Toby Ziegler at the Simon Lee Gallery, review by Max Liu
Toby Ziegler uses technology to fragment and invert found objects and images. Then he creates paintings and sculptures which display ambivalence towards the digital: on one hand, it colludes with time, scattering and eroding memories, while on the other it helps Ziegler make beautiful, disturbing works which raise important questions about experience and consciousness.
It’s tempting to parallel finding, re-imagining and creating with past, present and future tenses but, in his new exhibition at the Simon Lee Gallery, Ziegler is more concerned with time’s imperfections. His oil on aluminium paintings are studies in the transitory - moments composed of other moments - and yet they’re likely to outlive us all. Even when he’s reminding us that to remember is to resist, meaning comes gently. By asking if we will get better or worse at remembering, his paintings look both back and forwards.
Metaplasmus is a blind and riveting sculpture. Flimsy from a distance, as though made of card, up close it is sturdy, almost brutal. You resent the artist for inflicting its traumatic existence on it, its own pregnant bump unwanted beneath coarse angles of cleavage. Widow/Orphan Control might be the same figure after it’s given birth, or it might be the child, but either way it’s inhabited and if it could speak it would recount the story of its limblessness: similarly, if I could choose a title for this section of this review It’s or Its might be it. Each sculpture is suspended by a timber frame which implies prosthesis, penetration, gallows.
Submerged Metaphor hangs nearby, a large crucifixion painting, complete with ashen-faced mourners and dark, swelling sky, interrupted by pink blobs which obscure and electrify in brilliant contrast with black. The longer you look the more frightening the atmosphere becomes and the experience is similar to belatedly realising that you’re far from home. What a relief to turn the corner and find Blind Mouth but it reminds you of Fair Copy which in turn reminded you how the recollection of one place spools at the edge of another. Beneath the white airbrushing that clouds both landscapes, Ziegler projects half-remembered worlds which elude and enchant like the long, multi-clause sentences of Marcel Proust. To extend the literary compliment, this ten piece exhibition is like a short novel that isn’t a quick read.
Strophe presents a woman wearing a black headscarf, the space around her filled with large, looping strokes, her face spotted like weathered stone. She has a smudge under her closed eye while her open one is a mere pupil. Ten feet away, Anti-Strophe is turned from Strophe so its white male subject avoids the woman’s disillusioned gaze. He looks comfortable, deaf, pondering an illegible text; behind him, a window opens on what might be a village, a river running, perhaps back in the hills and plains of earlier paintings. Time passes quickly in the gallery but I could contemplate Ziegler’s art for hours.