Showroom director Emily Pethick on four shows in London [posted 3/15/2018]

“It’s an important moment when such an institution acknowledges work that’s been gestating in the spaces of universities or smaller arts organizations.”

“Counter Investigations: Forensic Architecture”
through May 6
Institute of Contemporary Arts

“Rachal Bradley: Interlocutor”
through March 18 ***NOW CLOSED***

“Joan Jonas”
through August 5
Tate Modern

“Lydia Ourahmane: The You in Us”
through March 25 ***CLOSING SOON***
Chisenhale Gallery

I’ve just been to see the ICA’s survey of the work of Forensic Architecture. It’s a huge exhibition that takes up the ICA’s upper and lower galleries, as well as their large former black-box theater space. Forensic Architecture is a research agency founded by British-Israeli architect Eyal Weizman and based at Goldsmiths, University of London. The agency’s name is also a term for a relatively new academic discipline, developed at Goldsmiths, that is concerned with the gathering, analysis, and presentation of architectural evidence.

Forensic Architecture has undertaken investigations on behalf of such NGO’s as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as prosecutors, journalists, and citizens’ groups. They employ a truly cross-disciplinary approach, their team of investigators including architects, artists, filmmakers, and scientists, among others. In examining Saydnaya prison in Syria, for example, a site off-limits to journalists and monitoring groups, they analyzed what was happening inside the prison through the sound memories of survivors.

Forensic Architecture’s work is really impressive, drawing together different kinds of knowledge and manifesting through exhibitions, films, and websites. The ICA recently had a change in directorship and curatorial leadership and this show seems to signal a new direction for them. It’s an important moment when such an institution acknowledges work that’s been gestating in the spaces of universities or smaller arts organizations.

Forensic Architecture, Torture in Saydnaya Prison, animation still, 2016. Witnesses were asked to describe architectural details, such as dimensions and textures, and these recollections elicited further memories of the prison and experiences therein. Commissioned by Amnesty International. Copyright © Forensic Architecture.

For another interesting show I saw this week, at Gasworks, young British artist Rachal Bradley has transformed the building into a negative ion generator, employing a series of custom-engineered, vacuum-formed units connected by a network of power cables winding through the galleries and stairwell. The free-flowing negative ions are supposed to be good for your health, so the idea is she’s spreading positive energy throughout the space.

In addition, Bradley has covered the gallery floor with a resin infused with an herbal tonic and installed a sculpture of a washing machine that has a film running inside it. I like the curatorial approach of the program at Gasworks; it’s consistently critically sharp, and formally imaginative and surprising.

Installation view of “Rachal Bradley: Interlocutor,” at Gasworks, January 25–March 18, 2018. Commissioned and produced by Gasworks. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Andy Keate.

In a fantastic survey at Tate Modern, the work of Joan Jonas feels very alive. It’s organized in a way that emphasizes the different aspects of her practice, with an exhibition of her installations and videos in the upper galleries and in the less finished spaces of the Tanks, a live performance program in the Tanks, and a film retrospective in the museum’s theater. In the Tanks, a more immersive presentation breaks with Tate’s usual linear format. But even the installation pieces in the upper galleries seem dynamic. The exhibition as a whole gives a real sense of the work’s grounding in performance and concern with the body.

Installation view of the exhibition “Joan Jonas” at Tate Modern, London, March 14–August 5, 2018.  Photo copyright © Tate photography (Seraphina Neville).

Like the show at Gasworks, Algerian-born artist Lydia Ourahmane’s solo exhibition at Chisenhale involves a subtle transformation of the gallery space. The artist has installed a raised wood floor over the gallery’s concrete floor. Embedded in this temporary floor, and amplified by it, is a sound piece, Paradis (2018), consisting of field recordings Ourahmane made in Oran along with scores composed and performed by the artist and collaborators. The sound fills the room without seeming to come from any particular direction. Also in the show is a gold tooth, made from melted-down jewelry, a duplicate of which is implanted in the artist’s mouth. Documents accompanying the object tell the story of Ourahmane’s Algerian grandfather, who pulled out his own teeth in 1945 in order to avoid military service under the French forces occupying Algeria.

The exhibition resonates with the other three I’ve reviewed by virtue of its engagement with the body. Where Rachal Bradley’s show draws attention to what our bodies ingest—playing a bit with New Age therapies—the Joan Jonas survey foregrounds her interest in the female body in space, Forensic Architecture’s investigations invariably begin with the human body, and Ourhamane’s installation considers how bodies, including those of the viewer and the artist, intersect with different histories and narratives. It’s an intriguing show.

Installation view of the exhibition “Lydia Ourahmane, The you in us” at Chisenhale Gallery, London, January 26–March 25. Commissioned and produced by Chisenhale Gallery, London. Photo: Andy Keate.