Qwaypurlake – at Hauser & Wirth
I only write reviews of exhibitions when I’m commissioned to do so, allowing my blogposts to share personal perspectives, leaving me free to meander. The work I’m doing with other organisations often affects the way I view artworks and yesterday was no exception. I now find myself reflecting on the works and the wonderful discussions between the curator, Simon Morrissey, and three of the artists – Ian McKeever, Marie Toseland, Daphne Wright – chaired by Sam Thorne, through a particular set of lenses.
Sharing – influenced by my own project Story of Objects
Transparency – by my work with the Paying Artists Campaign
Privilege – because of my interest in audiences and politics
I’ll begin with sharing and transparency, because one allows for the other. By far the most enjoyable part of the discussion was the openness of all the speakers. Simon told the story of how he came up with the idea for the show and the name ‘Qwaypurlake’, how the journey across landscape to get to Hauser & Wirth informed it, as well as his interest in science fiction. Read more detail in the Elephant blogpost. He described his process of selection, how the word Qwaypurlake feels to speak, how familiar yet strange it is. Try it, feel how your mouth moves, the way your lips purse at the start, draw back and expose your teeth, then ever-so-lightly touch the roof of your mouth with your tongue, ending with a clicking K.
Simon said he wanted visitors to feel at home at the gallery, in the show. To walk in and be drawn between familiar and unfamiliar. The exhibition didn’t contain figurative works, the absence of humans is a deliberate decision, the visitors are the human presence. There are switches of scale in the show and a very clear pathway of navigation. The works are often uncanny, unnerving, they defy explanation and refuse language, yet words are omnipresent at all times. Some refuse material categorisation too.
The artists were very generous with their words and what they said constantly referenced back to the curatorial process, the collaborative approach, the lack of hierarchy. I wrote some notes so I could harvest the key comments, below is a summary of some of them, as examples of the fascinating words that came from their mouths:
McKeever said he doesn’t usually do group shows, but was interested by the name and Simon’s approach. He had loved the book Solaris. At first he wasn’t sure about title, he thought it was ‘Quackatock’ in Greenland, which just made him think of ducks. When Simon shared his story of the evolution of his word Qwaypurlake he found the title liberating. He said “Painting is a felt experience”. Maybe it was the feeling of the word in his mouth that he experienced?
Marie Toseland certainly related to the feel of words in the mouth. She exhibited works made with her own wisdom teeth. She was interested in the act of them being sold, the intimacy of selling part of her body. She spoke of her mouth as a sculptural space, a place where language is modelled and moulded. She used the term ‘mouth terrorism’ and referred to the ‘sensuality of pronunciation’. (Nice reference to the title of the show).
While I was driving there I was listening to Radio4 in my car and a woman was teaching listeners to speak the word ‘lingerie’ properly, with a French accent – a strange coincidence?
While Marie presented her teeth on a little plinth on a bigger plinth, defining them as sculpture, Daphne said she was attracted to the idea of subversion of the plinth. To the death of the plinth. Upturning the plinth. The cast of the powerful stallion, prone on the ground, recently dead, legs wide open revealing a stitched-up chest, a flaccid penis, flayed skin drawn back and cut sharply above the front hooves. The tail splayed on the floor, almost like a liquid flowing away. Water in a lake, Qwaypurlake? Emasculated not memorialised. Cast in marble, it references the monumental – it is a rebellion of power of a horse on a plinth. Daphne spoke candidly about the problems she had with the issue of decay and bloating, how she temporarily had to become a vet. Whilst she shared her story, she would not reveal her secret process!
Daphne’s parting revelation was that she always talked at length to the owners of animals she has cast. On this occasion, the sculpture was shown in Ireland and the owner came to the gallery to see the horse and sat with it for an hour. Apparently he told someone “that’s me”. He is elderly and has cancer.
Sharing – sometimes it’s excruciating and wonderful at the same time. Daphne referred to this process as “emotional archaeology”.
McKeever has always loved language and literature, though his work is always non-narrative. He spoke about how he had lived in Dorset for 25yrs and what he loves about it is its time. Not space. Place-time. He said that being there feels displaced from digital and referred to the “land below, digital above” which is poetic and enchanting thinking.
Sharing and transparency – McKeever answered eloquently in response to a comment from the audience about elitism and how difficult art can be, that it shuts people out, that he can’t understand the meaning, McKeever replied “to engage people you have to be prepared to open up. Art doesn’t have meaning. It has a choice of multiplicities.”
Audiences must work for it, and that takes us to education and how people learn. And the fact that creative education is being stripped to the bone.
And that takes me to the issues of privilege.
There’s no denying that as one drives closer to Hauser and Wirth, you cannot ignore the wealth in the area. Look at the cars in the car park and you will see some pretty expensive vehicles, mixed in with very ordinary cars. Before you even go through the gate you know this is a very different thing to a city gallery. It’s about land ownership, art collecting, a day out for Londoners who love art and will travel to see it. But it’s not just Londoners, it’s attracting international audiences and many many local audiences. It is a brilliant thing for the arts in the South West and provides something unique to the regions cultural offer. Yes, it has all the trappings of privilege. There’s a gorgeous café that sadly only provides seating for about ten people and won’t serve you food unless you are seated. I found that rather odd, considering the distance everyone has to travel to get there, from anywhere, not to mention a loss of income and hosting a lot of hungry people.
It’s free to get in
It’s a great day out for families too – lots of space to run around in and great gardens
It shows fantastic art and offers informative events at a reasonable price.
It is a privilege to attend in terms of pleasure and anyone can do so.
The invigilators are helpful and friendly and well-briefed
Since leaving and getting home and thinking, issues around education and privilege have caught in my throat a little. The government has just scrapped maintenance grants for students. Private academies are springing up everywhere. Creative education is being dismissed. Maybe great art for everyone is further away than we would like, and I don’t mean in miles.
Yet the creative economy is booming. An article in the Guardian recently referred to how the UK might get left behind if this slash and burn approach continues.
We need to share more, make transparent our processes, help people understand and appreciate what the visual arts sector achieves. We need to encourage the privileged to support the incubation of artists, as well as buy work at the top end of the market. There is a huge space between those places in the terrain. Art is quirky, evocative, moving, challenging and amazing – the children there yesterday proved that.
I took a photo before being told that you can’t. I’m sorry, I really am. Last time I went to H&W it was ok to take photos. I tweeted – maybe that was not acceptable either? Are words in the ether less damaging than images? Or is the digital above the earth stealing from the ground below?
Daphne Wright, Stallion in foreground
Ian McKeever, Twelve Standing III, IX and V on wal
Heather & Ivan Morrison, various on floor