Critic's Guide: London

Etel Adnan, Francis Alÿs, Megan Rooney and more: a guide to the best current shows in the capital

BY Izabella Scott in Critic's Guides | 15 JUN 16

'Triples', 2016, exhibition view at The Approach, London. Courtesy: The Approach, London

‘Triples: Harry Dodge, Evan Holloway, Peter Shelton’
The Approach
28 May – 3 July

‘Triples’ brings together three LA sculptors whose objects are linked by their relationship to the body. Peter Shelton shows a single work, Ironlongbag (1988), a voluptuous cast iron sack suspended from the ceiling like a piece of meat. Body-sized, it recalls the softness of flesh without ever losing the cold hard thud of its inanimate materiality. Shelton’s piece hangs alongside Evan Holloway’s multicolour totem pole of human heads and 16 small works by Harry Dodge, scrappy weapons made from basic household items. Nails are planted into socks, butter tins joined to rusty blades, and broom handles affixed to kitchen knives. These are dirty, guerrilla implements, but there’s comedy, innuendo and a certain species of erotica. (Dodge has previously presented some of these objects as amorous gifts to his partner, the writer Maggie Nelson.)

Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Julien Devaux, Rafael Ortega, Alejandro Morales, and Félix Blume, Paradox of Praxis 5: Sometimes we dream as we live & sometimes we live as we dream Ciudad Juárez, México, 2013, video still (detail). Courtesy: David Zwirner, New York/London

Francis Alÿs, ‘Ciudad Juárez projects’
David Zwirner
11 June – 5 August

The highlight of Francis Alÿs’s third exhibition with David Zwirner is Paradox of Praxis 5: Sometimes we dream as we live & sometimes we live as we dream, Ciudad Juárez, México (2013), a video in which a flaming ball is propelled through the dark and empty city on the border of Mexico and the United States, erratically illuminating ghostly edifices. This exhibition’s focus is Alÿs’s ‘Ciudad Juárez projects’, a series of videos and drawings made between 2010-15 that take Juárez as its anti-hero: a city ravaged by a narcotics-related violence, dubbed ‘the murder capital of Mexico’ and infamous for its disturbing rate of female homicide.

Alÿs is well known for situating his work somewhere between art and social practice, with the Belgium-born artist searching for allegorical responses to desperate and abiding socio-political circumstances. Paradox of Praxis 5 follows Paradox of Praxis 1 (Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing) (1997), Alÿs’s famous video that shows him pushing a block of ice around Mexico City as it slowly melts into dust. Also on view is the poignant video Children’s Game #15 (2013), which while following a group of boys around Juárez as they play hide and seek. Alongside are a series of diagrams relating to the city’s ongoing struggles with homicide, violence and gentrification.

Megan Rooney, 'Animals on the Bed', 2016, exhibition view at Seventeen, London; mural: Moons and salads, 2016; right: Having sex in a parking lot with the windows open, 2016, pencil, ink, pastel and acrylic paint on magazine pages, 83 x 66 cm. Courtesy: Seventeen, London

Megan Rooney, ‘Animals on the Bed’
3 June – 23 July

Megan Rooney’s ‘Animals on the Bed’ is a sensual, slow, mushy world populated by softened bodies that are losing their edges. Spread across Seventeen's three rooms, the exhibition brings together sculpture, painting, mural work and a sound-piece, deftly following recent expositions of the Canadian artist’s work in Berlin and Glasgow.

Rooney’s mural, which takes over three walls, is inscribed with peach fingermarks, pink smudges and faint blue scribbles. It’s a messily abstract work, and like the paintings in the show, there are soft-edged figures in the mix, hints of breasts and fingers, and bodies that coagulate in the paint. The most tangible human remains are strewn across the floor in a set of balloon-shaped heads made of plaster. On their surfaces are womens’ faces, grinning ecstatically as if surrendering to sensual obliteration.

On the floor of the third room is a series of cat litter trays, half transformed into makeshift flowerbeds by a crop of plastic roses that poke out from the absorbent grain. It’s in here that Rooney’s sound-piece wafts into earshot, a hypnotic story told through spliced descriptions and an accumulation of nouns: ‘A lost home for lost dogs, pineapple juice on a very hot day, a die-hard fan holding a blue foam finger…’

Etel Adnan, Untitled, ca. 1995-2000, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg / Beirut

Etel Adnan, ‘The Weight of the World’
Serpentine Sackler Gallery
2 June – 11 September

While the 91-year old Lebanese-born artist Etel Adnan is widely celebrated for her political poetry, essays and novels, nowadays she is perhaps best known as a painter. Here, in her first UK museum show, one sees a wide selection of the characteristically abstracted landscapes that she has been painting since the 1960s.

