The first thing you notice when you walk into Whitechapel Gallery for its latest exhibition is the smell of leather and rope.
Leonor Antunes: the frisson of the togetherness exhibition opened on the October 3, and is the Portuguese artist’s first show in a UK gallery.
The exhibition room includes lots of metal, leather and rope materials, which create the hanging and floor-based sculptures aimed at transporting you back in time.
The Chief Curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Lydia Yee, who curated the exhibition said: “Leonor has been developing this commission these past years. She also has been very much interested in the history of Whitechapel gallery, both this place and its exhibition history.
“I think one of the first things you notice when you walk into the room is that there is quite a strong smell, almost as if you’ve walked into a stable. Leather and rope are two key things you notice when you open the doors.”
“I think this is in some way harking back to Whitechapel’s 19th century history.
“This street here was formally a Haymarket, so there would be horses outside when the gallery was open. It’s also an area where hemp rope was made stretched down on Cable Street, which is just a few blocks south of here.
“There was a lot of leather work in the neighborhood, so the kind of craft and artisanal bases of Leonor’s work is something she’s always been focused on and she’s always been interested in maintaining these kinds of traditions that have been disappearing.”
Antunes morphs straight lines and flat planes into new looping shapes, which she intends to represent the architectural and historical context in the commission.
From the display, you may easily understand where Antunes gets her inspiration. Weavings, geometric patterns, artisanal techniques and utilitarian designs are the key elements you can find in the exhibition.
The gallery floor is made of cork and linoleum, with a geometric pattern drawing by the British artist Mary Martin. Aside from those straight lines in the room, sculptures play the role of screens or dividers.
The use of the lights and materials make the whole show like a 3D experience, rather than just a simple 2D art piece.
The title “Leonor Antunes: the frisson of the togetherness” comes from British architect Alison Smithson’s description. The idea is about how young people bring together elements of style to define their identity and social allegiances.
“She’s always interested in the sort of informal architecture, not the kind of grand gesture,” Yee added.
The other very interesting point from Antunes’ works is that she often references overlooked figures from the history of architecture, design, art and in particular, women.
“Leonor also specifically was interested in the history of Whitechapel gallery, the role we played in British modernism, this discourse around British modernism, in particularly some of the figures who have been overlooked, some of the women who played a major role in their history are points of reference of Leonor,” Yee said.
According to the history of Modernism, female artists, designers and architects including Anni Albers, Ruth Asawa, Lina Bo Bardi, Eileen Gray and Greta Grossman are the main figures you can see in her works.
Leonor Antunes said in the press release: “I am interested in the dialogue that a specific craftsmanship establishes within a certain perspective of modernity — particularly how architects/designers engaged with the vernacular — revealing not a nostalgia for a world before modernism, but rather a legacy regarding a belief in the artwork as representing an ongoing engagement in a process.”
Antunes’ new commission has been informed by two sculptors Mary Martin and Lucia Nogueira. Although Martin comes from Britain, and Nogueira comes from Brazil, they both live in London.
Aside from their sculptural talent, Martin is also good at working on paper and weavings, while Nogueira makes jewelry. Nogueira uses everyday objects found in the street to incorporate in her artworks, which is very compatible with Antunes’ idea.
The Leonor Antunes: the frisson of the togetherness exhibition will be on until April 9 2018, Tuesday to Sunday, 11am-6pm.
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