15 February 2017

Candida Powell-Williams: The Vernacular History of the Golden Rhubarb review by Betsy Porritt

Candida Powell-Williams: The Vernacular History of the Golden Rhubarb

Bosse & Baum

28 January – 18 March 2017

Review by Betsy Porritt

Entering Candida Powell-Williams’ new show at Bosse & Baum is like stepping into the 1945 painting by Yves Tanguy ‘There, Motion Has Not Yet Ceased’. The grey indistinct landscape hosts shapes and colours that resemble familiar objects that are also explicitly ‘other’. The familiarity of the shapes that have been taken out of context, in both the painting and this current exhibition, destabilises the time-frame of both. Are we looking at a dehumanised reflection of the present day or a reanimated version of history?The gallery is grey with bright pops of colour; the shapes that fill it vary in size from towering sculptures to smaller abstract objects. The anachronistic classical references of symbols and architectural details from Ancient Roman and Greek history, a working fountain, columns and doorways, interact with technologies such as the QR codes that animate the exhibition as you use your phone. Powell-Williams has created a micro world where culture is layered on culture, or rather, as the accompanying text suggests, culture is scraped away. The materials that make up the objects such as the ‘doorway outlines’ or the ‘doorway slabs’ mimic concrete and stone. The colourful spray paint has dissolved the edges of the works, giving an impression of age. It is not time and the elements that have worn down these objects, however, but process and material.

The decontextualised symbols signify things bearing meaning now lost. They speak of a specific moment in the creation of a symbol trying to fit order into or on to the world, like the planning of Nazi architects who imagined the future ruins of the Reich or the virtual reality tours of Palmyra that capture the ruins before they were ruined. In truth, Powell-Williams is saying, there is no march of progress, only all things existing as they are.

The sense of condensing history into a singular moment or object is beautifully explored by the artist in a work that stands at the opposite side of the room to the fountain. A series of shapes made from plaster or papier-mâché, which call to mind a flock of wheeling doves, are embedded in a wire mesh square that is suspended from the ceiling. One side of the shapes is roughly painted the same uniform grey as the surrounding gallery walls; the other sides are coated in a thick pink paint streaked through with white giving an effect like raspberry ripple. The power of the work lies in the way the gallery lights affect your eyes. Moving around the sculpture the colour and form of the bird shapes changes as if you were looking at them against the sun. The effect forces the viewer to engage directly with the space, to physically feel oneself as looking at, walking through or stepping on the different works. As your eyes adjust to the light and the sound of the fountain filters through, it is as though you are standing in a quiet Roman square, located out of any specific time.

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