For its spring show, Jerwood Visual Arts has commissioned new bodies of work from three artists at pivotal points in their careers: Kitty Clark, Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom and Sofia Mitsola. This is the fourth iteration of Jerwood Solo Presentations, and the guidance notes explain that there is no curatorial theme uniting the chosen artists; these are three very different offerings, but each is powerful in its own way.
The exhibition opens with an immersive sculptural installation by Kitty Clark. The gallery space is divided by free-standing partition walls fitted with windows, grills and railings. At first glance, they look scrappily made, but the meticulous detail of their production is revealed with further attention. The structures seem to be made from wood, but close-to the whorls and grain of the planks are shown to be drawn on, while larger-than-life nails stick out at cartoonish angles. Tiny shoots of paper grass rise from the tiled floor, while trash bags are hand-crafted from luxuriously thick material.
The effect evokes a film set or the slightly pixelated not-quite-there environment of a video game, an impression that is reinforced by competing voices emanating from hidden speakers inside the structures. The voices repeat phrases written by the artist to evoke the narrative voice-overs that guide players through the world of a video game. Often repetitive, recognisably human, but clearly written for prescribed sequences of events, the work questions the boundary between human and automaton, hand-made and digital.
Audio elements also play a significant part in Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom’s site-specific work. In this gallery, a disassembled drum kit and a flashing television monitor support a shelf, upon which are a pair of home speakers playing improvised drum recordings. The walls are lined with photographs of okra and colourful panels that challenge the distinction between aesthetic and function: they both evoke the colours of Hieronymous Bosch’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ (1503-1515) and act as insulators to direct the sound emitted by the speakers.
In February, the drum kit will be reassembled and used for a performance in the space, a film of which will subsequently be added to the installation. Boakye-Yiadom thus draws attention to the non-permanency of the artwork and the ongoing evolution of his practice, which is further suggested by his inclusion of a short film clip that has appeared in different contexts in a number of his other works.
The final room contains a series of paintings by Sofia Mitsola, whose work explores the complexities surrounding the objectification and the sexualisation of the female body. The five paintings on show at Jerwood are bright and playful. Some depict sexual encounters between smiling young women who gaze out of the canvases with a simultaneously engaging and unnerving simplicity. Their expressive nudity both invites and defies objectification; their meaning is activated only when a viewer steps in front of them.
Other works depict a sphinx and a sybil-like figure, hinting at powerful prophetess characters from ancient mythologies: women who are both empowered and trapped by their identities. The largest wall in the gallery is host to Mitsola’s largest work to date: ‘Chariot’ (2019) depicts a group of naked women riding in a chariot pulled by a team of female-headed horses. The flatness of the picture plane recalls ancient Greek vases or sculptural reliefs, many of which depicted naked men engaging in homosocial and/or homosexual scenes and were used to reinforce the culture of a patriarchal society. Through the explicit female gendering of this scene, Mitsola turns those tropes on their head, while also pointing to the ongoing problems surrounding representations of the female body – problems that have their basis both in society and in traditions of looking and consuming passed down through the history of art.