Tuesday, 12 January 2016

El Anatsui - Carriageworks

EL ANATSUI : FIVE DECADES CARRIAGEWORKS JANUARY 2016 This thrilling exhibition is the first time we have been privileged to have the chance see El Anatsui’s work in Australia. It is a huge exhibition that takes over Carriageworks politely yet persistently. El Anatsui is regarded as one of the most exciting contemporary visual artists of our time. Emerging from the vibrant post-independence art movements of 1960s and ’70s West Africa, he has gone on to receive widespread international acclaim for his sculptural experiments with media, form and tradition. Produced from recycled materials including aluminium printing plates, tin boxes , drink bottle caps and discarded aluminium printing plates , El Anatsui’s works are at once intricate and huge, humble and yet imposing , soft yet solid . Born in Ghana and based in Ghana and Nigeria, his formally complex assemblages explore the histories of colonial post-colonial Africa and issues of consumption, waste and the environment. The exhibition includes works from the 1970s to the present, including paintings, woodcarvings and ceramics as well as his hanging sculptures. One is enticed by the deceptive use of texture (shredded bottle tops and copper wire , for example ,that look soft) contrasted with dynamic use of colour. The wooden sculptures and ceramics examine ideas about an object’s purpose and function (their transformation, destruction and regeneration) in everyday life, and the role of language in deciphering visual symbols. Starting in the main foyer , there are five drawings and a small sculpture on a plinth. We are also greeted by “ Awakened “- a colourful ( mostly red and green ) what could be called a horse’s head ( ? ) on the wall , its ‘mane’ trickling onto the floor. We then move to admire the “Tiled Flower Garden “ ( made of aluminium bottle caps and copper wire ) which in this case has a hard grey mosaic like look in sections, contrasted with a flowing red and gold ‘garden’ and a ‘hard’ black rock or stone like centrepiece . On another wall there is the amazing multi-layered ‘Adinkra Sasa ‘ like many layers of coal yet it is simultaneously soft and rippling. As we move further into the exhibition we next observe some sensational sculptures that look like set designs.” The Womb of Time” is roughly round in shape (a heart ? a planet ?) but with fragile holes – a comment on our disintegrating environment? Then there is the haunting ‘ Waste Paper Bags’ – ash like , as if they are post nuclear holocaust perhaps , they are giant sculptures reusing aluminium printing plates , many of which are obituaries – a tribute to unknown lives. ‘”Opening Market “ – about the street vendors and markets of Nsukka is concerned with the basic activities of life .It features over 1, 700 items ( boxes and suitcases repainted) and is a protest against the influx of foreign products in Africa. There is also “ Blema “ , a large wall hanging , with almost Byzantine use of what seems like gold . ‘”Stressed World ‘’is like a map of the world with holes in it. Trains of Thought is a large sculpture on the floor, swirling and twisted with a crown like section at the end. ‘”Garden Wall”, a huge sprawling piece hanging on the wall yet finishing sprawling on the floor looks deceptively soft. Its geometric patterns and use of concentric circles contrast with soft open passages like nets. One thinks of Monet’s garden paintings . The final large back room , which has some carved sculptures on plinths , including the mysterious, haunting ‘Devotees ‘is dominated by “Drainpipe “ eleven huge slithering creeping oversized glittering gold fingers ( made of tin can lids and copper wire ) with an Ancient Egyptian feel. An exhibition that deserves repeated viewing . El Anatsui : Five Decades runs at Carriageworks 7 January – 6 March 2016

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