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Kate Macdowell’s pristine white porcelain sculptures explore the clash between the natural and constructed worlds. Her gas-masked rabbit is given, in a fit of irony, a human-made safety device to protect it from a danger also made by people. Her work frequently focuses on the troubled relationship between the two elements and the uncomfortable discordance which has developed. The medium she uses creates an interesting tension between the at-times violently grotesque imagery and the smooth, minimalist surfaces of the sculptures. At times, the most graphic of images becomes almost hauntingly serene and delicate.  

Click through on the image for a link to Macdowell’s website.

Gonkar Gyatso’s work is often less confrontational that the above image. His 2007 Angel collage is amongst his most provocative, directly referencing the horrific images born from the torture of Abu Ghraib prisoners. His work often depicts gentle, still Buddha-figures which, upon closer inspection, turn out to be composed of tiny stickers showing familiar brand names.

While Gyatso’s Angel brings to mind the indelible image of the hooded victim, the backdrop he is laid against suggests a far more serene landscape, filled with the traditional imagery of Buddhism. Gyatso frequently uses the traditional skills he learned whilst studying in his native Tibet, bringing together techniques which reference the history of his homeland and the ever-present brands of the West.

While the image above is no doubt striking, some might even say beautiful, it strikes me as somewhat exploitative. The images of tortured prisoners in Guantanamo were some of the most shocking of the last decade, and sparked an outrage amongst the American people which continues today. Gyatso’s practise may primarily focus on the relationship between his home country and his adopted country, and on the migratory path that many follow, but does that excuse the re-packaging of one of recent American history’s lowest moments?

Click through on the image for a link to Gyatso’s website.

In 2008, Roger Hiorns did something peculiar. He took a fairly standard abandoned South London flat in Elephant and Castle, and he sealed it off, filled it with copper sulfate and left it alone. Three weeks later, Hiorns emptied the flat and let the soaked contents slowly dry off - and as they did, blue crystals began to grow across everything the copper sulfate had touched.

The effect was bizarre - both beautiful and devastating at the same time. The flat, possibly once a family home, had become some kind of reclaimed wilderness in which a strange kind of paradox existed - you were in perhaps one of the most mysteriously beautiful environments to be seen in modern art thus far, yet behind each glistening wall lay another abandoned ex-council flat in Elephant and Castle.The environment was both stunning and shocking at the same time - despite the geometric beauty of the crystals, there was something cold, desolate and dirty about the mess of copper sulfate on the floor and the feeling of a space forever spoiled.

One element of particular interest was not simply the installation itself, but the reaction of the audience to it. For possibly the first time in the history of Elephant and Castle, long queues formed outside the abandoned estates with visitors - many of whom hailed from the inner circles of art’s elite - clamouring to be given the requisite wellies and gloves. Interestingly, Hiorns’ choice of location opened the area up for later artistic expression which had never previously flourished in the estates. How much of the mounting interest in artistic development of the area actually feeds back into the local community has yet to be seen.

Click through on the image for a link to the Artangel page on Seizure.

Mikko Kuorinki’s “Wall Piece with 200 Letters” is probably his best recognised piece of work, in which the artist placed a different quote onto the wall of a gallery every week for 11 months. This quote in particular was taken from the Ingmar Bergman film, The Magician. Kuorinki’s work uses language to explore the relationships between the individual and the surrounding world, and re-appropriates the context of the original quote to give it a new meaning.

Kuorinki, interestingly, has deliberately chosen for these pieces to be displayed in the gallery context, as opposed to public spaces. He feels public spaces are already saturated with imagery, words, street art - all competing for attention. By presenting these quotes in a gallery or museum, he offers what he calls a “concentrated encounter.”

Click through on the image for a link to Kuorinki’s website.

In 2007, Urs Fischer took a jackhammer to the floor of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise gallery. In the process, pipes were removed, concrete flooring pulled up. Once he’d finished the hole, white walls were placed around it to enshrine it in the white cube gallery paradigm. Visitors, warned of the potential dangers, were allowed to climb into the hole and experience the space which didn’t exist before, which Fischer brought into being with a seemingly violent act.

The piece was named You, and referenced the work of others who have dramatically altered the traditional gallery space in some way - Gordon Matta Clark, Walter de Maria, Robert Smithson. Fischer’s hole is not just the destruction of the gallery space, but the fetishising of it, manifested in the form of the audience climbing deep into the very foundations of the space.

Click through on the image for a link to Fischer’s website.

Nike Savvas’ large scale installation Atomic: Full of Love, Full of Wonder is a breath-taking display of 70,000 colourful bouncy balls, suspended on fine wire. A fan gently propels them, creating a wave-like motion throughout the room. Savvas’ love of repetition comes into play here, as the similarly sized forms dominate the space. Colour plays a vital role in the creation of Savvas’ work, and she considers it a key feature in her work, where she uses it to create a primal, instinctual reaction from the audience. The colour scheme for Atomic was based on the Australian desert, a reference to Savvas’ home country.

