Unconscious Landscape. Works from the Ursula Hauser Collection

Unconscious Landscape is an exhibition currently on show across the five galleries at Hauser & Wirth Somerset drawn from the collection assembled by Ursula Hauser over the past four decades.

A sense of the uncanny runs throughout the show.  Louise Bourgeois’s work in particular elicits a response of discomfort, perhaps even anxiety.  Two of her iconic spider sculptures are on display.

Spider V , (bronze) Louise Bourgeois 1999  Spider , (steel) Louise Bourgeois 1996

Spider V, (bronze) Louise Bourgeois 1999 Spider, (steel) Louise Bourgeois 1996

Bourgeois’s Cell forms are equally challenging.  It is difficult, if not impossible, for the viewer to remain unmoved by the emotional charge of these works, of which there are three in the exhibition.  I found the sense of isolation and pathos emanating from the figure in Cell XXII (Portrait) particularly poignant.

Cell XXII (Portrait) , (steel, fabric, wood and glass) Louise Bourgeois, 2000

Cell XXII (Portrait), (steel, fabric, wood and glass) Louise Bourgeois, 2000

As I was leaving the gallery I overheard the comment ‘There is a bit of a spider theme running through’, a throw away remark perhaps, but one that encapsulates much about this show.  What do spiders do?  They produce silk, many different types of silk in order to fulfil different functions.  Spiders use the silk to build a drag line (a safety line enabling them to retreat from predators or hang in space) and spin webs.  Webs are many and varied too.  Some are constructed to catch prey but webs are also used to form retreats (protective shelters for themselves) and to construct egg sacks as nests or cocoons for their offspring.

The artists featured in the exhibition are all women and notions of domesticity, caring, shelter, familial relationships, together with a strong steak of feminism, run through much of the work.  Seeing work by several artists brought together in one show brings connections and themes to the fore.  Many of these I recognise in my own work as I do the materials and the methods of construction which are so much part of the message.

Trouxa  (stitching, moorings, different fabrics and laces) 2004

Trouxa (stitching, moorings, different fabrics and laces) 2004

Unconscious Landscape. Works from the Ursula Hauser Collection continues at Hauser and Wirth Somerset until 8 September 2019

Fault Lines

This group show at the Freedlands Foundation brought together four sculptors:  Alice Channer, Angela de la Cruz, Holly Hendry and Jonathan Baldock.

 Angela de la Cruz’s precarious perched damaged elements that hint at the delicacy of human life.  These are spare and elegant structures whose scale and components comfortably reference the human body.  The tired stool and damaged chair stand in uneasy and precarious coexistence.  Across the room, the smooth metal trough, crumpled and forced to fit into the filing cabinet stoically faces the viewer.

de la Cruz,  Three legged Chair on Stool  (2002) and  Crate (Navy)  (2018)

de la Cruz, Three legged Chair on Stool (2002) and Crate (Navy) (2018)

Jonathan Baldock’s ceramic tower also hints at the fragility of life suggesting that the veneer containing our inner most feelings is in danger of rupturing.   The wall hung pair of ceramic masks barely contains their hidden thoughts.

Baldock,  Grinning until my face hurts  (2018)

Baldock, Grinning until my face hurts (2018)

The smooth surface of Holly Hendry’s jigsaw sculpture contrasts with the cracks between the assembled shapes and differing materiality of the various elements.  The surface of each pieces is always smooth and the changes in depth leads the viewer to reconsider the structures depicted.  The addition of the occasional found object adds a light touch of humour.

Hendry  Mr Urstoff  (2018)

Hendry Mr Urstoff (2018)

Alice Channer showed two works in the exhibition.  Her floor piece Bonez began its transformation as a garment.  Through the lost wax casting technique, a stretch material maxi dress has become two elegant bronze floor pieces.  The top surface carries the imprint of the weave, pleats and hems, leaving the viewer in no doubt about the origins of the work.  Meanwhile the underside is smooth and reflective.  The armholes call to mind the eye of a needle.  The disembodied object brings to mind questions of sustainability and longevity which provide a conceptual link to Channer’s wall hung piece Soft Sediment Deformation, Full Body.  Images of eroding sandstone is manipulated and digitally printed onto fabric.  Pleating imposes another distortion and bring the fabric into the realm of sculpture.  The title brings together both the source of the imagery and the body, alluding transformation, ageing and decay.

