Freddy Dewe Mathews’ solo exhibition ‘Eternal Soup, Sudden Clarity’ is a striking new body of work presented across two sites: SPACE and Space In Between at Regents Studios. Encompassing photography, sculpture, a two-screen 16mm film installation and works on paper, the shows are a constellation of elements that each uniquely express Dewe Mathews’ recent research into the mythology of a landscape far removed from these East London galleries.
The majority of work on view was made on location in the southern Swiss Alps, whilst Dewe Mathews was undertaking a three-month residency in the Engadin valley. It is during his time here that the artist first explored Thomas Mann’s novel ‘The Magic Mountain’ - set in Davos, an alpine town not far from the Engadin. Subsequently, the text became a fundamental resource for his recent work - which has been consolidated over the past nine months since the artist’s return to London.
The narrative of the novel unfolds throughout the decade preceding the First World War, in a sanatorium for sufferers of tuberculosis sent to convalesce in relative isolation. Distilling selected aspects of the novel, Dewe Mathews adopts new visual vocabularies, which he has developed in tandem with research into the work of Modernist designers Alvar & Aino Aalto.
During the years that Mann was writing ‘The Magic Mountain’, Alvar Aalto was developing his designs for the Paimio tuberculosis Sanatorium in Finland. His characteristic vision for the architecture, interiors and now-celebrated furniture are translated by Dewe Mathews into the curved angles and cross sections of two sculptures, titled ‘Paimio Variations’. These structures twist and repeat like Mobius strips; their forms feeding into the revolutions of adjacent 16mm film projectors with custom-made looping systems. Here, Dewe Mathews playfully explores pragmatics and aesthetics in equal measure.
As you step off the street into SPACE, concrete and congestion give way to a gallery in near darkness. With the click of a projector, two luminous images appear on a pair of adjacent screens, which tilt at a slight angle so they lean gently into the gallery space. Both are the same height; taller than you and, in turn, taller than they are wide. The right-hand screen shows a serene image of a window opening into a darkened interior; its glass pane reflecting a distant snow-capped mountain. The right-hand screen is intersected by blades of grass, which bob in an absent breeze.
These footage fragments repeat on an infinite loop, fostering a mood of meditative contemplation. The images are enticing and seemingly still, but the flickering flecks of dust from the analogue film in motion are a reminder of the material, and fundamentally distancing, surface of the screen. Simultaneously drawing you in and reinforcing your physical presence in the gallery space, this process of dialectical movement is heightened by the slow realisation that the double-screen film loops are slightly off-set, coinciding but never quite aligning.
In a series of carbon copy drawings titled ‘Sites of Desire’, Dewe Mathews has isolated aspects of the mountain landscape; offering glimpses of particular peaks or pinewood scenes, and leaving what remains of each vista concealed behind the blank white of the page. The geometry of these drawings references the symmetry of the Paimio sculptures, which in turn allude to infinite loop of the films on display, creating an environment of reflective contemplation whilst the whirr of the nearby projectors pulls us back into the present moment.