Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Atmospheric touches were given in flax

A Dreamy summertime visit to see Lewis Brander's haptic skyscape paintings

Tell me about the Athenian sky


It is pure and wide. So blue it almost scares me.




With clouds placed to laugh at us. They make us believe we are not alone.




My own memories of Greece (Athens and Majorca) are foggy. Years have passed since fun work and post-teen trips, so I cast an eye to my Insta archive hoping to conjure some hazy rememberings. Some abstract form found in the recesses of my recollection. But nothing much appears. 


Estelle, my Athenian runaway, tell me about the Athenian sky [please]. 


As wafts of dust drift on the wind, big city meets sky and makes it it's own. 

It's puzzling how this big city is made by yet holds the sky. 


There is grace in this touch:

 Matter caressing/caressed by sky, 

by blue, recollections taking form in oily washes. 

No slick sheen. 

It's hazy, it's haptic.


The Athenian sky, framed by olive branches and TV antenna, by the walls of an ancient theatre and by clothes drying in the open.


Framed, not fixed, not captured.


Evacuated, transparent, invisible. So whole.

Lewis Brander, Vardaxoglou Gallery, installation view.

Lewis Brander at Vardaxoglou Gallery, brings together a range of humble skyscapes - some of which gesture to some earthly place beneath - completed by the artist over the last two to three years. Bare of any frivolous neo- or classical referents, Brander’s skies arrive, in their close box frames, as gestural washes of pigment, as memory traces caressed into visible recollection by board, linen, flax. The earthly tone used in each scape do not describe nor define a place as such. Rather, these subtle swells of oil paint convey the artist's own recollection of times spent beneath and in awe of the blue through pink skies of Greece and London. Echoing the olive branches and TV antenna which frame that 'pure and wide [...] excavated, transparent, invisible' expanse, 'so blue' it evokes some sense of fearful sublimity, these two geographic masses provide the earthly hands that hold Brander’s memories, supporting their painterly life. 


As a lover of the haptic - of the affective touch and hold allowed for in the most capacious of artworks - I am drawn to the paintings included in this exhibition where some illusionary opacity collapses. That is, where the division between sky and city (or) landscape dissolves; where the horizons of medium and support, as well as body and space, blur through improvisational grace. Variations of Light (mid summer), a pearl-toned window marred with smudges of oil that bleed and breathe into one another, is just one example where the material supports of Bander’s compositions jam their way into their paintings space, bringing with their intrusion an affective energy so loosely bound and unbound, here, in the dimpled grain of the creamy flax. 

Lewis Brander, Variations of Light (mid summer), 2019-2021, oil on flax, 27 x 32cm

The way in which Variations of Light’s backing surface holds Brander’s thin layers of oil not only gives the painting a new sense of physicality but imbues the scene with a sense of movement. It is as if a soft summer breeze has just swept some ancient Athenian sand into the square space in Soho from where I write with (borrowed) memories about the sky in its near and distant apparitions, feeling not alone.



Toby Üpson 

with thanks to Estelle Renaud for her generous input



Lewis Brander 
Vardaxoglou Gallery, London 

13 July – 13 August 2022

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

Deja Viewing

Alex Michon visits the seaside to see an exhibition that references the jubilee celebrations and finds herself doing the time warp again! 


So, with the Union Jack bunting beginning to fray and the gimcrack, knick-knackery gathering rust in the dusty corners of the souvenir stores, it’s time to look back on the jubilee-ing hoopla with a wry and discerning eye.


This is exactly what the exhibition Off With Their Heads attempted to do at the Don't Walk Walk Gallery in Deal. In keeping with its seaside location, many of the works on show featured affectionate end-of-the pier comedic elements. Two prints entitled Acid Reign by Neil Kelly and Cheer Up Love by Kelda Storm, with their rave and punk culture aesthetics served as irreverent antidotes to the forelock-tugging, cream tea-ing of the official celebrations.

