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Material as Metaphor (Group Show)    Dec 9 - Jan 15, 2004


Artists included are Miroslaw Balka, Joseph Beuys, Ian Kiaer, Mark Manders, Helen Mirra, Valeska Soares

Tanya Bonakdar Gallery is very pleased to present Material as Metaphor, a curated group show featuring Miroslaw Balka, Joseph Beuys, Ian Kiaer, Mark Manders, Helen Mirra and Valeska Soares. The selected works represent a group of artists whose practice incorporates a carefully considered use of materials that are imbued with particular symbolic or metaphorical significance. Helen Mirra's sculpture and installations evoking the natural world can be considered a poetic counterpoint to Ian Kiaer's assemblages, in which found materials stand in for man-made constructions. Likewise, in the work of Miroslaw Balka, sculptural materials symbolically refer to the physical, while the substance of Mark Manders' work signifies the psychological. Valeska Soares uses a diverse array of materials such as steel, wax, glass, mirror, flowers and perfume to symbolise such concepts as identity, desire, and the corporeal. In this context, Joseph Beuys is positioned as an historical figure of reference by his investment of specific materials with metaphysical and transcendental properties.

The works by Joseph Beuys incorporate two materials the artist found immensely powerful: fat and felt. The Beuysian legend of his wartime rescue by Tartars from a downed Luftwaffe airplane has served as a foundation for his fascination with these substances. To Beuys, fat signified chaos and the potential for spiritual transcendence through its ability to exist in nature as two extremes: a viscous liquid and defined solid. Felt, a wool fabric often combined with various other fibers through pressure, heat or chemical processes, is significant in its potential to absorb almost anything with which it comes into contact. Its murky gray color also played an important role, as Beuys hoped a minimal, uncolored surface would evoke a colorful, internal retinal after-image. The strong poetics of Beuys's practice conceptually anchor Material as Metaphor, and act as a thread linking the other works in the exhibition.

Ian Kiaer groups architectural models, found objects and two-dimensional works to create intricate compositions infused with narrative. Kiaer's work is layered with references to selected figures and concepts from the history of architecture and social philosophy. His installation in the main gallery is part of an ongoing project looking at the work of Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, who pioneered the use of modular units for high density living in the 1960s. Influenced by his childhood activity of keeping bees and by D'arcy Thompson's book, On Growth and Form, which looked to draw architectural and structural solutions from examples found in nature, Safdie proposed solutions for high density living based on the honeycomb. This particular work, Moshe Safdie Project / (yellow), also takes into account a scene in Victor Erice's 1973 film, The Spirit of the Beehive, in which a writer who keeps a glass beehive in his home, stays up at night writing about the workings of the insect, inspiring both wonder and fear. These two references align the relationships between thought, building and dwelling.

In his work Miroslaw Balka transforms modest substances into symbols of human existence. Drawing on his childhood in Poland and Catholic upbringing, he creates subtle yet conceptually loaded works that evoke memories and experiences. Often, he creates works on a human scale that refer to the corporeal, as in 2 x (60 x 62 x 200), Ø 6 x 0,1 x 500 : a pair of felt columns whose measurements correlate to the artist’s own body. In Balka's vocabulary the dense cylindrical forms are metaphors for a retreat from the outside world, the felt offering comfort and warmth. Eye-like slits in the fabric though allow a means of observing the world from within. Likewise 37 x 33 x 12 (One Armpit) and Ø 14 x 16 (One Lamp) take Balka’s own physicality as the basis for the work. The artist's height determines the placement of the shelf-like 37 x 33 x 12 (One Armpit) on the wall. Ø 14 x 16 (One Lamp), made of steel, ceramic and salt, is placed on the floor. The works recall a domestic environment (a shelf, a lamp), while at the same time the salt on the Lamp (referencing sweat and tears) and the height of the shelf always allude to the body.

Helen Mirra often works with cloth and text producing objects that, through repetition and a reductive vocabulary, reference the formal strategies of Minimalism and Conceptualism. Exploring the relationship between human existence and nature, Mirra's captivating and poetically driven works often convey a sense of place. Engaged in a process of 'mapping', Mirra captures the atmosphere of a location in exquisitely simple terms. The three Dock sideview works shown here refer to the conception the harbour as a site. The lengths of linen fabric simultaneously allude to the physical presence of docks, yet also the to the horizon and our perception of the 'edge' of the natural world. English and German text fragments on the fabric hint at markers – Dividing line, Dock as arm – but are more triggers and suggestions of place than definitive descriptions. Sky cross-section is an image of a slice of a sky at the harbor; which appears as an abstraction in its partiality, but is determined by the cranes and other machinery which move containers from ship to shore.

Mark Manders carefully assembles apparently unrelated images, objects, and texts into elaborate accumulative sculptures that further his personal mythology. Considering his practice an ever-growing project in self-portraiture, Manders arranges and codifies material elements according to his individual understanding of the relationships of the objects to one another. The sculptures therefore present an esoteric narrative, somehow simultaneously recognizable and unfamiliar. Reduced Summer Garden Night Scene (Reduced to 88%), shown in the main gallery, brings together a walkman, cups, and loudspeakers in a garden, all reproduced in porcelain and reduced to 88% of their original size. The dark scene has a somber quality, further removed from reality by its stillness and silence (even the imagined sound from the speaker is reduced), evoking, according to the artist, 'a soundless night photograph.'

Valeska Soares's installation Sem Titulo (Preserva), consists of freestanding bundles of roses wrapped in white cotton. Over the course of the exhibition, the fragrant roses will dry and wither. Standing in for the body, the roses also signify desire and decay. Soares has long been interested in the spatial and emotional aspects of the garden, and the deliberately placed forms in the entrance gallery prompt a redefined negotiation of the gallery space while the sensorial effects play on personal memory and experience.

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