Hauser & Wirth’s sensitive restoration of the Durslade Farm buildings plays to the eclectic nature of ‘Brave New World’, an exhibition of works conceived by Djordje Ozbolt during his 2016 residency with the gallery. By keeping the agricultural concrete and wooden beam interior a variety of histories are tapped into, befitting Ozbolt’s tendency to borrow iconography from multiple cultures and to amalgamate art historical motifs with vivid cartoon imagery. Even the exhibition’s title is taken from the 1932 dystopian novel by Aldous Huxley, who himself lifted the phrase from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Visitors are greeted by a procession of garden gnomes traipsing through the courtyard and, seemingly though the glass window, into the Threshing Barn. These brightly-coloured statues, which Ozbolt rescued from his home country of Serbia and re-cast in resin, are described by the artist as ‘unwelcome guests, cultural refugees’. The gnomes lead to a hand-painted wooden signpost, ‘Critique of Pure Reason,’ in the centre of the barn, crudely pointing out the titles of all the works in the room. The works here feel tense, abound with anxiety, Ozbolt awkwardly unsure of what to make of the political climate.
The signpost indicates outwards to a scattering of acrylic paintings, for which Ozbolt has lifted fragments of contemporary visual culture and inserted them into mannerist and romantic rural landscapes that are reminiscent of the gallery’s bucolic surroundings. These visual one-liners include Mike Mignola’s iconic comic book character Hellboy embellished with an English gentleman’s moustache in ‘Hell’s Own’, and Bambi depicted with a rose in its anus - instead of a butterfly resting on its tail - in ‘Disneyland Florida’.
The Workshop gallery – now with white cube walls and plinths – boasts mixed-media sculptures that are the products of improvisatory processes. The free-form sculpture ‘Tree of Life’ – made of a wire frame, expansion foam and spray paint – has seemingly burst out of Ozbolt’s psychedelic landscape painting ‘Lucy’s Hood’ and bulged into three dimensions. With its bulbous and coral-like form, not to mention its irregular day-glo stripes, visitors relish in its playfulness, its rebellion against the weight of the conceptual rigor mortis that could be read from the title and socio-political climate in which it was created.
In a visual crescendo, the Pigsty gallery is transformed by a wrap-around jungle mural across the walls and ceiling. This surrounds ‘Brave New World,’ a display of netsuke, effigies, caricatures and artifices collected by the artist on his travels. Ozbolt unites these assorted forms - owls, monkeys, Buddha statues, fertility figures and cowboys – by casting them in resin and presenting them in uniformly bright colours. Although raised Catholic, Ozbolt no longer practices the religion, but perhaps his introduction to transubstantiation has been revived in this work. Instead of forecasting the ‘Brave New World’ to be an apathetic and submissive place, as Huxley does in his novel, Ozbolt proposes a celebration of the diversity of the world and, in it, its strength.