“….Karen David has form in such tropes, boosted by a trip to Santa Fe: here she set up tie-dyes, crystals and cacti in a mock home environment in the windowscape which puts the vitrine in Vitrine. If she gently mocks an aesthetic which pretends to picture the spiritual, she does so in a way which simultaneously allows us its guilty pleasures.”
Susie Pentelow interviews Karen David on the occasion of her solo exhibition ‘Pure Reason Tint of Violet’ at VITRINE Bermondsey Square, London
An Eye of Providence welcomes the viewer to Karen David’s solo exhibition at VITRINE Bermondsey Square. Gazing sightlessly from behind the glass of the gallery, the unanimous symbol of mysticism is rendered in bright pink neon and hangs against a black background. The triangle of ‘Illuminatus’ is reflected liberally elsewhere in the show, most notably in the centre of the space, where three triangle-shaped canvases patterned with a black and white tie-dye print stretch from floor to ceiling.
Three is a mystical number in itself, not least because it is the lowest number to form a geometrical shape. Pythagoras called three the ‘perfect number’, equating it to the three-fold nature of man (body, soul and spirit) and Earth (land, water and air). The spiritual allure of the number speaks across centuries and territories in its significance for major belief systems both ancient and modern.
In an art context, we tend to approach a variety of objects as potentially mystical or spiritual, but in ‘Pure Reason Tint of Violet’ the artist is tapping into a very particular and recognisable language of mystical symbols - dream catchers and crystals; triangles; tie-dye; the all-seeing eye. I ask David to talk a little about the significance of this language.
“The New Age objects and imagery I use are recognisable in contemporary culture; think Superman’s ‘Fortress of Solitude’, The Dark Crystal, Miley Cyrus’ dreamcatcher tattoo, Illuminati symbol as i-Phone case. What once was meaningful is now generic. Imagery of crystals, tie-dye and triangles have grown to have an immediate understanding in today’s visual language. I use these objects as signifier or short-hand for a particular ideology belonging to 1970s New Age beliefs; after all, we all know what Patchouli smells like.”
Nowadays, this brand of spirituality has been heavily commercialized: towers of selenite are available in the interior design sections of department stores; music festivals are swamped with stalls selling expensive tie-dye garments expertly designed to look home-made; dream-catchers have become an almost meaningless bedroom adornment.
How do you feel, I ask David, about people’s tendency to invest financially and emotionally in a particular set of physical attributes or objects?
“I long for the sincerity of a time that I never experienced, while at the same time, I know I am more comfortable in cynical reasoning. This dual aspect/conflict is the thread that runs through my practice. Maybe because of this, I can understand how ‘spirituality’ today is broadly defined; one will navigate towards what one finds comforting, and that might mean buying an expensive crystal, a concert ticket or a trip around the world. When a coveted ideology is presented in an object, place or abstract idea, how can we resist, no matter what the cost? After that, it’s a simple exchange of values.”
Vitrine’s sixteen-meter window space in Bermondsey Square is unique in its public positioning. Work is simultaneously more accessible and more detached from the viewer than in an average viewing space - the exhibition is visually available twenty-four hours a day, yet resting entirely behind a pane of glass. David has painted the walls of the space a gentle dusky pink and laid a pale carpet on the floor, which has been sprayed with ‘Blue Seduction’, Antonio Banderas’ signature fragrance.
Several potted cacti are positioned on the carpet, whilst in the centre of the space sits a pastel pink occasional table on which a purple amethyst crystal lies partly submerged in glass tank of water.
David’s work, in its references to the interior, makes an interesting match for Vitrine’s closed window space. Did it feel strange, I asked, to be installing a carpet and houseplants into such a public area?
“The stylised domestic setting I have installed is a fictional one; the idea was to arrange elements of a hippy den in the neat aesthetic of a minimalist’s living room; say, Grateful Dead meets Donald Judd”, David explains. “I treated the space as if one might find it in a copy of World of Interiors which exposes ‘private’ interiors into a public sphere (magazine). I wanted the feeling of a shop window where something was being sold, but we aren’t sure what. The Vitrine space worked perfectly for this.”
Punctuating the walls of the space at intervals are paintings hung at eye level. David’s canvases are marbled and mottled, some in bright, psychedelic colour schemes, others in much more muted shades reminiscent of the crystals also on display. What is the process behind these pieces, I ask?
