Support Structures is the London gallery Gathering’s fifth exhibition, and following in the vein of previous offerings, it’s a high-energy, immersive show littered with big names. It combines sculpture, painting, photography and video curated by the gallery’s director and associate director, Alex Flick and Nina Ledwoch. It was inspired by conversations the curators had about their shared experiences supporting disabled family members, and the exhibition highlights the interdependence of human beings and the precariousness of the human condition.
There are twenty-four pieces on show, amongst them works from canonical artists such as Louise Bourgeois and Nam June Paik that sit comfortably beside work from emerging names such as Emmanuel Carvalho and Rafal Zajko.
In the initial room, on the ground floor, there are works of a more human feel. Notably, we first encounter one of two ready-mades by Berenice Olmedo: Isabela. It is a child’s orthosis wearing ballet shoes held en pointe by semi-translucent strings attached to the ceiling. A Louise Bourgeois etching of drypoint and aquatint on paper, Amputee with Crutch, shows the headless form of a unilateral amputee. Four of twenty gelatin silver prints, Fotorzeźby, by Alina Szapocznikow, show the sculptural forms of masticated chewing gum in stark black and white, accompanied by a note where Szapocznikow describes quite blithely how the idea came to her. The works on the ground floor feel contemporary, relatable and entirely human even if the human body is absent throughout. They speak to the shapes that the body creates and subtly hints at the soft and malleable nature of flesh and bone.
The turn comes as we progress down into the basement of the building where the mechanical hull of the exhibition is exposed and a more robotic, futuristic story emerges. Small Upgrade, a striking video by Geumhyung Jeong, chauffeurs you into the space, straddling you on either side, it shows the construction of a humanoid robot that moves on its stomach with limbs dragging behind it. Works by Zajko punctuate the space on each end of the room: weapon-like ceramic sculptures with rubber nipples semi-disguised at their center. The cellophaned steel sculptures of Jack O’Brien also hold a strong presence in the basement’s future world where it seems, perhaps, that every human body relies on machines. Here, everyone is hybridized, and the able-bodied human body is not default but defective.
In Support Structures, there are vestiges of the body, but it is the architecture around it that is centered, the scaffolding of an invisible building. The show highlights structures that are easily overlooked and thus our individual weaknesses. So much of Support Structures is harsh, bionic, cyborgian or mechanical, and yet the overall feeling is still one of frailty, because at the center of all of the works is the notion of failure. Even when you are electronic, you are awkward, lopsided and unstable. Even when armored to the gills with bullet shells, there is a silicone nipple at your core.
The exhibition is a skillful aesthetic contemplation of its subject matter. The curation of the work is fluid, the pieces are of a wide range and yet they move for the most part without snagging. The exhibition is fully embodied in the space, there are pieces that hang from the ceiling, emerge from the floor, are pinned against walls, there is a passage of video, no clear beginning or end. It ultimately leaves me with a picture more than a thought: flesh and metal, function and malfunction, disparate and yet cohesive voices, the scaffolding of life.
Support Structures is on view at Gathering through July 23.