On Friday 27th October I visited an exhibition – Victoria Rance at the Cello factory , 34 Cornwall road, Waterloo London SE1 8TJ
These are my personal notes and reflections; there were around 70 Art works including 5 films – in this review I have chosen a selection of the works to focus on – the ones that I felt most drawn to. When I arrived on a late October morning , before the lights were turned on the space was bathed in dappled light from the Autumn sunshine.
THE LOBBY AREA –
The lobby area contained a small selection of photographs. “Medusa head” 2011 digital photographic image , is a powerful image in stark black a still from an animation. I felt that the image had an hypnotic quality. This medusa seems sensitive and sad and not the scary monster I remember from Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion 1981 film “The clash of Titans “.
I then moved on into the main gallery. My first impression was of a light and spacious exhibition space. At the entrance were two gigantic and impressive installations “Loki and “Loki”’ 2017 constructed from MDF. The two figures appear to be hybrid creatures comprising elements of humans, rabbits and bats. The “Loki’s “seemed to frame the gallery as if they were there to lead visitors into a sacred or secret place. As you enter the gallery in the nearest corner is a really interesting decorative cage- like installation constructed from silicone bronze steel called “space for a woman”, the indicate patterning I felt had elements of Islamic and Christian patterns. I also felt that the piece was very feminine. I felt that the installation represented a safe place, somewhere to shelter or hide from danger. It also had the feel of a church confessional. I really liked the shadows cast by the grid like cut outs reflected onto the white walls of the gallery. I thought that the work was beautiful and serene.
Next to the installation was “the executioner of Riwa” 2009 scrim, plaster and terracotta. The piece was beautifully made, part of Victoria’s wearable art. Despite its evident beauty there was a visceral and sinister feel – I thought it was interesting to see it placed next to “Space for a woman”.
“The executioners wife” 2009 string , plaster and mdf in contrast to “the executioner of Riwa” had a much more fragile ethereal feel – the wearable art piece had a looser delicate feel that reminded me of a fine pale cobweb or even a floaty shredded skin – like the old skin of a snake It is a beautiful piece of work that I feel had a powerful story to tell.
“Wise old men ( we beseech thee) ” 2013 felt, aluminium and pistachios is another piece of wearable art that also had a narrative to reveal. The piece I felt had a very folk art quality. The costume constructed in white materials features a wise bespectacled face! The costume also included Woolly textured shoes and a wooden stick. I thought that the piece had a friendly amiable feel quite different from the ambivalent “Executioner of Riwa” where the beauty of the ornate piece masked its sinister story and history.
“Monkey Mask” 2016 faux leather, brass , felt and pewter, had a wonderful air of mystery- the intense rich brown hues of the materials seem simplistic but on closer inspection a monkey face mask is revealed. The monkey face has a tragic feel , it has a wise and noble bearing. I found this piece utterly fascinating and it had an almost hypnotic pull. There were two interesting pieces inspired by nature “wasp spider / Argiope” 2009 and “Beetle” also 2009, both pieces constructed out of foam and merino wool sculpted to resemble an insect’s outer shell complete with the insect’s unique patterning. Again there is the sense of hiding, safety and refuge. The wearer of these pieces carry the protection of the markings to protect them from enemies and predators. Both these pieces had a comforting tactile quality.
“Caterpillar ” 2009 dyed string and MDF continues the theme of a place of safety.
“Loki ( long eared bat person) “2013 wool, felt , shells and scrim again we are introduced to the mysterious shape shifting Loki. Here Loki appears wise , watchful and belligerent with a visible third eye. I really liked the wearable art and found the way that they were grouped interesting – there was I felt a story being revealed.
Then standing guard over the gallery was a huge installation ” The Holy Baboon” 2017 constructed using wood, felt and wool. Despite being a puzzling creature I felt the “Holy Baboon” was filling the role of a protector. The presence of such a unlikely character seems to symbolise harmony and comfort. In some ways the Holy Baboon reminded me of a Masai warrior watching over and protecting his domain. The exhibition catalogue talks about the “Holy Baboon” as a temple Guardian that watches over sacred places and mortality.
Close to this immerse art work placed so it appears to be having a “face off” with the “Holy Baboon” is the eponymous “Night horse ” 2017 constructed using wood, felt and wool. “The Night horse” has a simple shape and appears to resemble a rocking horse from childhood. But despite the toy- like design and a sense of purity “The Night horse”is in fact a mythical creature inspired by the Nigerian Night Horse that can be ridden without anyone seeing the rider – so that you can ride the horse to kill your enemies without being detected. Again I really like the ambiguity of the horse.
I then went upstairs to the screening room to view Victoria’s films and animations. There were 5 films in total that offered an insight into some of the themes explored in the exhibition.
“I wish” 2014 tells the story behind an ongoing project that explores the act of creating a wish in a talismantic form. Wish requests are written down and numbered then the wisher can return a week later to collect their handcrafted wish. The wish would be then placed in the palm of the wisher and photographed. I felt that the idea behind “I wish” was very moving but also very empowering , uplifting and magical.
