Exhibitions are for the curious: you visit to learn a subject altogether new, or just to see things from a different point view. As part of ‘Condo’, a collaborative project between thirty-six London-based and international galleries, Emalin presents a joint exhibition with Galerie Gregor Staiger, Zurich. Emalin was founded by Leopold Thun and Angelina Volk in 2016 in Bethnal Green. I cannot make out the origin of the gallery’s name. The letters play around in my head; intrigued, I walk in to see.
A head is hanging on the wall, as I enter, to my left. It’s ‘Untitled’, left anonymous, made meaningless by its own name. Yet the way the white fabric is threaded together cannot be repeated. The face is stuffed but like a real person, it is also unique. I read that Michael Sailstorfer’s ‘M.25’, hanging next to it, is meant to be a fountain mask. But in front of me, really, I see a black machine. I look for the nose, the mouth, a cheek – instead, this is a sort of grid. I learn, there is a water pump built within – and I feel a beat inside me. Daniele Milvio’s ‘Catarro Etrusco’ – hung further down the wall– combines plaster, bees wax, lacquer, hemp. It is a grotesque scene, and yet the cloak of sheep fur and the fangs of a boar bring the monster closer to life – and also to me.
Slowly, as I turn to the room, I realise that I am not the viewer here; but the one being viewed. Fabian Marti’s ‘Hanged Man’, with its upside down stare, confirms my flipped point view. He is made of epoxy resin. It sticks and dries in high heat, shrinks minimally, is water-resistant and an electrical insulator too. This process of toughening, hardening and adapting sounds vaguely familiar to me.
‘Life Choice’ is spelled out on the sides of the box glued to the left of Milvio’s work. In between the lines, a story as old as man is told. Long ago, a box containing evils should have remained closed. Curiosity won over Pandora, the first woman on earth, who gave in to a glimpse and so all evil escaped and tainted the world. I learn from her mistake and I choose to move on.
On the opposite wall, Melvin Edwards’ welded steel complements Daiga Grantina’s ‘V in BB’. The composition of chains is hard, meant to refrain, apparently, or potentially hurt. ‘V in BB’ instead looks soft, rosy-fleshed – organic, almost. Together, the two works could be taken as symbols, I think: the first, of the dark violence that man can inflict, the second, of the human body and the pain it can feel.
The third artwork in line is a porcelain cup, with a face sketched out, painted white and blue. Two darker, round hollow ceramics are placed on the wall across the gallery floor. They are Tenmoku porcelains too. The name derives from a mountain rising in the East of China. The Tianmu Mountain has two peaks, with twin ponds near their tips. Perhaps Matthew Lutz-Kinoy meant his ceramics, in which you pour tea, as a subtle, abstract representation of these. The word ‘Tianmu’, however, also means ‘heaven’s eyes’, and this is how the two peaks in China are known. Notice, now: the two cups are hung on their sides, to stare out from the wall. They point to a bigger, unfathomable presence that observes but I will never see; to blindly believe makes it somewhat part of me. I follow the eyes’ gaze across the room; they unfold, opposite where I stand, a truth. Nicholas Cheveldave’s work of art revealed here is a box opened up, unwrapped, flattened. The piece mimics a crucifixion and at first glance, the title ‘Do it yourself at home religion’ may sound like a blasphemous invitation. I also read in the medical cast made with gauze, wood, metal and coloured over with tattoo ink, a genuine encouragement: someone made you in his own image, why don’t you try doing so too? Kiki Kogelnik’s hands dangling below only appear to echo ‘do, do, do’.
Challenge accepted, so the story goes. Diagonally, across the floor, stand two mannequins shaped like me, wearing people’s clothes. The TV screen they turn to plays Shana Moulton’s ‘Sand Saga’. They long towards it, with stretched out hands, on tiptoe as if balanced to take a step forward. Their pose suggests they are fully absorbed in the digital video – and yet they cannot be, for they are not able to see. Mounted inside their back, they are provided with a screen. So despite their human shape and the way they are dressed, these two mannequins suddenly look more like the black square box in front of them than me.
The installation raises a question, sarcastically – whether technology will get to our head, to the point that we’d rather use that instead. It’s normal, already, to call the artificial ‘intelligent’. But the collar worn by one mannequin, ‘My Life As An INFJ’, suggests that this idea might not be quite fixed yet. ‘Medusa’s Stare’ is named after the Greek monster that turned people to stone with a glare. The victim, at first, may seem John Russell’s creature straight ahead. Only a ‘Deer’ in the headlights, I hope: it is our duty not to merely look and stand still, but react.
Life with A.I. brings about change. ‘Overwhelmed by emotion, she lost control’ tells me it has the potential to tear us apart; it’s a case of learning the ropes and being sure of what we wish to preserve. The disassembled face clashes with the compact, simple gradations of grey composing Amanda Ross-Ho’s face. ‘Unsub’ abbreviates ‘Unknown Subject’, the technical definition of a criminal mind. Evoking this extreme, ‘The Unsub Inverted’ darkly celebrates the power of our thought. So do Jeffrey Joyal’s ‘TBD’ and ‘TOM 4’. Combining a eureka moment – symbolised by the light bulb – with the morbid taxidermy turkey heads, he says: without your ideas, you are better off dead.
On my way out, the last artwork I see is a copper blade with a smile carved in amber on the handle. As we gradually develop into machines, Evgeny Antufiev recalls another nature – and immortalises us in a drop of the life essence of a tree.
Come to Emalin to discover something new – what you’ll find out here is entirely about you. See what you make of the letters playing around in your head. What I am left with, for the moment, is: ‘man’.