Neil Kelly, Acid Reign, 2022, limited edition print on William Turner paper


Irreverence appears to be woven into Don’t Walk Walk’s walls considering that two of Britain’s most iconoclastic comedians, namely Vic Reeves and Noel Fielding, regularly choose to exhibit here. Fielding presented a series of affectionate oil on stick drawings of her majesty including: The Queen on the Moon, The Queen Riding her Pet Flamingo Donovan and Little Queenie (showing a now familiar diminutive version of her majesty standing next to a rather large guardsman). Jim Moir (aka Vick Reeves), whimsical as ever, showed an original watercolour of Queen Victoria having a Paint Ball Experience. Certainly nothing to frighten Liz’s adored horses here!

Noel Fielding, Queen on the Moon, 2022, oil stick on paper, 42x29cm

Fabienne Jenny Jacquet’s series of six oil paintings entitled Queens Head I-VI were some of the most engaging works in the show. Jacquet’s over embellished thickly painted portraits did not specifically reference the all too familiar image of the queen herself. Rather they stood in as queen manqués, with only Queen III having a vague resemblance to Elizabeth II. With their colourful top-heavy hairstyles resplendent with what appear to be paint rolls of flowers, their ornate drop earrings and grimacing smiles, they brought to mind ambiguous 18th Century grotesques. These portraits, replaying a painterly historicity reminiscent of Marie Antoinette, not only hinted at the darker side of monarchy but, as the faces got increasing obliterated by paint in each subsequent iteration, they also appeared to comment on the constant rehashing of queenly reproductions.

Fabienne Jenny Jacquet, Queens Head VI, III, II, 2022, oil on paper, 41x33cm

Elsewhere in the exhibition several works took a broader view of the subject to include aspects of British Culture. Neil Kelly’s melancholic painting Shit Picnic recalls a typical day remembered from the artist’s childhood of a picnic embarked on during a gloomy British summers day with a pylon standing in for a tree and a desolate blanket laid out ready for the festivities to begin. Not so much of a lovely jaunt in a green and pleasant land as a cheap holiday on the outskirts of town. This idea is further explored in Vanessa Smith’s Farewell to this Lands Cheerless Marshes. Smith is well known for her paintings of uninhabited interiors, imbued with an eerie tension. Her deceptively glossy pink interior opens up its secrets on subsequent viewing; fondant fancies on the table, a desolate drinks cupboard and some kind of disaster on TV hint at a particular feeling of ennui common to many a suburban British sitting room.

Vanessa Smith, Farewell to This Land's Cheerless Marches, 2022, oil & acrylic on canvas, 50x70cm


With strikes on the increase, a looming oil crisis, a corrupt government in power and Pistol streaming on Disney+, this jubilee feels like a re-imagining of 1977. In that long hot summer of discontent when the bunting fluttered, and the filth and the fury was unleashed onto screaming tabloid headlines because some ne’er-do-wells had sworn on TV, the backdrop was the truly shocking image of her majesty with a safety pin through her nose. Here’s hoping that Danny Boyle’s Pistol will inspire some contemporary youthful rebellion. Even though Off With Their Heads alluded to all this, the shock of lese majesty has dimmed with time.  Let’s face it, we all love Her Maj really. God Save the Queen, after all remember it is not her that ‘made you a moron’ it was just this bloody fascist regime! 


Alex Michon 


Off With Their Heads 

Don't Walk Walk Gallery, Deal, Kent 

2-12 June 2022

Monday, 16 May 2022

Allora & Calzadilla, Antille

Toby Upson is in Paris and playing to the stereotype - wandering the magical streets, wafting, like a flâneur caught in the high spring breeze, and surveying the art.

Having spent my morning walking the banks of the Seine, I entered the Musée d'Orsay for a spritz of capital ‘A’ museum Art. I leave with fond memories that make me feel ooh so Parisian as I peel layers off a buttery croissant. The addition of my Édouard Manet, Flowers dans un vase de cristal, postcard on the rickety wire table just adds to my romantic collage. 