Channer Bones (2018) and  Soft Sediment Deformation, Full Body (Frown Lines)  (2018)

Channer Bones (2018) and Soft Sediment Deformation, Full Body (Frown Lines) (2018)

All the pieces sat comfortably within the overall theme, each artist suggesting disjunction and deficiency through their work.  The small but perfectly formed exhibition was a delight to visit, the works setting up interesting dialogues and I came away with many questions and some answers.

Freedlands Foundation

Cul-de-Sac: Phyllida Barlow at the RA

Cul-de-sac is an exhibition of colourful contrasts.  Humour is everywhere. The work is both monumental and elegant.  A bundle of tall slim timbers stand proud in an alcove designed to hold the marble statue of a citizen of note as they welcome visitors walking up the stairs.  Their tops wrapped in indeterminate material they are not overawed by their patrician surroundings.

In the first room, the sculptures rise up to meet the light streaming into the galleries.  Elegant fabric forms gather in the corner, their insubstantial though colourful shapes contrasting with their heavy cylindrical concrete bases. 


Everywhere the sculptures play with balance and angles.  The unexpected planes suggest they may be on the edge of collapse and delicate uncertainty.   Large smooth blocks are held high close to the ceilings on soaring stilts, their joints roughly wrapped in plastered scrim.  The height and proportions create tension and precariousness. The fine stilts holding large blocks perilously aloft seem to defy gravity.  What is heavy, what is weightless? 


As the title suggests, visitors are forced to retrace their steps to leave the gallery.  They must leave by the only entrance.  The return journey offers different views.  Dense concrete slabs both on the ground and shaped as lintels held high above our heads slope at unlikely angles to lead the eye across the space.  The angles are different offering new perspectives and making different connections.  The visitors are rewarded with different relationships and new interplays. The gaggle of angled narrow poles effortlessly holding up the multi layered metal structure suggest they are frozen in the midst of a dance offering a strong contrast to the stolid column of solid grey across the room.


Even if they are no longer salvaged directly from skips, materials are still modest and non-precious.  This does nothing to diminish the refinement of works.  The feel of the exhibition is of work by an artist at ease with her practice and with nothing to prove and rather enjoying working with scale and irreverent materials.

Giorgio Griffa at Camden Arts

A Continuous Becoming is the first London solo show of Italian artist Giorgio Griffa (b. 1936).  The exhibition, at Camden Arts Centre, includes works from the 1960s to the present.

An awareness of the light and of the colours on canvas and an overwhelming sense of serenity are the immediate impressions on entering the gallery.  The exhibition is immaculately hung.  The presentation is simple, the canvases are pinned directly to the walls.  The focus is directed to the works themselves.

The canvas is unprimed and unstretched with torn, rather than frayed, edges.  The top edge of each painting though is tautly stretched and the canvas hangs straight and flat against the wall. This is the first intimation of Griffa’s lightness of touch and illustrates his way of working with the physical quality of the materials in allowing them to do their thing.  There is an absence of hierarchy between the elements.  The artist does not command his materials, but rather works in tandem with them.  These are not overtly emotional or gestural paintings.  The confidence to allow the materials to simply be is meditative, even zen like. Despite the initial impression of simplicity, the works are evidently the result of a deep and thoughtful practice.  The marks are calligraphic, measured, never rushed.   Griffa states that the marks he uses are universal, these are marks that could be made by any hand.


The marks of folds held on the cloth gives a subtle structure to the picture plane and is reminiscent of the modernist grid.  Splashes and drips of watery paint enhance the celebratory nature of Griffa’s practice.  

Echoing the written page, markmaking frequently begins in the top left hand corner of the work.  Griffa feels no compulsion to fill the entire surface.  The unadorned and untouched material reminds the viewer of the Arte Povera movement which developed in parallel to Griffa’s own practice.  In these paintings, the bare surface is not naked but rather filled with the promise of more work to come. 


Griffa’s interest in physics and mathematics is reflected in his paintings, which often include numbers.  Griffa is in thrall to the Golden Section.  There is a parallel here to Griffa’s own practice.  The Golden Section is an irrational number whose final digit can never be reached.  It is a number which is never complete.   This strategy suggests a door left open to the next work.  The artist’s practice is a continuous line and can be likened to an arabesque rather than a linear progression.

  ‘The arabesque’, he says, ‘represents at once linear time and circular time, because it goes backwards while moving further forward.’  (Marks, 2018)

Working with the unpretentious confidence of someone who understands the power of uncomplicated, Griffa describes much through the rhythm of the spare mark marking.

‘I probably realised that a very simple language – and I also realised this through poetry, whether Pound or Eliot or Ginsberg – can encapsulate an immense complexity. It’s fundamental.’

It is an exhibition which cannot fail to raise the spirits.