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KUBE (formerly the Study Gallery of Modern Art), Poole, Dorset
Bodyscapes at KUBE brings together four artists whose work addresses the issues of the use of the body in art. The show will transfer to Weymouth in September and is obviously topical given the prominence currently given to the Cultural Olympiad, and the use of Portland as an Olympic Venue in 2012.
Wendy Elia makes large beautifully painted images of naked and half-naked life models and pre-operation transexual men. These androgynous individuals exude a palpable sense of ‘tristesse’. They are accompanied by iconographical objects, which hint at individual attributes and narratives. They are confrontational, in the tradition of Manet’s Olympia, which itself referenced Titian’s Venus of Urbino. Using the tradition of painting as a base from which to explore the notion of The Female Gaze sets them firmly in a historical context and consequently makes the images more voyeuristic and powerful.
Francesca Steele uses her own body as medium in Posing Diary, a work in progress documenting in video her process of becoming a body builder. Through this process she hopes explore perceptions of masculine/feminine stereotypes, and examine the relationship between symmetry and beauty.
The other work exhibited here, The Interstice Series arose from a Residency at Groundwork South-West based in Royal William Yard Plymouth, where she worked with clients with mental health issues and acquired brain injury on a Horticultural Healing Project. She collaborated with a body builder, a photographer and a magician to create a series of powerful photographic images that explore vulnerability, sexual power and notions of beauty and fitness.
Jordan McKenzie makes work that is performative, using the body as a mark-making tool. Drawing Breath, a video piece, is a pun. Filling charcoal-covered paper bags with his own breath he bursts them on a board leaving an imprint. This is repeated until the board is full of charcoal residue and ground in front of it an arrangement of carefully placed screwed up brown paper bags. The slowness of the video with the artist standing to attention beside the drawing after each ‘explosion’ slows the pace of the video, interrupting the rhythm of the ‘breathing’, and contributing a dance-like quality in keeping with the element of performance. McKenzie’s second video piece, At Arms Length makes connections with the voyeurism of Elia’s work although an entirely different kind of observation. The artist, dressed in white, is enclosed in a roofless white cube; the limits of his body’s reach determining the dimensions of the space. He makes marks in charcoal at the limits of his arms reach; gradually the walls of the cube become covered in sweeping semi-circular charcoal. As the density of the charcoal areas darken, the physicality of the process becomes part of the equation as the artist painfully pushes his arms to the limit of their endurance becoming more and more exhausted with the physical effort.
Juliana Cerqueira Leite makes photos, drawings and sculpture which use her own body as a template (eg sculpture left, C-print above). The sense of absence in her small C prints Chair 1, 3, 4, (No Chair), is palpable. The ghostly movement created by multiple exposures has a delicacy, which is precisely successful because it fails to capture the figure instead merely hinting at the lie of movement. The genesis of Up Down entailed the artist using her body to burrow into a piece of clay so that the space inside became a cast of the absence of her body once she had burrowed her way out. The images of the process, not shown here, poignantly reveal the ephemeral nature of the experience, a sense which is more elusive in the final piece possibly because of the sense of permanence endowed by her choice of material.
On the second floor of Kube accompanying the video installation are McKenzie’s two Cube pieces, Cubed Body: Torso and Cubed Body: Head. Separated by the expanse of the gallery with the plinth supporting the laptop for the video blocking a clear view between the two, they fail to connect. Cubed Body: Torso has a physicality, a presence, that resonates with Leite’s All Around Me a smaller form than Up Down which is again a cast of her body but rather than burrowing into the clay she surrounded her body with it and then escaped. This more vessel-like form is somehow finer-boned and suggests a vulnerability which is in tune with Elia’s paintings of Maxime.
This is a fascinating, challenging show, a successful collaboration between Sherborne House Arts and Kube, two of Dorset’s premier arts organisations and real achievement for the lead curator, artist member of Sherborne House Arts Team, Deanne Tremlett.
Kube is itself a demanding space particularly when showing work on screen. The ground floor allows the screens can be set sufficiently far back from the light flooding in through the huge banks of windows to minimise reflection. However on the second floor the strong light made it difficult to view Jordan McKenzie’s video. One consideration for the Weymouth show might be to find a darkened, possibly curtained off area in which to show this piece. Of the four artists’ work the most immediately accessible are the figurative works of Elia and Steele. It will be interesting to see how Steels’ slow progress towards bodybuilding and her response to the process has developed by the time the show moves to Weymouth in October.
© Fiona Robinson