Perhaps it is because of the beautiful sunny day, but as I walk past the Louvre my admiration for post-(and)Impressionist flower paintings grows - grows, and blooms. Much like the breeze emanating off the Seine’s waves, there is something in the thickly forms of Van Goth, Derain, Cézanne, or my fav’ Manet, that crashes out of their canvases emanating an attractive air of sprightly coolness. On an iconographic level, these bouquet paintings offer so much more than darling awe; each flower pertains to complex histories of migration, colonisation, commodification, as well as to spiritual and social connotations. These pretty images could be seen, or read, therefore as a documentary record of the beau-face of Modernity, and at the same time its asymmetric fallout: Coloniality, to follow Walter Mignolo. 


Continuing with my springful divergences, I arrive in the 4th Arrondissement and enter Galerie Chantal Crousel. I am welcomed by Graft (2021), thousands upon thousands of recycled polyvinyl petals pooled in windswept constellations on the gallery’s floor. Bonjour. Given my mornings wandering thoughts, and my associative personality, it is perhaps of no surprise that I felt an immediate pull to this seemingly tranquil exhibition. 

Allora & Calzadilla, Antille, 2022. Exhibition view, courtesy of the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris, photo, Martin Argyroglo.

Titled Antille, a reference to both the period before European colonisation of the Americas as well as the semi-mythical unknown land labelled on mediaeval maps as Antilia, the exhibition brings together three bodies of work by the artist duo Allora & Calzadilla (two of which I mention here). With a practice rooted in research, the pair clash materials and connotations to illuminate occluded geopolitical narratives. In Antille, the use of hand-painted plastic, video, and sound create an atmosphere that is at once cool, and then cutting; calling out the continued ecological effect of colonisation on the fauna of the Caribbean, and, to me, how this destruction is glossed over through petty associations. 


As with the speculative histories that can emerge once we look beneath the plasticy paintings of Manet et al. the sea of recycled petals that constitute Graft reference both the idle of summer vacations on ‘island paradises’ (think necks with garlands) as well as the direct ecological effect of this idle-vacating on the natural environment. Unlike the bold colours of those attractive Museum paintings - indeed of flashy holiday adverts - Allora & Calzadilla’s stilled-life uses muted tones of pink through brown to create its allure. This variation in hue shows seven stages in the biological breakdown of the flowers strewn on the floor. To me this staging of decay, enunciated in the kitchy camp language of mass consumption, can be read as a mirror to the false realities pictured and peddled by shiny Modernity; that is, an ideology that foregrounds its quest for a quick picturesque dream whilst turning a blind eye too, or just blatantly ignoring (denying) any long-term material ramifications of its trespasses.

Allora & Calzadilla, Antille, 2022. Exhibition view (detail of Graft, 2021), courtesy of the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris, photo, Martin Argyroglo.

Amongst this sea of blossom, the natural liveness of the world is introduced into the exhibition’s space through video and sonic media. Penumbra (2020), is a minimal soundscape and a grainy series of video projections that trace the arc of the sun’s movements around the concealed gallery space. Echoing the vacated effect of colonial exploration/exploitation, David Lang’s audio sounds far from something fresh-air spritely. To link my metaphors, this quiet tweeting sounds more like an exhausted canary, than a perky parakeet. 


Riffing off of the associative is a way for Allora & Calzadilla to delight and illuminate through interaction - to paraphrase Michelle White in Antille's press release. The video footage of Penumbra furthers this intuitive thinking for aesthetic - dare I say, subtly-sublime - effect. The ghostly film appears not to be black and white but rather bleached of most of its saturation. Projected in soft focus, the twinkling shards of light and shadow brings to mind moments of awakening; those dewy-eyed seconds when one’s eyes adjust to the realities of the world after coming too from a deep sleep. To me, the footage recalls glimmers of the sun reflected off an expanse of water - memories of my romantic morning walk along the Seine come to my mind. In reality, the rippling shadows come from rays of sunshine dancing through Martinican foliage. If we are indeed waking from a Modern slumber, it seems the video asks us to see beyond that fantasy we have constructed for ourselves. 

