The end of summer brings the first of the new season’s openings and with his latest show Nicolas Deshayes looks to be anticipating an autumnal dip in temperature. ‘Thames Water’ consists of a new series of sculptures that continue the artist’s idiosyncratic use of industrial materials and processes. Made of cast iron, these priapic and pretzel-like contortions are set against the wall, joined together by piping that runs the perimeter of the exhibition space. Connected to the gallery’s own water system, hot water is pumped through the works in so much as they act as radiators in the space. Deshayes has made similar radiator works before, for a show at Glasgow Sculpture Studios last year. However, this exhibition’s title places these sculptures specifically and deliberately within London and its public water supply.
Deshayes’ practice is heavily indebted to minimalism and can thus be thought of as post-minimal. As in previous shows, the iron sculptures are made using processes learnt and adapted by Deshayes from trained fabricators. The anomalous forms are the product of this de-skilling: ribbed and intertwined metal forms punctuated by puckered and bubbling skins. In fact, Deshayes seems to relish the frivolity of this anti-skillset to the point that we might better describe his methods as re-skilling. The works’ post-minimal characteristic extends to its relationship with the viewer. We are made aware of our own body’s relation to the work, not only because of the sculptures’ human scale, but because of the heat that radiates from them.
While Deshayes’ practice has also been discussed in terms of the abject, it does not resemble the messier and more visceral works usually associated with this term as outlined by Julia Kristeva in ‘The Powers of Horror’ (1982). Though he has previously stated that his works are not representational of the body, they are most certainly bodily. In ‘Thames Water’, both the temperature and literal fluidity of these works instinctively gives them a corporal nature that recalls our own bodily functions. Furthermore, rather than merely creating ‘an anatomy of the gallery space’ (as he previously described his show in Glasgow), it is the works’ assimilation into London’s water system that allows us to think of ‘Thames Water’ as part of that eponymous anatomy of the city. The sewers, the river itself and most importantly, the bodies – our bodies. Deshayes is thus not only making an analogy between the city and the human form but is keen to stress the human presence within the city, the sewers and perhaps also in his sculptures.
It is this dual fluidity between the sculptures and our bodies that best articulates the alignment of the abject and post-minimal in Deshayes’ work. That he manages to do this in such an uncomplicated installation is a triumph.