“The paintings are made using traditional tie dye methods - twisting, knotting, tying and dipping - consulting YouTube’s plethora of hobbist tie-dye tutorials. There are some amazing techniques online. Although contrary to the low-fi materials used for T-Shirts, I use materials familiar to the language of Painting: specifically diluted acrylic Golden Colours paint on a light (7-9oz) unprimed cotton duck from Russell & Chapple.”
Having visited their homes and studios in the summer of 2014, David cites the fusion of studio and home environments for the artists Donald Judd and Georgia O’Keeffe as a starting point for this show: Judd having a bed in his studio and O’Keeffe keeping a collection of sun-bleached skulls in her lounge. I am curious about her own work/live set-up. Do the environments overlap for her?
“When my studio was jam-packed with storage, I made an entire solo show from my bathroom. Now I have a larger studio 10 minutes’ walk from the flat and you can usually spot me lugging stuff back and forth to work on at home or to take to the studio. Right now there are tools and materials in both places. There are bits of canvas in my purse and a TV and fridge in the studio. I need to be able to work from both locations. Ideally, I’d love a massive loft space (think Ethan Hawke’s loft in Great Expectations) with a cinema-sized screen and sound system, and with one door leading out to Seven Dials in Covent Garden while the other door leads out to a warm quiet beach in Spain.”
David has a busy year ahead. Alongside ‘Pure Reason Tint of Violet’, which is on display until 18 January, her work can be seen in several shows around London in the coming months, and will be taking her North, to Manchester, for a residency.
“I’ve just finished an edition for VITRINE which is 50 tins of custom made wall paint in ‘Love for Humanity’ shade (containing carborundum, fine steel and rose quartz).
“I have a book work in A Union of Voices at Horatio Jr. (Dec 12) based on a fictional character J. Harker; a painting for the C&C Gallery auction (Dec 20), alongside Rose Wiley, Harland Miller, Damien Hirst, Gavin Turk and Chantal Joffe; and early next year I am exhibiting in Doppelganger at no format Gallery; The Gaia Effect by Sarah Belden; in a group show at ASC Gallery; and I have a residency at Islington Mill in Manchester.”
'Pure Reason Tint of Violet’ opened on November 25 and will be available to view twenty-four hours a day until 18 January 2015 at VITRINE Bermondsey Square, Bermondsey Square, London SE1 3UN. For more information, visit http://www.vitrinegallery.co.uk.
TOMB, SHRINE, SURVEY-MARKER, SPARE PART
27 September – 26 October 2014
Review by Will Gresson for thisistomorrow
’Tomb, Shrine, Survey-Marker, Spare Part’ is an energetic and multi-dimensional exercise in considering the mythology of artists and communication. Building on last year’s ‘The Starseed Transmission’, this exhibition is the second part of the series ‘Sci-Fi Paganism,’ curated by Lucy A. Sames, and features works by Sam Austen, Ben Cove, Karen David, Cathy Haynes, Lawrence Lek and Superlative TV.
Combining references to Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, John McCracken’s minimalist sculptures and also Timothy Leary’s work during the 1960s and 70s, the works respond to the notion of artists communicating with extraterrestrial life forms (either real or imagined), using the form of the standing stone and Monolith as a jumping off point. While these orientation points are clearly visible throughout the works, the artists have taken these ideas and forms into an engaging series of explorations that are concerned with both the themes of the exhibition as well as the specifics of their different mediums.
Sam Austen’s work, ‘The I Get An Image,’ is a 16mm film transferred to Blu-ray DVD. This silent moving image projection is a good example of how the works in this exhibition address the cross section of eras, using old and new film technology to create a work which is contemporary, yet also visually reminiscent of a sort of retro-futuristic speculation, referencing the hallucinogenic imagery of Leary’s LSD experiments in the 1960s and the final scene of Kubrick’s masterpiece with astronaut David Bowman’s psychedelic journey “beyond the infinite”.
Karen David’s three works similarly conjure up the spiritualist, countercultural notions of the period, with her tie-dye referencing acrylic canvases fashioned into triangles and featuring pyrite and Perspex, framed to suggest glistening crystals. These works help ground the exhibition in the mid-20th Century’s preoccupation with the occult, science fiction and new age spiritualism.