Click through on the image for a link to Savvas’ page on the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery website.

Scattered Crowd is the brainchild of German artist, dancer and choreographer, William Forsythe. Each site-specific installation sees Forsythe installing hundreds of inflated balloons, suspended throughout a space. The audience is welcome to interact freely with the piece, allowing them to wander through a wonderland-esque environment. The balloons float and ripple, their movement caused by the interaction of the audience.

Scattered Crowd takes the normal, stuffy, grown up atmosphere of a gallery, and turns it into a play room - a place for the magical to manifest and for reality to be suspended for a few seconds. There is a breath-taking volume to the piece, which exists in such a huge fashion but really, is composed of very little.

Click through on the image for a link to the Scattered Crowds page on Forsythe’s website.

James Nizam’s photographs challenge the traditional dynamic between sculpture and photography and the difference between portraying space and experiencing space. Interestingly, Nizam’s sculptures are only complete when displayed in context in the space in which they were conceived, at which point they are photographed, and those photographs displayed in lieu of the sculptures.

For this series, Nizam worked with abandoned homes to create surreal constructions with banal objects such as drawers, shelves and chairs. His sculptures retrace the histories of these spaces, like temporary memorials to the homes which are soon to be destroyed. The sculptures are at once impromptu yet also carefully constructed, lovingly built to exact specifications.

Click through on the image for a link to Nizam’s website.

Ken Unsworth came to prominence as a sculptor in the 1970s and was noted for his use of transient media such as performance art. Much of his work survives only through documentation, leaving room for his work to grow in the memories and rumours of those who witnessed it. While the above image may initially seem soothing and almost whimsical in its design, the form itself is almost claustrophobic and tightly wound. Much of Unworth’s work is about these formal, almost impossibly controlled instances which are held firmly in place. The wires which hold the stones, arranged as three cones, suggest a forcefield which grasps them and refuses to allow any deviation from form.

Click through on the image for a link to Ken Unsworth’s page on the Boutwell Draper Gallery

Unsurprisingly, Darren Almond is obsessed with time and its passage. His work questions the effect it has upon an individual and the elastic of our memories. Almond’s obsession with machinery and its integration into daily life plays perfectly into his love of time, and as a result, the clock is a potent symbol for Almond not just of the actual passing of time, but of time’s ability to gain form, to become spatial.

His work often delves into his personal memories or the memories of family members, but Almond is also interested in the collective memories of Western history. His 1999 installation, “Terminus”, saw him install a pair of borrowed bus stops from outside of Auschwitz into the gallery space - an exercise in the indexical traces left behind after one of humanity’s cruelest moments and a poignant testimony to the suffering of millions.

Click through on the image for a link to Darren Almond’s page on the White Cube Gallery website.

Zsuzsanna Ujj’s work is radical on several levels. She has been practising in Hungary since the early 1980s, at a time when most art institutions were closely controlled by the government. Ujj is a self taught artist, and her use of her body as a primary medium is almost in itself an act of political subversion, mediating on a woman’s place in a Communist society.

Ujj’s self portrait, “With a Throne” is a bastardised version of the female nude. The artist appears as a stark contrast to the pious, submissive nude we expect to see. Her body language is defensive, ready to strike. Her genitals are crudely marked with a dark smudge of paint. Her surroundings are anonymous, completely unremarkable. Her eyes stare out from heavy lids in a defiant, brutal fashion as if to implicate the viewer in this scene which oscillates between fierce and vulnerable.

Ujj has taken the traditional, Renaissance image of an alluring woman, and turned it on its head. 

Click through on the image for a link to a recap of reviews of Ujj’s recent exhibitions in London on the Mission Art Gallery website (website in Hungarian).

Daniele Papuli creates painstakingly intricate floor-based installations entirely from strips of paper and Papuli works to create large scale installations using these thin, fragile modules. While the overall form of the installation is smooth and almost liquid, once the viewer steps closer to inspect, it becomes apparent that it is made from a far more solid material. With this particular installation, the work was accompanied by a dance performance, giving a contrast between the lines and shapes of the bodies of the dancers and the flowing floor piece. His work has a strange alluring sensuality in its form, as well as the slightly sinister suggestion of chopping, whirling waves.

Click through on the image for a link to Papuli’s website (Italian).

Moss Roomis, in many ways, actually a fairly atypical piece of Thomas Beale’s work. While he often uses organic materials, such as wood or shells, the use of moss is unusual while the application - a sculpted carpet - seems inconsistent with his tendency to build huge, immaculate organic shapes.Moss Roomseems less controlled and constrained, as if Beale has taken a step back and allowed himself only to make minimal interventions.

Indeed, the very idea of the room screams of uncontrolled nature and the raw power of the earth. While Beale has obviously crafted the moss, the “hand of the artist” is far less visible here, instead allowing the work to exist as is. It gives the impression less of the artist painfully sculpting away, but more of the tides of nature reclaiming its space.

