Monday, 26 August 2013

Utopia at The Whitechapel Gallery

Last Thursday evening I visited the Whitechapel Gallery to see their Spirit of Utopia exhibition. I had meaning to visit for sometime, but decided to wait for a Thursday late night opening (I always find it's more exciting visiting museums and galleries in the night). Further to this I was lucky enough to get get hold of Margaret Atwood's new book 'Maddadam' a whole two weeks earlier than it's release date. I couldn't believe my eyes when Henry pointed at the luminous pink and white hard back through a shop window. Bit naughty of the bookshop to have put it out so early, but I am pleased that they did! I devoured the pages in a few days and now my head is once again swimming with all sorts pf possibilities. Margaret Atwood is definitely a bit of a clairvoyant... cleverly picking up on trends, and, with a bit of story telling, manages to play the trends way out into the future to see where we most likely to end up. She's a genius and I am ever grateful to my mother for introducing me to the first book of the trilogy, Oryx and Crake, a few months ago.

So, with my mind having been exploded by life's possibilities and my heart still ticking over the time drought that I first clocked in June whilst looking at success and failure crux, I hopped off to the Whitechapel to see the Spirit of Utopia...

This rather apt show is a brave move for the Whitechapel. It's very different in it's curation and rather tantalising in it's inclusive approach. It reminds me of the types of exhibition you are more likely to get at the Wellcome and it is the sort of show I wish I'd see more of at Kew or at the Eden Project. This exhibition clearly demonstrates the need for art in the 21st century - how important it is to have artists here questioning things and putting other ideas forward and then trickling them down through the community. Collectively they have such an important voice and need to be watched and listened to. If we loose the artists, we loose half of the circle, leaving us with an empty bowl, a broken loop.  

In this show there are several artists who have all been brought together to suggest novel alternatives to our reality. They look at our ecology, the environment, the economy and our psychology. It's got that feeling of a group show, so many different thoughts, ideas and media. It must have been a nightmare to curate - so many different components... tricky to join all the ideas up, but they manage it with a common sense of humour. It's definitely an odd exhibition and my only wish is that there was more beauty in it. I personally believe that beauty is an important element in anyone's work, especially when they are trying to sell a product. This stands for ideas too. Knowledge is a commodity, as are ideas, and most people have a habit of only opening themselves up to beautiful things. A spoon full of sugar really does help the medicine go down. Only a handful of individuals like to be confronted with scary things and even fewer the ugly or grotesquely mechanical. 

However, despite the lack of beauty I was still very moved. I am not sure if it was because I was half way through Maddadam or if it was just the show on its own. One thing is for sure though - Atwood would have loved this show!

Spirit of Utopia Exhibition

Three parts of the exhibition stood out to me: 

Sitting in third place is Claire Pentecost's soil apothecary - a fascinating idea looking into the link between the health of the soil and the health of our bodies. In second place goes to a projected picture of our lovely little planet earth, which had been horrendously warped using a contorted projection screen. It's terrifying and made me feel a little sick - highly effective. First place goes to Time/Bank by Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle who made an extraordinary film about the constriction of time.

Installation by Wayward Plants
At the start of the show is a rather interesting take on Improbable Botany by Wayward Plants. Wayward  fuse new possibilities in food production with scientific narratives, from futuristic seed gardens to sending plants to space.  As visitors enter the gallery they are confronted with lots of hydroponic sets complete with live plants and synthetic lighting. Not what one expects in an art gallery!

Tomorrow I will be going back to participate in Pedro Reyes' part of the show called 'Sanatorium'.  His installation, ranging across five “treatment rooms”, functions as a clinic offering a series of self-discovery sessions. Visitors temporarily become patients when they sign up for an activity. I personally feel that this is such a fabulous idea - the interactive drips with positivity - it nourishes the community, enriches the experience and finds a new way of using museum spaces. Exploring the combination of science and art as a way of healing society from the negative effects of urban living. 


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