We applaud the efforts of top UK artists, coming together for the CRISIS Commission in the fight against homelessness
In an effort to make a difference for Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people, some of the world’s most celebrated artists – including Antony Gormley, Tracey Emin, Sir Anthony Caro, Yinka Shonibare, and Gillian Wearing – have come together to fill the grand space of one of London’s most prestigious venues; Somerset House.
They have all presented new works (with the forgivable exception of Caro), responding to themes and issues relating to homelessness, such as isolation, property, security, and space. Bob and Roberta Smith’s Kite, for example, hangs desolately alone in one of the rooms, the tail lying limp across the gallery floor. Written on the face of the kite is the word ‘Help’, the piece expressing the rootlessness of homelessness, and the desperate need for aid.
And even without the good cause in mind, the exhibition is a rare and exciting moment; a unique scenario in which we can see how the UK’s leading artists divergently respond to an identical brief. Yinka Shonibare’s sculpture, for example, takes a much more literal approach than Smith, depicting a 19th century homeless man burdened with a tower of suitcases full of his possessions. And in contrast to this general symbol of the condition of homelessness, Gillian Wearing’s sculpture deploys a specific individual experience to address the issue, this documentary-in-bronze telling the story of Craig O’Keefe, a man who found himself homeless after returning from Afghanistan.
Even the works that adopt the happy shine art of consumerist culture – such as the sleek LED lights used by both Tracey Emin and Nathan Coley – relate directly to, and demand engagement with the problems that Crisis hope to solve. Tracy Emin’s neon signs, for instance, explicitly ‘relate to self-worth’, with those words coupled with the statements ‘Trust Me’ and ‘Trust Yourself’. While more hopeful than most of the works in the exhibition, they also evoke the extreme self-reliance that homelessness induces, the destruction of the self that can occur through such an isolated existence, and the ways in which people dismiss the homeless as drug addicts, liars, unreliable – unambiguously responsible for their condition.
But it is in the darker moments of the gallery that we feel the horror of homelessness most acutely. Antony Gormley’s fragmented rusty iron sculpture is one such moment, and takes the form of a figure lying awkwardly on the gallery floor, instantly the forgotten, left-to-decay state of people living on the streets – ‘the nameless, the voiceless and the placeless’.
Equally weighty is Nika Neelova’s installation created out of concrete casts of wooden doors, tied up with rope to a central structure and hanging precariously in the gallery. The repetition is this work simulates the experience of homelessness for the viewer as you move through it, being constantly confronted with the possibility – the hope – of the shelter behind the door, but everytime denied it.
Accompanying the bulk of works by these prominent figures are five works by artists who are/were themselves homeless or vulnerably housed. And it is here that we see the work of Crisis in action, with the charity reaching out to these people, giving them a fresh opportunity, and proving their human worth. Particularly strong is the work by Conleth Moran, ironically named ‘FT’, and play with the exhibition’s themes through the anonymity of newspaper print.
All these works will be going on sale at Christie’s on 3 May 2012, and are guaranteed to raise the significant funds sorely needed for Crisis to continue their work. Words: Lily Mull. Photo of Gillian Wearing, with upcoming show at Whitechapel Gallery: P. C. Robinson © 2012 ArtLyst
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