Click through on the image for a link to Beale’s website.

Jane Castillo’s work is a wonderful celebration of non-traditional artistic material, with the artist choosing her materials based on their relevance to the site and to the work. The above piece of work is an interesting example - hair is a deeply charged element that touches on questions of race, culture, identity, value and sacredness. Castillo reflects on the idea that, while hair is something we feel we control, that control is a simple illusion betrayed by our genetics and frequency of blow drying. In this work, the hair becomes both fascinating and repulsive, a quality it often does not possess. The mass of wild, uncontrollable hair becomes a symbol for the lack of control we truly possess.

Click through on the image for a link to Castillo’s website.

Christopher Whiteburch’s stunning installationPurgesaw the artist utilise an abandoned suburban home, a typical emblem of the American ideal. In an age of recession, the burst bubble of the real estate market, and the age of home ownership increasing steeply, it is an appropriate metaphor for the current global economic climate and the rising discontentment of the American people. Whiteburch’s vomiting house was created in collaboration with art collectiveInk Tank, who explored not just the current state of the economy but they also meditated on the supposed end of the world at the end of the Mayan calendar.

Whiteburch’s violent and alarming installation comes with a kind of tragedy, of a family home now so dilapidated and decayed that it rejects its own condemned status. There is a powerfully human feeling about the converted house and its despair and it is a beautiful example of the (at times) fine line between architecture and art.

Click through on the image for a link to Whiteburch’s website.

Anders Krisar’s work is often described as dark, morbid or grotesque, although his work lacks the subtlety that those things usually require. His work focuses on the body, and the relationship between the self and the outside world. Arms and legs with deliberate blemishes, torsos re-woven until they resemble a parody of a human, stomachs showing deep gouges as a mark of some kind of unknown physicality. His sculptures scream human fragility, and of the relationships we foster which often take a dark turn.

While Krisar’s work is, without a doubt, extremely visually engaging, there is an in-your-face quality about it designed to make you feel uncomfortable. There is no hiding in his work, only rawness and, at times, a somewhat predictable shock factor element. Krisar frequently references his own life in a strikingly honest way - the above sculpture, Medicine Mom, is composed of the medications his mother takes on a daily basis. Perhaps it is the knowledge that we are looking deep into his own life which makes for such uncomfortable viewing.

Click through on the image for a link to Krisar’s website.

Adel Abdessemed is known for his troubling, controversial images, which range from giant skeletons to figures of Jesus made of barbed wire, to the above depiction of Kim Phuc, the nine year old Vietnamese girl who became the iconic image of Vietnamese war.

Abdessemed is an interesting example of an artist from an colonised country. It has been noted before the tendency for these artists to grow up and practise in their native countries, before finalising their education in the coloniser country - in Abdessemed’s case, having been born in Algeria, he finished his artistic education in France. He now uses his work as a medium to explore questions of the globalised world and what that means to modern artists.

Abdessemed views the history of the West with an outsider’s perspective - allowing him to use many of the most brutal images in his work without moral quandries. While he may reference the work of European masters (see Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece if you’d like some more insight into the wire Christ sculptures), he feels distanced and removed from their history, their colonialism, their righteous invasion into other countries.

“I don’t have this debt because I am not a European, I am a Mediterranean,” he says. “I am aware of history, but I don’t feel any responsibility or debt to it.”

Click through on the image for a link to Abdessemed’s page on the David Zwirner Gallery website.

Matt Johnson’s work is often more humourous than the above example, although I feel there’s a special kind of resonance found in the bronze Buddha, his chest blasted through and his features sliding in a less-than-Zen fashion. Johnson’s work is generally made of mundane, everyday materials - tarps, piles of compacted dust, ice cubes - so the use of bronze is an interesting step out of the ordinary.

His practise echoes the practise of many other young sculptors in that it marks a turn away from the room-sized installation and a return to the love-affair with object. His work often involves the re-creation of an object as a parody of itself, such as Bread Face, and references a fundamental, child-like form of expression

Click through on the image for a link to Johnson’s page on the Alison Jacques Gallery website.

Liza Lou is best known for her work with beads - a medium which requires long, labour-intensive periods to craft with. Her work is meticulous and exact, with no room for error. While her work is initially visually stunning and almost bijou, the artist explores inherently political themes through her exhausting process. One of her most famous pieces,Kitchen, involved covering every single inch of a domestic kitchen in beads and is a testimony to the uncelebrated and endless work of women. Ironically, despite the fame the work brought Lou, she paid a high price for it: after five years of construction, Lou was diagnosed with acute tendinitus.

Lou frequently explores spaces of confinement and oppression, most recently being inspired by her home, South Africa. The above piece was made with beads crafted by Zulu bead workers in the townships of KwaZulu Natal, and while it seems sturdy and solid, it offers neither security nor protection.

Click through on the image for a link to Lou’s website.