Featured across three idiosyncratic sites – the former Methodist chapel in Kentish town, London, home to the Zabludowicz Collection; a few vacant shops in Camden, London; and the 33rd floor of a skyscraper on New York’s time square -The Shape we’re in showcases recent sculptures and installations by 22 emerging and established contemporary artists. The context-specificity of this tripartite exhibition, based in the two major art-world hub cities, encourages the viewer to engage with the space in a uniquely casual way.
When entering the monumental neoclassical chapel at 176 Prince of Wales Road, one could only but notice the artists’ playful and unrestricted use of space. Padding across the upper level of the building, the visitor was greeted by a parade of mannequins adorned with colourful patterned textiles. As in previous installations, Matthew Darbyshire points to the human figure, or rather its absence. The repetition of static, empty vestments, suggests an invisible presence, consumed by consumerism. The conflicting sentiment aroused by this cycle is the major focus of the exhibition. In the next room, Samantha Donnelly questions the physical limits of ‘the shape we’re in’ with a baroque mixed media assemblage. Bringing together appropriated ephemera, such as a bench found in the gallery space, and a pink all-purpose cleaning textile, Donnelly reworks materials remnants from the quotidian allowing them to dialogue and resonate within the same piece. Her thoroughly eclectic approach is remarkably feminine in terms of stereotypical forms and choice of imagery. By drawing our attention to surface and formal elements such as shape and colour her work appears to be both playful and fragile. The experimental and epistemological nature of the show takes a new dimension with Peggy Franck’s paintings on Perspex and accompanying photographic prints. Her work here exists as an intervention in the exhibition space. On one hand, the photograph, as an ambivalent means of documentation, is presented both as a referential image and as a physical part of her casual installation. On the other hand, the gestural brushstrokes on the large pieces of Plexiglas assert the physical presence and working process of the artist in the space. In a similarly auto referential approach, Jack Strange exhibited his work entitled Seriously. A life-size, steel-stick man sits in a chair with a bulky Antony Gormley monograph resting on his lap. An orange helium balloon on a long piece of string stands in for his head. As stated by the critique Nick Aikens, the implication appears damning: “Gormley’s work (or perhaps public sculpture at large?) is for airheads.” But Strange’s messages are never so clear-cut. Seriously is also a not-so-subtle swipe at coffee-tabled art adulation, though, as with much of his work, implied critique hides behind a cloak of naivety.
This brief overview belies a complicated exploration of how we deduce our own meaning from content and from the limitless shape we’re in. The exhibition is definitely worth seeing.