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Rebus at Simon Lee Gallery

August 8, 2011

Rebusthe latest offering from Simon Lee Gallery, places the notion of objecthood under scrutiny – with surprising results. Anne Blood reports.

The smell of garlic when walking into Simon Lee Gallery is overwhelming. While sensory experience is not the focus of their current exhibition, Mircea Cantor’s work Underestimated consequence (2011) – a large steel basket over a metre square filled with garlic bulbs – dominates the gallery space. Its simple composition consisting of two elements – steel and garlic – and its narrow colour scheme – shades of white – are so common-place as to be ignored. Yet they are balanced by the mismatched meeting of textures: between the dry, flaking peels of the garlic and the cool steel of the container, all drawn together by the powerful garlic smell.

The title of this exhibition, Rebus, comes from the Latin word for ‘things’ and the show is intended to serve as a platform from which to consider the re-contextualization and re-appropriation of daily objects or images as a means of delivering a subversive and critical message. Curated by Mario Codognato, the exhibition encourages the viewer to consider the multiplicity of meanings that an object holds: from the primary meaning derived from its selection and historical relevance to secondary meanings that relate to its context, juxtaposition or manipulation.

While the focus on objects provides a unifying clarity to the exhibition, several of the works on display rely as much on their titles, on language, as they do on their materiality and context for their overall meaning. Whether functioning as a straight forward denotation of the place of a work in a series, such as Matias Faldbakken’s SCREW PIECE #1 or SCREW PIECE #2 or a banal, clear-cut label or statement of fact such Hans-Peter Feldman’s Flower Pots, the titles of works set a clear mood and direction from which the viewer is encouraged to approach them. Other pieces invite a much more complex, sometimes poetic relation of work with title. Sisley Xhafa’s quietude is a shopping trolley loaded with cobblestones. The disjunction of association between the silence of the title and the noise associated with shopping at the grocery store or thunderous bang of a hammer hitting cobblestones, the rumble as vehicles roll over the stones or the clicks of heels on the hard surface, add an unexpected depth to the piece. The titles of the works here often help to shift an object from a ‘thing’ to an ‘objet d’art’, such as the simple electrical heater that is the single element in Merlin Carpenter’s Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down.

Lucid, playful and diverse, Rebus is well worth the trip to Simon Lee.

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Rebus is at Simon Lee Gallery until 20th August 2011.

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