Allora & Calzadilla, Antille, 2022. Exhibition view (detail of Penumbra, 2020), courtesy of the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris, photo, Andrew Wake.

This projection of the sun’s movements across the floors of the Absalon Valley of Martinique onto the walls of a Parisian gallery is a stunning metaphorical cut with Modernity. If those post-(and)Impressionist flower paintings, hanging on the walls in the city’s collections, can now be read in hindsight as a map for so much more writhing beneath the sheen of Modernity - that is Coloniality - this staging of life captured envelops us in the flows of colonial degradation. Moreover, it directly challenges me on my romantic associations; calling me out on what first comes to mind; forcing me to work to see beyond a notion of reality that is fixed and wholly known.


Graft and Penumbra, demonstrate Allora & Calzadilla's abilities to transform the known into something a little more hesitant; a way of thinking foregrounded by poet-philosopher Édouard Glissant. Indeed, if we think with Glissant and treat these two works as islands in an archipelago, their presentation here not only critically challenges modes of picturing life but provides a cool moment through which to begin to think of reality as a complex formed through numerable intersections; be these histories of migration, colonisation, commodification, the spiritual, the social and/or the geopolitical. After all, we must remember, that life is not idle, no romantic collage, nor postcard. Life is a living process of growing, growing, and blooming associations. 

Toby Upson




Allora & Calzadilla, Antille

Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris 

Until 28 May 2022

Sunday, 1 May 2022

Lads on tour: four encounterings (plus one) from the Venice Biennale 2022

The Netherlands, Brazil, The USA and Uruguay, Toby Upson finds a romantic self alive amongst four Pavilions in the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia (the Venice Biennale) 


‘When I Sonia you say Boyce’











Electric flash, blue; crash and crash and thud. The base kicks, drops, and rises, pushing bodies into a flow. And together, we shuffle with cackling smiles. 


I always say the Venice Biennale is lads on tour. Case in point, my hazy memory-come-epigraph of the British Pavilion’s party this year. Situated in an open-air courtyard, in the centre of historic Venice, few details separate this celebration from those that unfold in the clubs of other European islands (in my mind anyway). In Venice, the floors are filled with a strange mix of people: jet-set writhe with jet proletariat. It's glorious. And for an overly enthusiastic (and I must say privileged) someone, like myself, it is an opportunity to enjoy some level of other-humanly reality. To be all neo-romantic about it, I find a self alive in the flash, blue; crash and crash and thud of the Biennale; on this city-island where rot and marble rock in a melee; where art and life truly merge for those able to access this megamix of fine finger food, fizz, and of course art!


This neo-romantic re-envisioning of humanly possibilities lies at the core of this year’s Biennale. Titled, The Milk of Dreams - a short line corralled from Leonora Carrington - many of the works in and around the Biennale seem to take a Surrealist sojourn through understandings of humanity, and indeed, understandings of being. Rather than deploying otherworldly stylistics to re-envision a dissociated world “through the prism of imagination” - to quote the Biennale’s curator Cecilia Alemani - the works that took me outside of myself each looked over, above and beyond the realities of being, helping me to grasp “new modes of coexisting” and the “infinite new possibilities of transformation” allowed for when one dreams in milk instead of pure fantasy. And so, as I await my ooh six twenty flight, it seems fitting that this tactile “re-enchantment of the world” happens when bodies take flight, arrive, move together - shuffle with cackling smiles


With 213 artists, 80 National Pavilions, and numerous events throughout the city, the Biennale, as always, is BIG. I am not going to map this scene, nor round up what unfolded in my Venetian scuttling. Instead, by way of a constellation, here are four Pavilion encounters, of varying lengths, that pushed my alive self into joyful free flow. 



melanie bonajo, When the body says Yes (Dutch Pavilion) 


“Embrace your inner sloth,” melaine bonajo. I recline, falling into a soft landscape of neoprene hills and velvet foliage. Just beyond my toes, a sequined meadow and fur valley. Gazing up, I drink in the night sky rendered on the ceiling of the 10th-century Chiesetta della Misericordia Cannaregio and as my eyes drift down, they come to rest on an expansive screen suspended on the horizon. Here, slathered in olive oil, a group of naked bodies slip and slide on and over each other, jiggling with pleasure. Cut to a spring-time forest, they play wild, hanging off trees, jumping in pools. Layard over these humorous caresses, voices speak in turn about intimate moments of genital encounter and wider sexual becoming; often problematic for queer bodies in societies that have rigid notions of sexual being. 


