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First Thursdays: July Previews

July 13, 2011

Celia White rounds up the goings-on in East London galleries this month.

Daniel Blau gallery’s opening for its latest show, Neal Fox: Beware of the God, was the grandest of the evening’s previews, with its one-in-one-out entry system and outdoor-only drinks reception. Once inside, the reasons for these restrictions became clear: Neal Fox’s installation consists of  12 two-and-a-half metre-high stained glass windows, each dedicated to the honour and infamy of a 20th-century celebrity. Brightly coloured, heavy on detail and incorporating a powerful combination of text and image, the effect of the windows replicates the visual saturation that celebrity culture has bestowed upon modern times.

Taken individually, each window is a humorous and shocking insight into the stereotyped perceptions of those it pays homage to (Francis Bacon’s stockinged legs and carnivorous backdrop; JG Ballard dissecting the global consciousness by way of scissors and scalpel applied to the earth’s brain). But taken together, the windows come close to the artist’s intention to create ‘an alternative church of alternative saints’, albeit a disturbing one.

Celebrity culture was also at the centre of KK Outlet‘s exhibition of Kenji Hirasawa’s recent work, in which the artist photographed visitors to Madame Tussaud’s waxwork galleries using a heat-sensitive camera. The visual manifestation of visitors’ excitement forms a pulsating technicolour surface for the images, with the vibrant red of the living contrasting with the spectral outlines of the lifeless waxworks. This is an exhibition as much about death as it is about life – about how the cultivated personalities of the famous can be re-presented and preserved so that, in the minds of star-struck visitors, they stand in for the real thing.

Closing last week was Robin Rhodes’ excellent exhibition Variants at White Cube Hoxton Square. The five animations on show were centred on the concept of the flatpack De Stijl chair – its apparently abstract design contradicted by its perfect adaptedness to daily, concrete use. The most striking is Piano Chair, in which the chair bears silent witness to a composer attempting to murder his piano by means of fire, axe, stone and knife. In the final movement, the chair’s solemn presence becomes the film’s most destructive element, kicked away to allow the piano resting on it finally to be hanged.

Aubin Gallery saw the opening of Leather Bitch, a collection of works in painting, film, photography and drawing by ‘creative polymath’ Danny Sangra. Mostly dark in nature, Sangra’s collages are totally absorbing and, presented in the dimly-lit Aubin Gallery surrounded by large-scale black prints of animal heads, are incredibly haunting. Sangra is also showing a new film at the gallery, Too Late Too Early, which can be viewed online here.

Finally, running at East Gallery over the past few days was Drawn Out Conclusion, the degree show for Southampton Solent’s illustration graduates 2011. Highlights included Stacy Rutten’s beautifully delicate ink drawings evoking fairytales, and Andriana Kyriacou’s collages that incorporate figures, edited text, maps and other paper detritus to create new worlds, some of which are in three dimensions and housed by bell jars. Steph Godwin’s A Pie’s Tale, the story of a pie attempting to find its filling, is a humorous addition to the show, while Josef Hill’s work presents a more realist, if not surrealist, visual narrative. For more see the Solent Illustrators Collective.

Neal Fox: Beware of the God is at Daniel Blau to 10th August 2011
Kenji Hirasawa: Celebrity is at KK Outlet to 30th July 2011
Danny Sangra: Leather Bitch is at Aubin Gallery to 11th August 2011

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