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No Lifeguard On Duty

Westwerk Hamburg
Opening: 31st of March 2016, 7 pm
Exhibition: 1st - 17th of April 2016
Opening times: Tue-Fr 4-7 pm, Sat 12-7 pm, Sun 1-4 pm

“There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real.  It was important. […] Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on.”

“No Lifeguard on Duty” is a group exhibition focusing on the tension that lies between binaries. Exploring the concept of demarcation (and alternatively, what might or might not occur in its absence), the project invites eight London-based artists to engage with this theme through painting, installation, and video works.

The traditional image of the lifeguard conjures a sense of safety and well-being, and creates a boundary and set of rules. Therefore, the phrase “No Lifeguard on Duty” immediately connotes the opposite, suggesting possible danger or disorder. Here, a duality is established. The absence of a lifeguard blurs otherwise delineated borders and pushes the realm of limitations into a grey territory: safety may be lost, but a certain freedom is gained. The exhibition pays attention to the lines of demarcation – that which separate – and the indefiniteness and incertitude that the space between these lines manifest.

For example, Olivia Hernaïz addresses the stark divide between political parties, doing so in a playful manner by posing semi-childlike questions to leaders of different prominent parties. Her colorful cushions and (what appears to be a) light-hearted approach counter the heavy-handedness of the current political climate.

Pauline Batista’s work questions the difference between reality and myth, or rather, science and intuition and asks the viewer which might be more valid in reflecting upon the human condition. Taking oil and paint to create layers on a glass surface, Batista then projects scenes from the film Apocalypse Now through the glass to ultimately create a blurry, numbed image of violence.

Continuing in this meditation on human nature, Andrea Williamson uses celebrity and pop culture to evoke feelings of empathy and affection. Three iconic women – Lindsay Lohan, Oprah Winfrey, and Pema Chodron – have been morphed by the artist to express relations of care and compassion between them, replacing the stereotypical and judgemental gaze that we so often give. Williamson’s endeavour is a reversal of sensibility; not to seduce the viewer but to create a harmonious hybrid entity intended to ‘rescue the positive affections of love and spirituality from the seemingly superficial.’

Theresa Volpp’s paintings are the product of physical engagement. Glossy paints are poured over canvases that lay on the floor before Volpp shakes them to combine colors. In this way there is no direct effect on the emergence of the surface. The artist produces a loss of control, that reveals itself in the negation of the artists own signature. The implication is an interrogation of boundaries running between the artist’s subject and the object. While visually, the differentiation between colors is fairly evident, an alternative dichotomy is at work-between intentional bodily movements and spontaneity.

In a similar vein to Volpp’s merging of forms, James Clarke creates an overlap of imagery in his work, Torus (London–Hamburg). Influenced by the original handiwork of English World War II mapmakers at Hughenden Manor, Clarke employed their map of Hamburg as a springboard for his seemingly repetitive patterns. Together, these four paintings imbue one with a feeling of movement between borders whilst also serving as a nod to the histories of both London – the artist’s homebase – and Hamburg.

Frederic Klein examines the impact of the natural world upon the individual, rendering his experiences of exploring rugged (and often threatening) landscapes to the canvas. Klein routinely isolates himself in the wilderness, oftentimes for a number of days, allowing for the extreme conditions of his ventures act as a catalyst for his practice. The artist utilizes “subtitles” in his paintings, thus implying a distance exists between the artist and viewer that requires translation.

Similarly, the notion of distance is noticed in the video work of Francis Almendárez. The artist explores spatial dislocation in the context of deterritorialized post-modernity. He seeks the truth among those trampled underfoot by history: refugees herded into camps, women victimized by a brutal patriarchal society, indigenous people relocated and stripped of their identity – in other words, the survivors.

In her series of six paintings, titled “Où est le bec?”, Ingrid Berthon-Moine displays six simplistic figures of the male body, each in a different state of sexual arousement. Though all hang at different heights, the works are aligned along the tips of the erect penises. The title is the phonetic pronunciation of the surname of French novelist Michel Houellebecq, whose characters are regularly fatigued and hopeless. For Berthon-Moine, this depression points to the greater repercussions of capitalism: eventually, our individualism and liberalism provoke an internal tension between indulging limitless gratification, or perhaps, growing weary of constant desire.

Tony Tremlett and Caroline Elbaor