Art & Photography

A Solar Umbrella

Gallery 46’s new exhibition, inspired by J.G Ballard’s ‘The Crystal World’, explores material transformation and a world in flux

“They were soon within the body of the forest, and had entered an enchanted world. The crystal trees around them were hung with glass-like trellises of moss. The air was markedly cooler, as if everything was sheathed in ice, but a ceaseless play of light poured through the canopy overhead.” – J.G. Ballard, ‘The Crystal World’

Tucked away, down a side street in Whitechapel, sits a narrow Georgian house turned gallery space. A band is practising in the basement and guitar chords float up through the three floors, permeating the rooms above. Renovated by property developers Londonewscastle as part of its regeneration and cultural support work in the local area, Gallery 46 is currently exhibiting eight established and emerging artists responding to J.G. Ballard’s science fiction catastrophe novel, a story in which the natural world has irreversibly and apocalyptically begun to warp and crystalise. Submerged objects in emulsion and gloss abstract the familiar and 17th century painting is reframed in the form of paper, plastic and glitter. Bibles are hole punched while chairs collapse in Van Gogh slants. As in the novel, you enter an “enchanted world” transforming before your eyes.  

Originally exploring the concept of repetition, a theme that tied many of the artworks together, curators Katherine Lubar, Asaki Kan and Nick Dawes retrospectively introduced the novel as an added influence, reflecting the material transformation and deconstruction that run through the paintings, installations and sculptures within the international group exhibition. The works of Lubar, Kan and Dawes, as well as Jo Marshall, Andy Harper, Shane Bradford, Ivan Benitez and Sarah Mizer employ a range of media to amplify and distort the definitions of repetition, harmony, order and transition.

Following a guided tour, Port spoke to the curators about metamorphosis, creating dialogue between artworks and how to understand an unstable world.

Courtesy of Shane Bradford

How did ‘The Crystal World’ influence the exhibition? 

We were interested in how the crystallisation of the forest functioned as a paradigm for the human condition. In Ballard’s novel, the West African jungle starts to crystalize through a ‘leaking of time.’ The works in this exhibition manifest a parallel engagement with this transformation, not only echoing the physical processes described in the book, but simultaneously connecting them to the world we live in, a reality suspended between the binaries of order and chance, increasingly characterised by continual transition, instability and flux. 

What themes are being explored through the artwork?

Transformation, metamorphosis, repetition, light and atmosphere, crystallisation as a metaphor for the deconstruction of the object, order and chance, figuration and abstraction, the fear of the unknown…

Courtesy of Jo Marshall

Why do you think the world is in such a state of rapid instability and flux? How can art help us come to terms with this period of transition?

The continued acceleration of technology and our increased dependence upon it; the environment continually under threat and potentially at breaking point; the growth of political extremism, or nationalism, are all signifiers for our current global instability and the unknown future that we face.

Art reflects the time in which it is made and functions as a mirror in which to view contemporary reality. It encourages the viewer to maintain an open dialogue, with both the art object, and the context in which it exists. This in turn potentially creates a platform for change and an opportunity to reveal the complexities of life from different perspectives.

Could you expand on the curation process, what led you to select these artists?

Asaki and Katherine had originally chosen Jo Marshall based on the repetition theme. When we changed this to incorporate the book, which was suggested by Nick. Katherine thought of Sarah Mizer, Andy Harper and Shane Bradford, whose work strongly connected to it. Asaki added Ivan Benitez whose painting reveals more of a psychological element.

We wanted to create a dialogue between the pieces, a sort of tension even, so that some would be formally hard and geometric and others soft and organic. We liked the way that Jo’s angular drawings interacted with Andy’s superabundance of organic forms and how Shane’s dipped book on the planets conversed with Sarah’s otherworldly paper-maché ‘space’ rocks. Similarly, the relationship between Katherine’s hard-edged light pattern painting in the same room as Shane’s collapsed, gothic Van Gogh Chair creates a mood that directly relates to a scene in the book. Andy’s wall piece amplifies this connection, by suggesting the encroaching crystallisation from outside.

Courtesy of Asaki Kan

In the larger room, works were positioned in order to create an idea of difference between both material and formal elements. For example, Jo’s Bible creates a thread between religion and the character of the priest in the book, and also questions meaning and belief. The obsessive focus in this work is also present in Asaki’s Full of Emptiness text burnt onto wood. We also felt that Shane’s dipped Ice Saw communicated a sense of redundancy, making the object obsolete and unusable, not unlike the behaviour of the growing/spreading crystals in the book.

In a similar vein, Nick’s poured text painting renders the original subject matter unreadable, by layering thin glazes, which abstract the formal elements. The lighting on Asaki’s installation, the glossy surfaces of Shane’s work and the light patterns in Katherine’s paintings make a connection to the continual references to the strange light that emanates from the crystallising forest. 

What qualities can ‘repetition’ have within an artwork? How does it influence temporality or time spent on the artwork?

Repeating a word or image can either amplify or distort its meaning. Sometimes a process is repeated simply to create a painterly surface. For example, Shane’s dipped objects and Katherine’s paintings both take several months of building up layers to complete. In addition, Asaki’s repeated text and Jo’s painstaking threading of the holes she punched from the bible double as a performative act of form and content and as a record of time spent.

A Solar Umbrella at Gallery 46 runs until 14th February 2019