Nostalgic for the Future
Lisson Gallery, London
15 November 2013 - 11 January 2014
Review by Catrin Davies
A week clear of 2014 and how are the resolutions working out’ Are you still dining out on last year’s highlights, or filling the bucket list for the future’ Like the Greek God Janus, the Lisson Gallery is in a fortunate enough position to be able to achieve both, simultaneously looking backward and forward through the spectre of its influential stable of artists in their current group show, which closes on Saturday.
Named after Jonathan Monk’s electric green neon text installation, which blinks on-and-off at the entrance, the back-to-the-future exhibition is the Lisson’s time capsule gift to the art world; an exhibition firmly in the present which connects the dots between important works from the recent past and the artists who will shape the near future. With artists like Anish Kapoor, Julian Opie, Tony Cragg and Richard Long on their books, the gallery can be forgiven for a bit of peacocking; ‘Nostalgia For The Future’ is both a showcase for these influential artists and a platform to present the work of a new generation. Haroon Mirza, Angela de la Cruz and Ryan Gander represent their conceptual offspring, and their selected works promise a future where the viewer’s relationship to an artwork becomes ever more scrutinised.
But, the show begins at the beginning with Art and Language’s posters from 1977 - a reminder of the Lisson’s start in life and the principles upon which it was founded. The main gallery space is largely taken up by Tony Cragg’s ‘Minster’ (1987) and Anish Kapoor’s concrete extrusion ‘Untitled’ (2013). Cragg’s sculptural protrusions compiled of mechanical parts dovetail with Jason Martin’s similarly industrial ‘Rousseau’s Wake’ (2013) - a vast sea of undulating oil on a huge canvas. Texturally Kapoor’s sculpture spews forth in the slow, organically self-forming way that concrete does. Shirazeh Houshiary’s delicately balanced and painfully intricate pencil on canvas (‘Flood’, 2010) hangs in contrast; two artists showing how a medium can be controlled (or not) with vastly different results. Richard Long’s ‘Grey Slate Spiral’ (1981) more acutely epitomises the theme that connects all of the artists in this room; how spaces and voids can be filled through process and abstraction.
Ryan Gander’s bank of fired arrows (the snappily titled ‘Ftt, Ft, Ftt, Ftt, Ffttt, Ftt, or somewhere between a modern representation of how contemporary gesture came into being’2010’) cut through the white gallery space like a slice of clean minimalism and handily point you in the direction of Haroon Mirza’s installation, ‘Preoccupied Waveforms’ (2012) down in the basement. The distorted sound droning from down below is a contrasting, glitchy thud, thud, thud, to the Ftt, Ft, Ftt of Gander’s silent arrows. Below, two walls are clad with pyramids of sound insulation foam; there’s a monitor in front of you which flicks intermittently between white noise, TV snow, analogue re-boot messages and various flashes of film footage. Sound and light gradually build from disconnected blips and beeps to a rhythmic drone; there are wires and cables, flashes of light and in a corner a doorway is illuminated in a halo of red neon’ I’m pretty sure that door will take you straight to Twin Peaks. Mirza seems to relish the same disconnected, psychological landscape that David Lynch dabbles in. The work creates a sense of paranoia that you’re somehow activating, or at the very least manipulating, the sound and light just by being there. And it’s this uncomfortable interplay that seems to be at the crux of what the newer artists are saying with their works.
Back upstairs, and there’s some light relief as Julian Opie and Tony Cragg neatly riff on the town and country debate with Opie’s super-stylised depiction of the urban landscape (‘Behind every successful man is a surprised woman’, 1998) playing-off the Outsiderness of Cragg’s leaf sculpture (‘Leaf’, 1981) made from found green objects. The two points collide, quite literally, in Ceal Floyer’s window installation of swarming birds which appear to have flown straight into the vast window looking out onto Bell Street (‘Warning Birds’, 2002).
The final room of the exhibition feels a bit like a caretaker’s store cupboard; a space of debunked, defaced, forgotten and broken objects. Pieces like Angela de la Cruz’s canvas-covered debris (‘Clutter (With White Blanket) 6’, 2004); the impishly defaced painting by Art and Language trapped behind glass (‘Hostage LX’, 1990); Richard Deacon’s isolated ceramic formations (‘Border Traffic’, 2004) and Richard Wentworth’s bunting of broken plates which is strung, almost apologetically, across two walls like the remnants of ‘the night before’ feel like they’ve been saved and stored for future use (which feels wholly appropriate, given the exhibition’s title), awaiting a time when they can be dusted down and brought out for Lisson to say - we told you so’, when they host the inevitable 50-year anniversary show, in 2017.