Curator’s Notes, text by Harun Morrison and Helen Walker
Their Wonderlands has been curated by They Are Here, a cross-disciplinary collective practice based in London and Birmingham and founded in 2005. Works by a formally and conceptually diverse set of contemporary artists have been drawn together to explore the space afforded the imaginary and folkloric in the post-industrial mindset and landscape of 21st century European society.
This first iteration of the exhibition has been developed at Grey Area in Brighton. The bunker-like low-ceilinged basement space fittingly evokes the kind of hideaway or den children might construct or the curious discover. This association of childhood is fore-grounded by the inclusion of a work by Caleb Morrison, aged 11¼. His floor piece Runway (2010) is comprised of a schematic arrangement of A4 sheets of paper sellotaped together to create a landing path for planes.
Their Wonderlands is inspired by Junichiro Tanizaki’s essay In Praise of Shadows (1933), which champions the beauty of darkness in relation to classical Japanese craft - in contrast to the Western pursuit of electric illumination’‘Where lies the key to this mystery’ Ultimately it is the magic of shadows. Were the shadows to be banished from its corners, the alcove in that instant would revert to mere void.’ Visitors to Grey Area are given torches to discover the artworks otherwise sealed in darkness and shadow amid bundles of fake ivy.
Simultaneously the exhibition functions as an artwork in its own right. In 2007, They Are Here created the fictional twins Ayo and Oni Oshodi. They have their own back-story and practice (aesthetically and conceptually independent of They Are Here’s body of work). Their Wonderlands can be seen as the latest and most ambitious in a series of strategies to insert these fictional personae into real contexts. This began with their continued online presence on sites such as Myspace and Facebook and has of late broadened into dialogues with complicit institutions, such as South London Gallery and Chisenhale Gallery.
Ayo and Oni Oshodi’s contribution to the show is Brown-Eyed Girl (2010), in which a found portrait painting of a young Caucasian girl hangs on the wall. The twist is that the painting has gleaming pair of eyelets drilled through it. One ‘twin’ at a time is able to sit and silently observe viewers of the exhibition, making an understated spectacle of their hidden presence. This exploration of the uncanny through the ‘inanimate-become-live’ is reversed in Alice Anderson’s film The Night I Became a Doll (2009), in which an emotionally abused girl becomes a doll, as though in protest of her treatment.
At the opening of the exhibition, Eloise Fornieles performed The Body Is An Ocean (2010). She collected the fantasies and desires of guests, which she then scribed on rice paper. These notes were dissolved into a metal basin of seawater. At the end of the opening, there was a procession to the sea, led by a young boy with a marching drum. In the half-light Fornieles removed socks and shoes and carried the tub into the sea, returning the water with our hopes from whence it came.
They Are Here’s own contribution to the show was Stone Spells (2010). Light and dark stones were piled in a corner, accompanied by a reading of a divination spell. Listening to the instructions, attendees were invited to re-arrange the stones and have their future predicted. The spell is one of a number collated and re-written by Scott Cunningham (1956 - 1993), a writer who revived and advocated pagan practices in the latter-half of the 20th century.
The auratic power that an audience may or may not grant these stones, simply gathered from Brighton beach, but now relocated in a gallery - mirrors and questions the value given to the spell itself. Attendees emotionally invest in the outcome of the spell’s prediction, while recognizing the ambiguity of its potency and provenance.
Stone Spells, 2010, They Are Here, photo James Allen
Explorations of suspension of disbelief, or complicit implausibility recur in other works, notably those of Cécile Azoulay, Reka Reisinger and Kate Rowles. A reversal, suspension or acceleration of time is often a defining feature of magical or parallel worlds and is a recurrent element in science-fiction narratives as a signifier of advanced technological ability. Cécile Azoulay’s Time Machine (2008), a wall clock re-designed so that its hands run anti-clockwise, seemingly makes this reversal visually manifest. Azoulay’s technical manipulation of the clock’s mechanics are mirrored by Kate Rowles presenting herself as a giant in relation to her family home in My Wonderland (2010). In this playful video work the relationship between foreground and background has been manipulated to create the effect of an oversized figure or shrunken house. The dress Rowles wears and gestures like knocking on the door with a fist size the size of a window, call to mind Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, as does the video’s title; but the magic of Carroll’s world has been replaced by the manipulation of the camera. This transposition of a ‘magical situation’ with a technical or mechanical device is also applied by Reka Resinger. Resinger produces life-size cut-outs of herself and re-photographs them in new scenarios. The works become fantasies, allowing her to be in places she couldn’t otherwise. We, her audience know the situations are not real - however that doesn’t negate their charm, or a desire to throw ourselves into the image, to ask what if’
So in Their Wonderlands, we as viewers are invited to make a series of double takes - first we might believe the far-fetched to be true’then the unravelling of how the manipulation was achieved’to be followed by the afterglow of our imagination.
Each iteration of the exhibition is accompanied by a publication edited by Lily Hall. It explores make-believe from the multiple viewpoints of invited writers, including a children’s book publisher and Captain Ed; an emerging artist who has spent the last few years developing a fictional persona as a land-locked sea-dog. Other texts are by Rowena Easton, Marialaura Ghidini and They Are Here.
Participating Artists: Alice Anderson, Ayo & Oni Oshodi, Caleb Morrison, Cécile Azoulay, Corinne Felgate, Eloise Fornieles, Emma Hart, Kate Rowles, Mathew Sawyer, Michael Allen & Daniel Schwitzer, Reka Reisinger, Rostan Tavasiev, Susanne Ludwig and They Are Here