Adnan has lived variously between Beirut, Paris and California, but for the most part these paintings are of American landscapes, particularly the peaks of Mount Tamalpais in California, close to where she lived in the ’70s. In a style that has become characteristic of Adnan’s work, blocks of colour are applied with a palette knife to create flat patchworks of interlocking hues – landscapes simplified into pictorial units.

The simplicity and serenity of Adnan’s paintings contrast with her fiery career as a writer. As a poet, Adnan has spoken out against the wars in Algeria and Vietnam, and her acclaimed novel, Sitt Marie Rose (1978), based on the life of a woman executed during the Lebanese Civil War, was banned for many years in her native Lebanon. ‘The Weight of the World’ also presents Adnan’s poems, tapestries and films, as well as her accordion-fold sketchbooks, a visual testament to her polymath life as poet, artist and political philosopher.

'Ways of Living', 2016, exhibition view at David Roberts Art Foundation; front left: Eva Hesse, Three, 1965; right: Hannah Black, Black Quadrilateral 4, 2015. Courtesy: the Estate of Eva Hesse and David Roberts Collection, London / Hannah Black and Arcadia Missa, London. Photo: Tim Bowditch.

‘Ways of Living'
David Roberts Art Foundation
15 April – 23 July

For the ninth installment of its ‘Curators’ Series’, south London gallery Arcadia Missa has curated a group exhibition that draws together well-known names such as Bernd and Hilla Becher, Jenny Holzer, Paul Thek, Eva Hesse and Adrian Piper, with a younger generation of artists involved with the gallery.

The resulting exhibition sees vivid and often irreverent pairings: Beatrice Loft Schulz, for example, has used a fire extinguisher to spray the gallery walls with mauve and sunny-yellow paint (satin seed stipple arsehole hair plait, 2016) that loops and twists behind the Bechers’ austere, photographic grid of water towers. Likewise, a single painting by Hannah Black – a brown board scored with a face, inserting the black body into the white cube (2015) – is paired with Adrian Piper’s This is Not the Documentation of a Performance, a newspaper article from 1976 telling of squatters fighting against eviction.

Arcadia Missa’s curator Rosza Farkas’s claims for the show are both political and personal, as she brings together visually disparate practices that seek to subvert institutional power. It is an approach that demonstrates the gallery’s ongoing attempts to foreground a specific type of art making that looks beyond aesthetics, and instead focus on the conditions in which art is produced.

Cory Arcangel, 'currentmood', exhibition view at Lisson Gallery, London. Courtesy: the artist and Lisson Gallery

Corey Arcangel, ‘currentmood’
20 May - 2 July

A New York-based Cory Arcangel came to prominence in the early 2000s with his tongue-in-cheek hacks of obsolete technologies: the 1984 arcade game Hogan’s Alley, for example, was reworked as I Shot Andy Warhol (2002). In ‘currentmood’, Arcangel’s latest show at Lisson, a set of poster-sized portraits hangs low on the gallery walls. They are a mix of photographs and videos, all identically framed so that movement, like a glitch in the system, comes as a surprise. A new series of inkjet ‘scanner paintings’ – a strip of Adidas Climacool (2016), for example – are shown alongside a new set of video works from the series ‘Lakes’. Here, Arcangel has redeployed a digital graphic effect from the 90s, which overlays an image with a ripple. Dawgs / Lakes (2016), for example, offers up kitsch humour via its special blend of dogwalker snapshot-cum-feng shui waterfall installation.

The links between various works are tangential and often oblique, but they’re wired together by Arcangel’s own teen spirit – a 24 terabyte drive taken from his family computer, which he mined for this exhibition.

Maria Gorodeckaya, ‘YOU FORGOT NUMBERS IN MY NOTES...’, 2016, exhibition view at Almanac, London. Courtesy: the artist and Almanac, London

27 May – 18 Jun

This is the first gallery exhibition of Russian artist Maria Gorodeckaya, a graduate of London'd Goldsmiths University, and it’s a minimal affair: a large concrete rectangle stamped with footmarks sits at the centre of the room, surrounded by three yellow dance poles. The concrete recalls the memory of prior activity – a performance that took place while the material was still wet – the gallery floor with a marked with a frenzy of footwork. Each taut pole is cast in wax, with an occasional nose ring pierced through the seams left from the casting process; other rings glint on the floor.

The exhibition re-stages an encounter Gorodeckaya had with a man in a Berlin club, and in London she introduces a smattering of clues to the performance which took place that night, such as the poem that forms the exhibition’s title: ‘YOU FORGOT NUMBERS IN MY NOTES / TRAVELLED SEAS THROUGH MY BODY / THROUGH MY VEINS / RUN THROUGH MY BLOOD / AT THE PACE OF A GOOD RUNNER’. We are left to imagine the noise, the heat, the sweat, the thrall. 

Izabella Scott is an editor at The White Review. She is currently writing a novel about a fake heiress.