Exhibition view of When the body says Yes, melanie bonajo, 2022. Dutch entry Venice Biennale as commissioned by the Mondriaan Fund. Photo: Peter Tijhuis.


Building from bonajo’s ongoing research into the possibilities for intimacy in an increasingly alienating world, the film installation is centred around one central claim: “touch can be a powerful remedy for the modern epidemic of loneliness.” With their wiggling together, the group of bare protagonists seem to be anything but isolated. That is a crass statement. Taking a holistic view of sexual bodies, bonajo’s film, and the viewing space designed by Théo Demans, hold experiential reality and somatic promise in restive tension. Not dwelling in the numbed mind-body connections that result from a commodity-driven becoming, the visual and sculptural play space of the Pavilion proposes that consensual touch can allow a body a more capacious existence. That is, in this abundant space “we discover our bodies beyond the norm,” to quote the film. And indeed, we are encouraged to register ways of holding ourselves outside of the hard pillars of western self-hood. 



Jonathas de Andrede, With the heart coming out of the mouth (Pavilion of Brazil) 


Through the left ear, I step inside the architectural head of this year’s Pavilion of Brazil, and a furnace of ambient noise situates me within something structural. Not so much a body in space, but a space from the body, here I hear, listening with my eyes, phrases corralled from day to day Brazilian life. These fragments - where the body acts as a metaphorical vessel for communication - are so much more than poppy figures of speech; they pertain to tongues in ears, that is to the divisive spectacle of rhetoric. 


Exhibition view of With the heart coming out of the mouth at the 2022 Brazilian Pavilion. Courtesy Ding Musa / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo.


For Jonathas de Andrede the idiosyncrasies of the Brazilian people are a point of interest. In particular, how quotidian peculiarities can express something of the social, political and economic obfuscation many Brazilians face. For his work in this year's Biennale, the artist gives common phrases a mass-culture visuality: “faca nos dentes” (“knife in the teeth”) here rendered sassy; large red lips surround bare teeth and holding a blade at a rakish angle. With their journalistic grain, the pixelated pores of these cardboard wall-works recall the way in which narratives can infect our minds. It is fitting therefore that these spores fill the two lobes of the Pavilion of Brazil’s head. 


Exhibition view of With the heart coming out of the mouth at the 2022 Brazilian Pavilion. Courtesy Ding Musa / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo.

Exhibition view of With the heart coming out of the mouth at the 2022 Brazilian Pavilion. Courtesy Ding Musa / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo.


Moving from the left to the right side of the Pavilion, the abounding sound that gripped me upon my entry becomes one of the points of focus. Like the isolated snippets of visual metaphor, the video Nó na garganta [Knot in the Throat] brings together scenes of human and non-human comportment; hands curl, feet twitch, snakes become one with bodies, monkeys, leaves appear, and fires burn. Pairing the seemingly mundane with the horrific, or thrilling, the 38-minute filmatic collage is displayed on a large, pixelated screen - the kind you might expect to see at a political rally - and is accompanied by a soundtrack that pumps a vital energy into the Pavilion space. Not a clack, pulse, nor symmetrical rhythm, this aural is a fizzle; it is its own kind of syncopated jitter, messing up the logic of the oppressive narrative. 


