Max Wigram Gallery, 106 New Bond Street, London, W1S 1DN

  • MC AK NBS 2011 008
    Title : MC AK NBS 2011 008
  • MC AK NBS 2011 009
    Title : MC AK NBS 2011 009
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    Title : MC AK NBS 2011 014
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    Title : MC AK NBS 2011 016

Review by Margaret Gray

On first glance, The Natural Order of Things looks like a small construction site: a provisional collection of concrete blocks, temporary shelving, heaped building materials and heavy duty boots. Unfinished and slightly untidy, you almost expect people back, at any moment, to complete the job. But of course there’s more afoot than that; a look over the building blocks of this installation/exhibition reveals them to be questionable, impractical and sometimes absurd.

What to make of the hammer, for example, biting precariously into the dented gallery wall, plaster flaking from the point of impact’ Or the coffee and sugar piled up alongside pebbles, sand, soil and cement mixture on flimsy wooden shelves’ Or the wheels on the underside of the concrete blocks, scattered over the floor like children’s toys’ Whatever planning went into this project seems distracted and obscure. A slab of plaster is mounted on the wall like a canvas: covered with card, it is neatly incised with x and y axes, points marked on and lines ruled, only to be messily punched and ripped out, unfinished and crumbling at the corner. The whole site feels displaced; abandoned but anticipatory, industrious but aimless.

This is the first collaborative exhibition by the promising Brazilian artists Marcelo Cidade and Andre Komatsu, and it holds together well, aesthetically and ideologically. São Paolo, the largest city in Brazil, serves as the show’s inspirational anchor. Both artists have long used their home city as a creative springboard, appropriating and redeploying familiar urban debris to examine the (often unstable) bedrock of metropolitan environments, and to question the contradictory processes of development and displacement, construction and deconstruction that shape them.

Naturally some of the works reflect local political issues. It is hard not to equate the mounds of coffee and sugar with São Paolo’s colonial past; economic and social history is literally mixed into the foundations of modern city life. Four rectangles of industrial felt hang on a wall, decorated with arrows that rush away from the core like battle lines or flow diagrams, in a visual suggestion of decentralisation and displacement. Industrial felt is used by much of São Paolo’s drifting homeless population.

But the sum of the show’s parts is more enigmatic: this isn’t a portrait of a particular city but of the systems and structures that hold cities up across the world. For all their projected glamour, power, confidence and monumentality, most urban quarters are rather shaky affairs when you get close; patched, makeshift and nondescript. The constant exercises in construction, relocation and renewal that characterise city life do not necessarily follow a solid or even a sensible pattern. A tall street sign, still in its concrete base, has been deposited (presumably with no small practical difficulty) at the entrance to the gallery, but it lacks all purpose. It is resolutely blank, pointing us nowhere in particular.

In its widest sense, this exhibition encourages you towards an almost anthropological questioning of collective social patterns; our ceaseless planning and frequent inability to see projects through to a full conclusion, our constant desire for tinkering and change. Is this the natural order of urban life’ Does such a thing as natural order really exist in a constantly changing environment, where even the coffee and sugar is artificially refined’

This is a small show; the majority of it is encompassed in the publicity photo, and the press release lists everything in it like apparatus waiting to be assembled. But it is the effect of actually being in the space - so different to reading about it - that matters. Titles are not supplied, explanations are not given, neither artist claims ownership over any work. Instead, individual items contribute by way of open and ambiguous dialogue with each other, and with the viewer. Our own hesitant interactions with the scattered materials on show, and our frustrated searches for ‘order’ within it, are at the core of this construction site of questions and ideas.

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