats and irreparable damage of ecosystems. Her monkeys in turn are poised, looking, watching, waiting - to see what the next move in this giant game will bring them.
The Fitzrovia Chapel is recently restored and reopened, and was the chapel for the original Middlesex Hospital which was demolished in 2005. The chapel was designed in 1891 by celebrated Victorian architect John Loughborough Pearson and was completed posthumously in 1929 by his son Frank. It was heavily inspired by the Italian gothic style and in particular San Marco in Venice, and even employed Italian materials and craftsmen to complete the work. Now the chapel is open once again, at the heart of the Fitzrovia community.