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JanArt in a cold London.

Updated: Jan 30

Art as a connector between light and darkness.


We all know how the 'January Blues' works right? January, the month of cold weather, dark mornings and - possibly, failing in our New Year’s resolutions collide to create 'January Blues'. Typically, January Blues manifests itself as feelings of low mood, sadness, lack of motivation, tiredness and low energy. It is also the peak season for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which can induce serious depressive episodes during the darker months. And if you fall in this class... My dearest humans, I hear your pain, as sadly I do suffer of it.

Neverless, the extra dose of heat and vitamin D gained by my last three months in Dubai seems to make my usual seasonal depression milder compared to the previous years. Good amount of daily activity combined with Art hunting across London seems to be proving a winning recipe to fight my seasonal disease. So, for anyone interested in some good JanArt - below you can find my top highlights for this month.

Mayfair, until 18 Feb 2023 Situations - Dan Flavin’s fluorescent lights installation

The late American minimalist somehow must be a fan of pink. As you enter, pink lights fill out and dominate the entire room. Reconfiguring the space with light instead of physical objects, he changes its dimensions and gives you that warmth feeling so truly needed in a dark and cold month like January.

This installation is a recreation of two 1976 exhibitions in New York and Cologne, sourced from the same kind of commercially available fluorescent lighting Flavin used back then (which means you can just pop to Homebase and make your own Dan Flavin if you fancy).


Four long pink tubes fill the first room, each accompanied by a smaller coloured sibling of yellow, blue or green. It hurts to get too close, it’s just too bright, so the room is halved, like there’s a laser barrier keeping you away.

Upstairs, it all goes pink again, and another wall shimmers with blue. In a smaller adjacent room, a green toned neon fill up the small space. It hints at seedy nightclub neons, at mediation rooms and tanning booths. It’s great, overwhelming, gorgeous, and just as smart now as it was in the 1970s.

Flavin wanted to totally remove the artist’s hand, using commercially available, industrially made materials as a reaction against the mega-popular, overtly gestural, ultra-emotional work of the abstract expressionists that was so popular. Flavin – and the other minimalists – were kicking back, rebelling as hard as possible against the dominant art of their day. That’s the context for back then, but it’s not hugely relatable in 2023, and, if anything, just holds you away from the work.

So forget it, it doesn’t matter. Because Flavin’s art is still good, and that’s because it still physically affects you. It still assaults and punishes you, or soothes and placates you, it’s still sensory, still immersive, still beautiful, still brutally modern, almost 50 years on.

 

23 November 2022 – 21 January 2023 David Altmejd’s work at the White Cube Mason's Yard If you like darkArt then this is the place for you. Equally, if you suffer from SAD this might not be the place quite for you. In just a few words, this beautifully twisted and dark art collection is the perfect go-to-see exhibition for everyone who's seeking their own version of the rabbit of Alys in Wonderland.

On the ground floor of the gallery we encounter a human figure with the ears of a hare, seated in yogic pose. Its giant ears, stretching almost to the ceiling, seem to probe the limits of the room, while in front of it is a burrow from which the figure appears to have excavated the very matter from which it is made. The contrast of these feet of clay and ears spread like dragonfly wings suggest that a transformation is occurring, from the material to the ethereal.

The Hare is the presiding spirit of the exhibition, whom Altmejd recognises as the Jungian archetype of the Trickster. According to Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, our ancestral memories are represented by certain universal themes and roles which appear throughout our literature, art and dreams, and these archetypes can explain our psychology. Trickster is irrational and capricious, a prankster and shapeshifter. He is Hermes, audacious thief and messenger for the Gods, and Loki the gender-switching master of disguise. For the Yoruba he travels between heaven and earth as the contradictory character Eshu, and to First Nations people he is Rabbit, Raven or Coyote, the rule breaker whose mischief brings about change. He surfaces in African-American folk tradition as Br’er Rabbit, and even appears in animated form as Bugs Bunny. The essayist Lewis Hyde, author of Trickster Makes This World (1998) tracks Trickster into the modern age, subsumed into the role of the artist, and makes a case that this playful, subversive and disruptive force is indispensable to the vitality of our culture.

Altmejd has always sought to absolve his conscious mind from the responsibility of creation, instead attributing his sculptures with their own agency. The crystals he often uses are, in the sculptor’s lexicon, an energy source with which the works are charged, and he has made works featuring multiple hands that appear to clutch and mould at their own substance, just as the seated figure seems to have done. So the Trickster, the mercurial catalyst for transformation, messenger from the subconscious, presented himself as a welcome proxy for the artist, freeing his imagination and spurring it to wilder transformations.

Rowed plinths line the lower gallery, mimicking a classical sculpture court and displaying a fantastical array of bust and heads. Sometimes fragmentary and possibly time-worn, they suggest archaeological finds, parts of animal-headed deities, but might also be extra-terrestrial specimens or the result of genetic experiments. A series of subtle interventions throughout the space suggests networks of unseen activity: smeared toothpaste, pencil notations and entry points to a presumed warren.

 


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