As I witness the video unfurl, a gentle pushing on my back forces me to a wall and mares my abilities to move, see, and be an active body in this rhetorical space. The large kinetic sculpture com o coração saindo pela boca [with the heart coming out of the mouth], comprises of a pair of lavish lips and a huge red tongue that inflates filling the right side of the Pavilion. Perhaps an overt reference to the ways in which speech can and does divide bodies, this work, as with the others in the Pavilion, makes clear how the body can transcend its corporeality, becoming a communicative device, one that has the ability to bridge as well as to barricade. 


Exhibition view of With the heart coming out of the mouth at the 2022 Brazilian Pavilion. Courtesy Ding Musa / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo.


Simone Leigh, Sovereignty (U.S. Pavilion)


Ooohsh! It was the first sound I made upon entering the Arsenale. A day later; awwwwe! a similar reaction upon walking into the U.S. Pavilion and witnessing the beautiful monuments cast by Simone Leigh. As an incessant follower - lover - of Tina M. Campt’s writing and precise mode of giving form to theory, I have read many gorgeous descriptions of Leigh’s work. Experiencing her anthropomorphic female figures in person, I am left, suspended, left breathless. 


Simone Leigh, Last Garment, 2022. Bronze, 54 × 58 × 27 inches (137.2 × 147.3 × 68.6 cm). Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo by Timothy Schenck. © Simone Leigh.

A blackened pool hollows the first room of the U.S. Pavilion. Its utter tranquillity does not so much holds but push me to a perimeter, where I teeter, on harrow edge, one step away from feeling weighty sublimity. Last Garment, is a seemingly simple bronze figure of a Jamaican woman washing her clothes. No patina, no fuss, just a woman doing her thing to care, to survive. I am transfixed. Caught up in the bouquet of knots that form the figure's hair; taken aback by the majesty of the way in which her form curls, as a crane, exhaling, and in turn exuding nothing but powerful atmospherics. Stillness. Quiet. In a word, Leigh's figure epitomises her own sovereignty; described in the Pavilion’s guide as “not [being] subject to another’s authority, another’s desires, or another's gaze, but rather to be the author of one’s own history.” 


Originally pictured on a colonial-era postcard, the figure Leigh has based Last Garment on was meant in its own time (the 1870s) to establish the idea of Jamaica as a “tropical Paradise” and Jamaican people as “loyal, disciplined, and clean” - to re-quote Krista Thompson from the guide. These associations aimed to make Jamaica an attractive destination for British colonists who were embracing the burgeoning tourist industry. The original postcard, photographed by C.H. Graves, debased its sitter of all self-determined agency. Looking at a reproduction of this souvenir in the Pavilion’s guide, what jumps out to me is the way in which the figure of the woman washing her clothing seems to be penned in; she is trapped in a gushing stream by a steep bank and wire fence. It is almost as if this woman is a zoo animal, held in a cage for our gaze, desire, and the delight we find in the otherly. 


Leigh’s bronze counters this narrative. Recasting the washerwoman figure in fine detail, with an elegance, and a sense of self-determined strength. Despite the colonial atmosphere, in Graves’ original image, the face of the figure seems at peace; eyes cast down, exhaling, with a sense of dignity being excluded in the small details of this woman’s decorum. Accentuating these aspects of the image, Leigh’s figure, a figure trapped in its own pool, refuses to capitulate to a regime where she is a fetishised object, only finding validity as she circulates through the vernacular tourist trade. With her face cast down, her delicate hold, and the stillness of her pool, the figure in Last Garment demands we register and engage her as a sovereign self, whilst also paying feeling in some way culpable to the history this woman is bringing out in the wash. 



Gerardo Goldwasser, Persona (Uruguay Pavilion) 


A white cube and a man-sized mirror; the language of modernity is pretty copy and paste. Delving into and beyond the cuts that form the ‘uniform(is)ation’ of a being in society, Gerardo Goldwasser’s project for the Uruguay Pavilion, Persona, is labelled as an opportunity for critical reflection. The elegant sculptural intervention consists of 18 reels of charcoal black felt, 50 cloth sleeves, a rigid measuring stick and that large mirror. Drawn to both the minimal black and white aesthetic of the exhibition as well as its conceptual becoming, I find Persona one of the most accomplished Pavilions, indeed works, in this year's Biennale. 