In “Medusa ” 2010, the myth of the monstrous legendary Medusa is explored and told using performance and animation. The myth is also explored in another film ” Medusa and Perseus” 2012. Both films were made in striking stark flattened black and white. I liked the way that Medusa was portrayed, as we witness a vulnerable side to her personality- but then this fragility is over turned as the empowered Medusa rises up dwarfing Perseus who appears in a striking scene to be reduced to a tiny figure on top of the giant Medusa’s head! A scene heavy with symbolism and metaphor which I felt may be about exploring myths of feminism. I also felt some of the imagery in the Medusa films resembled Japanese art reminding me of woodblock prints. The matte monochromatic black shapes in the film had the appearance of Japanese symbols” . Both films I found very powerful.
“Fasnacht” film 2013-2017 is a short black and white film containing many of the themes that run throughout the exhibition including – hybrid animals, “Loki”, mythology and mask wearing . There is a dark nightmarish scene of a scary witch and other quite dark imagery is also revealed to the viewers of the film. The music had a punchy rhythmic quality. The film explores Fasnacht when mask wearing is celebrated. I felt that the film was essentially passing comments on the power of identity.
“Monkey Mask” film 2017 was definitely my favourite of all the films – I found it Immensely beautiful, mesmerising and extremely poignant. The monkey at the beginning of the film seems a tragic lonely figure hiding her face in her hands – a tender scene where the pale white hands contrast with the intense black imagery. We then see the Monkey walking in a cloak that almost seems to represent invisibility- a cloak of invisibility which is again the sense of a place of sanctuary to retreat into. The Monkey seems deeply troubled moving and pacing without seeming to have a direction. Then in an astonishingly beautiful and profound moment we finally glimpse the Monkey’s face reflected in a saucepan – it is a real revelation scene filled with pathos. The face we see is raw and unguarded, we see wisdom and emotions etched onto the Monkey’s features. I found watching the film a very emotive experience. Talking to Victoria afterwards about her work she revealed that she was the Monkey in the film and that the film was about fear of ageing and that she wanted to convey that older women are powerful and important – they have wisdom and many unique qualities to share. They nurture and pass on their experiences to younger people , and despite society and the media’s tendency to revere youth and beauty older women do have a positive influence on younger women.
There were 8 drawings displayed upstairs- all of the drawings explore some of the recurring themes and characters of the show including “Loki” and “The Holy baboon”.
“Golden Monkey ” 2017, ink on paper, features a fascinating yellow Monkey. The Monkey’s deep dark eyes look curious and knowing. There is an aura of mystery about the Monkey. I really like the way the ink has been applied skilfully suggesting the texture of the Monkey’s fur. All of the drawings I felt had a relaxed languished feel. There was a radiant quality to the vibrant yellow ink.
Along the landing from the drawings were a collection of small, palm- sized silver -coloured pewter sculptures called ” Otherworld”. These tiny detailed works are concerned with nature and mythology- I also felt that they also seem to focus on relationships and connections between reality, nature and people. Viewing the tiny figures I spotted rabbits, birds, sheep, a bird that seemed to resemble a penguin , foxes, deer, dogs, an owl, masked hybrid creatures such as “Loki”, seal like creatures , perhaps a Selkie?
I thought it was a very interesting show, it was powerful , emotive , intriguing , inspiring and thought provoking. I thought the show was very well curated. There were touches of magical realism, textures, shapes, objects, creatures and mythology. I liked the fact that there was lots going on and I enjoyed unpicking the common threads that had inspired the exhibition. There was a lot to say about the human condition including: ageing, the role of women, about a place to retreat into – a place to shelter away from what can be a nasty world particularly for the vulnerable- “a space for a woman ” is what is says a space to go to that is woman sized. The show had references to identity with wearable art and masks. The show was also about transformation ‘ invisibility ” touched upon – there was darkness but also light – the protection of ” The Holy Baboon “, the comfort of a wish or talisman , the power of creativity. I really liked some of the more ambiguous and sinister meanings ( “The Night Horse” ) . I liked the warmth radiating throughout the the use of predominantly yellows, browns, earthy hues colours of the earth , nature and the sun. I personally find yellow a very comforting colour.
Finally I really enjoy looking at art that poses questions , I like art the can be puzzling – that has a meaning and a story to tell. All the pieces in this show had a narrative quality providing the viewer with plenty to reflect on.
WHAT I LEARNT
I felt the show offered me an insight to the artistic process. I learnt that art is an ongoing process that exploring themes is something that even an experienced artist has to do. I learnt that art is about personal experiences , emotions – that it can be inspired by memories, from childhood , about fears and identity. I felt I also learnt that art can be a powerful visual tool that can be used to comment on society , that it allows an artist to provide an insight to dark topics. I learnt about the role of film as a visual medium ( the 5 films in the show were all powerful , visceral and beautiful). I learnt about referencing themes across different media- drawing, sculpture , photography and film. I learnt about how art and creativity can transform and enrich lives. It was a very thought provoking show thst gave me plenty to ponder over.
REFERENCES / RESOURCES
I would like to thank Victoria Rance for inviting me to her show and for sharing some of the inspiration behind her work , and for gifting me a exhibition catalogue. I also want to thank Victoria for allowing me to take notes and write up about her exhibition
http://issuu.com > victoriarance > docs
Victoria Rance : the Night horse and the Holy Baboon – printed by Elephant Print Ltd
Published by Art in perpetuity Trust ISBN 978-0-9931685-8-1