‘Spectropia (Cat’s Eye),’ by Cathy Haynes is a new work which touches on the original back story of the monolith in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Whereas in the film the monolith is a symbol for the future, providing early man with an impetus to develop technology and explore space, here Haynes twists this to transform the object into a fossil, containing information from the past for those who find it in the future.
The multi-screen video work ‘ETx2014’ by Superlative TV is another timely highlight within the show. Installed as three televisions atop one another in a nod to the Monolith form, the images form a transmission of sorts, to be projected into space for potential future discovery by alien life forms. The work is comprised of public submissions, as well materials sourced through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk), and is due to be broadcast as an audio collage via Resonance FM as well as via a deep space telescope in late October this year.
’Tomb, Shrine,…’ is a show with a wide ranging set of influences, which the works themselves take and tease out further. What makes it most engaging, however, is how well it all works as a cohesive whole: the works compliment each other and remain true to the core themes and forms of the exhibition, but still maintain their own sense of individuality. The way the artists have responded to what could be seen as a comical or satirical curatorial brief, ultimately grounds the exhibition within an art historical conversation, while never becoming dry or slipping into self parody.
Published on 15 October 2014
Sept 2011: re-title.com Features:September 2011 - scroll down
I WANT TO BELIEVE
Millais Off-Site Projects, Southampton Solent University
25 March – 4 July
The title for this exhibition, borrowed from a canvas of the same name by artist Karen David (itself appropriated from a poster seen adorning Agent Mulder’s office wall in The X-Files) suggests aspiration and optimism in light of entrenched beliefs. The title could also possibly be interpreted as embodying the ethos of the curators who, with the Millais Gallery transformed into “teaching facilities”, have become fleet-of-foot. It is encouraging that although their permanent space has vanished for now, their ambition has not, despite ‘I Want to Believe’ being installed in the busy entrance foyer, and in a street corner window of the Sir James Matthews building at Southampton Solent University. The stated premise of the exhibition is to explore science fiction in popular culture and how it pre-empts myriad possibilities for collective advancement and new technological discoveries. However, this is slightly too calculating, too detached. ‘I Want to Believe’, to my mind, explores the emotional impact of science fiction, with many works reminding me of my own childhood wonderment at aliens and technological possibility, inspired by Doctor Who and Star Trek.
Wonder and imagination permeates ‘I Want to Believe’, as does a healthy dose of fact versus fiction. Lee MacKinnon’s Unidentified (2001) appears to be sensational footage of a crash-landed UFO, crumpled and in flames. It is slightly disappointing to learn that the ‘UFO’ is based on an obscure particle – the oddly named Buckyball; but conversely it is this knowledge that adds a frisson of scientific recognition – of believability. Steve Pippin’s UFO, 1998 (2005) is a photoshopped image of a UFO he thought he saw in Berlin. Pippin’s photograph, and the A4 explanatory text that accompanies it, and MacKinnon’s film, both ambiguously convince, but it is the fascination we have for such images that is crucial here, and our willingness for these images to be authentic. Even Emma Tod’s quiet and mesmerising film Encounter (2010) is, in essence, imagination run riot. By training her camera on the night sky, and slowing down the footage, Tod discovered strange lights that she believes are messages from another world. With Tod’s film, like Pippin’s photograph, breathless possibility supersedes reality.
A counterpoint to this is Tom Smith’s The Imagination of Disaster (2010) – a film appropriated from Hollywood disaster movies such as Independence Day and Armageddon. Although the film initially appears a critique of Hollywood excess and the proliferation of lazy science that gives reason to blockbuster films, it is in fact a treatise on the trivialisation of the grand possibilities of science and science fiction. As Smith’s film unfolds we see a variety of experts (played by the likes of Dustin Hoffman) deliver claims of insurmountable odds against the human race; the repetitiveness of these claims conjures not suggestions of ‘what if?, but ‘so what?’. Luckily, thoughts of negativity are alleviated with Andrea Stokes’s very camp and very British, but Star Trek inspired, Net (Beam Me Up) (2010), made by pressing petroleum jelly through a net curtain template onto glass. Similarly very British is Roy Brown’s glorious Come, let us take to our chariots and return to the stars (9600 BC
a-n Magazine June 2010
Published 26 May 10