Corten steel structure

Displaying Moving Image

Nancy Spero / Elizabeth Murray / Rachel Whiteread / Rebecca Allen / Charlotte Colbert


toute seule, a part two to the 2016 gallery exhibition This is Today, is a group show depicting artistic heroism transcending time. Capturing the last fifty years, from 1970s until 2010s, it is a nod towards solitude - graceful, thought-through, strategic and compassionate attitude of artists reflecting the time they were most active in. Despite the influence artists had on one another, and collective responses that were made to the surrounding world, this time we focus on the individuality of each selected artist and their corresponding decade that they represent.   


Self-expressionism has evolved over the past fifty years, with artists relying on the new mediums made available. The artist’s instinctive response to his or her surrounding, recreated through their work, has arguably been replaced by a thorough discourse of content and context at times overriding the physical representation of that which is being discussed. Despite of this development, now more so than ever, an acute competitive environment for creatives to be noticed, recognized and acknowledged by their immediate and aspired audiences, has allowed for the messages to be delivered in a more refined way – both (con)textually and physically. Works regarded at the forefront are punchier, deeper and intentional.


This observation can be applied to the 1970s, when global social and political instability was prevalent. Individualism was on the uprise in the West (coined by Tom Wolfe as the Third Great Awakening), led by the US with the demise of the financial system as they knew it, violence looming over the Middle East and an oil crises triggered recession, which affected most of the developed countries.


It is Nancy Spero in her activist spirit, that responds to this growing political and social disconnect of the 1970s: that which was experienced day-to-day, in certain parts of the world, by women mainly, and that which was being broadcasted, raised and discussed on a governmental level. Notable for her pioneering engagement with these issues, a different form of language was created whereby artworks began to raise awareness. A wider response mechanism started feeding onto the artistic expression with a ripple affect carrying outward both the message and consequent action amongst audiences who were intrigued enough to react on the interaction they had with the artwork.


1980s carried the notion of individualism further. With the demise of the USSR, a whole group of former satellite states have come to the forefront, each with their own internal tensions and instabilities but hopeful nonetheless. Continued violent unrest in the Middle East in the meantime, further perpetuated anxious attitudes amongst those self-expressing individuals who were losing hope with the existing governmental structures. The great technological advancements have started taking shape, with the launch of Internet and computer networks – a decentralised (governing) system started becoming a possibility and to some degree, a reality.


This hopeful attitude of the decade is captured in the brave playfulness of colours and shapes of canvas works by Elizabeth Murray. A disoriented universe within which a somewhat structured and contained snapshot of a scene is displayed, resembling order within a very disorderly world. And thus the liberal self-expressionism thrived over the 1990s – with cable TV, Internet and developing sub-cultures, the youth of the time was handed a control of their own future.


The protection of environment started being addressed by the international community with youth cultures embracing sustainable development. The dot-com bubble towards the end of the 1990s saw a leap into a system of opportunities for entrepreneurs wanting to foresee and predict trends on various marketplaces. It backfired early 2000s, but the intention remained and it was only a matter of time before the reinforcement of a strong start-up generation.


With a social obsession to develop and grow the individual-self, a certain void became apparent within the communal realms. In the meantime, cuts in social spending in the UK underpinned by a property crash at the beginning of the decade, saw the mood of the country dip. The nostalgia and that state of nothingness is captured by Rachel Whiteread’s sculptures. Without making a direct correlation between the political and economic welfare of the UK at the time when her most prominent works were produced, the portrayed message might be portrayed as nodding towards the change in a space one can refer to as ‘home’.


The 9/11 attacks at the beginning of 2000s, created an apparent division of ‘us’ and ‘them’, which perpetuated further the distrust in the governments’ rhetoric and actions to protect each nation state. A sense of social responsibility, however, started growing with the international fight against terrorism. Meanwhile, continuing rapid developments in technology paved way to reinforced global communications network.


And this is where Rebecca Allen’s pioneering creative input in media art and design is introduced to the exhibition. Representing the new millennium, Allen’s selected work is symbolic of the development in new medium spanning across three decades, which steadily influenced the way artists created work, responded and interacted with the audience and vice-versa. Making a reference to the varying interactive, performance based bodies of work in both the digital and the physical realm opens the dialogue for the future of this medium and its widespread embrace. 


Parallel to the creative reflection of the technological advancements, the social impact of hacking in the 2010s, has once again dipped the engaged international community into a state of uncertainty and anxiety. With Edward Snowden, Wikileaks and other incidents of hacked accounts, the concept of privacy, mass surveillance and reliance on modern methods of communication has evolved into a major public concern amongst other existing economic, political and environmental issues.


With her new body of work Screen Portraits, Charlotte Colbert creates sculptures made of screens and moving images depicting close ups of her subjects – those that have a personal story to share, or a social or political comment to make. Treading on the fine line between language being used as a source of communication bringing communities together on the one hand, and alienating them from each on the other, Colbert’s representation of the 2010s brings the duality of our current time to the forefront.


Through the eyes of these five artists we plunge into the world of political and social change over the past five decades. Looking back, we are hopeful that mistakes will be learned and that a brighter and better future waits for all of us ahead.

-  Mila Askarova