The Blazing World at Sotheby's S|2 Gallery
LONDON, 19 November 2019 – This December in London, Sotheby’s S|2 gallery presents The Blazing World; a diverse group exhibition of artworks which draw upon themes of science-fiction, utopia, ritual and the fragility of human hope and existence. The artists included in the show are: Stano Filko, Peter Hujar, Marguerite Humeau, Charlotte Johannesson, Clementine Keith-Roach, Arik Levy, Charlotte Prodger, Paul Thek, Tishan Hsu, Nanda Vigo, Anna Zemánková.
Following the success of previous S|2 shows (including Where Were You at Night and House of the Sleeping Beauties) in which a work of literature formed the conceptual framework for the exhibition, The Blazing World takes its title from a forward-thinking seventeenth century fictional text of the same name, written by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. A segment of the original text will be reprinted in S|2’s accompanying exhibition catalogue.
First published in 1666, Cavendish’s fantastical early prose is set in an imaginary utopian world, and can be considered a tantalising early work of science-fiction, in which technological advancements such as engine-powered boats, submarines and microscopes are merely inventions of the mind. In Tishan Hsu’s work, aspects of the body merge with the visual language of technology in almost retro-futuristic ways as shown in two pieces from 1987 titled Body Battery and Low Band Width – which form part of The Blazing World. Also included are two works by Italian female artist Nanda Vigo from her Chronotops series, in which concepts of time and space as sensory experiences are explored.
The Blazing World examines the death and decay of an old-world order, themes of which are elegantly woven into the practice of Paul Thek, and immortalised in the photographs of artist and Thek’s lover, Peter Hujar. From his celebrated ‘meat cable’ series, Thek’s Untitled work from 1969 points to the measuring of flesh as an abstracted form of the body, and is often associated with war and other acts of violence against the body.
Written with a female audience in mind, The Blazing World is the only example of utopian fiction composed by a female writer in the 17th century, and is thus considered to be a pioneering early work of feminism. The literary text explores themes of identity, platonic love, homosexuality, androgyny, polyamory and sexual discrimination, drawing parallels to the work of Charlotte Johannesson, and Turner-prize winner Charlotte Prodger. Johannesson’s ‘digital tapestries’ juxtapose the stereotypically feminine work of weaving with the supposed male rationale of computer science; while Prodger’s sculptural objects, Signal/Sun and Verkehrs/Melon, both from 2016, utilise the industrial material of powder-coated aluminium as vessels for wildflowers, insinuating a relationship between inorganic material and living matter.
Ideas surrounding the organic and utopia is futher investigated by Czech outsider artist Anna Zemánková, who took up her practice to cope with her depression following the untimely deaths of her husband and child. A selection of the artist’s large-scale floral and botanical fantasy drawings, created during the 1960s and 1970s, will be presented as part of The Blazing World.
Occupying the ground floor of Sotheby’s S|2 gallery in London, the exhibition will spotlight the work of eleven artists in total. Further highlights include the anthropomorphic urns of Clementine Keith-Roach, which conflate the contemporary body and the ancient earth, haunting black and white photographs by Hujar, and an ageless sphinx ‘death mask’ by Marguerite Humeau - the title of which refers to a futuristic, or perhaps a bygone, era: 35,000 A.C. (Sphinx Death Mask).
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