Using the fashion industry as a cypher for human becomings, Goldwasser’s conceptual critique weaves together numerous historical threads - Venice as a city of fashion (particularly the operatic possibilities of fashion), Uruguay as a colonial stopover-come-refuge for political émigrés, and his own Jewish history - to unravel tensions held innate to modernity and its bio-political proteges.


Gerardo Goldwasser, Mesa de corte, 2022. 18 reels of black cloth, 270 × 540 × 330 cm. Photo: Rafael Lejtreger. 


Bundled in three pyramids of six, the 18 reels of inch thick black felt that compose Mesa de corte [The Cutting Table] are monolithic. Almost filling Uruguay’s small pavilion space, the softness of the fabric transforms from something holding - of comfort, warmth - into something dominating - restrictive and stark. As with any monument, sitting with these tombs, listening to how the materials whisper to us - to paraphrase Pablo da Silveira in the catalogue - a complex history of discipline and disguise emerges. As I move around the Pavilion’s space, one of the secrets sequestered behind Mesa de corte's initial exterior comes into view: hundreds of tailors' cutting patterns cling to one side of the dark felt rolls. These misty white panels, templates for things to become, accentuate the grain of their woollen base, weeping pale blue-green tears in anticipation of the standardised life they are to enter into. 


Gerardo Goldwasser, Mesa de corte, 2022. 18 reels of black cloth, 270 × 540 × 330 cm. Photo: Rafael Lejtreger. 


Taken from a book of tailors patterns, inherited from his grandfather, Goldwasser’s use of template pattern pieces alludes to the ways in which industry sets itself up to eliminate difference; to “sustain a rigid pre-established order with the purpose of producing uniformity,” as Laura Malosetti Costa and Pablo Uribe state. Following this logic of industrial re-production, the material forms in Persona draw a line between capitalist standardisation and modes of authoritarian rule. (It is of note that the book of standardised patterns used in Mesa de corte were, perhaps, originally templates for Nazi military uniforms. As a Jewish tailor, Goldwasser’s grandfather survived his imprisonment in the Buchenwald death camp because of his professional skills.) 

Gerardo Goldwasser, El saludo (detail), 2010-2022. 85 black fabric sleeves pinned to the wall. Dimensions variable. Photo: Rafael Lejtreger. 


El saludo [The Salute], a line-up of sum 50 left arm suit sleeves pinned to one wall of the Pavilion, parades like a well-groomed regiment before Mesa de corte. The juxtaposition of these two works further the connection between authoritarian modes of governance and the ways in which we present our bodies to conform to some kind of social geometry. In their poetic whispers, however, this delicate line-up of vilified lefts seem to call out together, positioning us as witnesses to the bio-political standardisation of both bodies and minds innate to hegemonic modes of social re-production. 


With its title, El saludo references an encounter; a moment of appearance upon which one faces an other making some kind of judgement. Leaving the Uruguay Pavilion, I turn and face the man-sized mirror, a work titled Medidas directas [Direct Measurements], situated at the entrance to the Pavilion. Gazing at my tired suit and unkempt face, my thoughts turn to the various personas I have and do don, especially whilst on the other-humanly floors of Venice. 


Despite the elitism of Venice and the wider art world, my encounterings at this year's Biennale have returned to me some of the naive promise I have in art. A hope perhaps best surmised by Cecilia Alemani when she gave shared her thoughts on the role of the Biennale following the covid-19 pandemic; she states, “the simplest, most sincere answer I could find is that the Biennale sums up all the things we have so sorely missed in the last two years: the freedom to meet people from all over the world, the possibility of travel, the joy of spending time together, the practice of difference, translation, incomprehension, and communion.” Personally, I feel joy and possibility, togetherness and difference, incomprehension and communion are key sensorial assets to any notion of being or becoming in this world. If it takes lads on tour to glimmer these innately human characteristics count me in. 

Toby Upson

The 59th Biennale di Venezia runs from 23 April to 27 November 2022