‘The History in Repeat Mode – Symbol’ at Morena Di Luna, Hove
Open Saturday and Sunday from 12pm to 6pm. Until 15 October 2017.
So, the word on the street was true: Maureen Paley really is in town – or ‘Hove actually’, as the locals like to say. The gallery, named Morena di Luna, is Wolfgang Tillmans’ nickname for Paley and the renowned East End gallerist has further established her presence in the city as Maureen Paley was previously involved in the HOUSE 2016 event when, in partnership with the University of Brighton, Gillian Wearing’s ‘A Room With Your Views’ was presented during the annual Brighton Festival.
This inaugural exhibition at 3, Adelaide Crescent presents the Brazilian artist, Paulo Nimer Pjota, in a Regency town house that is situated in a prime location on the seafront. Pjota previously had a one-man show at Maureen Paley in Herald Street in Bethnal Green in 2016. The works displayed in Hove are similar to those displayed in London, and these additional works further establish Pjota’s reputation as fast developing name in contemporary practice – especially in the field of what is now labeled ‘expanded painting’ or ‘Post Medium practice’. The so-called expansion of course is into sculptural and installation-type manifestations of painting, where the space of the viewer is often encroached upon by physical elements in the artwork. The paint itself is not hierarchically superior to any other medium in use – and, likewise, the image becomes an object too.
In this exhibition the most immediately obvious intervention in the space is as much on the walls as on the parquet floors of the two main ground floor rooms. Pjota has used both acrylic and oil paint on canvas (another support is metal), which is conventional, but the paintings ‘hang’ unframed and feel like intrusions into a traditional domestic space that, historically, is designed to accommodate an oil or watercolour in a guilt frame.
Whilst still on the subject of the wall, a few of the cartoon-type images appear to have escaped from the paintings and appear in unlikely places. A teenager’s bedroom might be implied and the imagery could appeal mainly to a younger audience. For example, whether in the implied painting space, or let loose from the restrictions of the artwork, we see Garfield the cat; a grinning Halloween smiley face; a sad face; Pocahontas; and Skeletor from Masters of the Universe in various locations throughout the show. This creates a sense of a subliminal reference to a Gothic tendency in contemporary visual culture where the fictive but everyday becomes scary, even in the child-centred aesthetic of the cartoon (Garfield) or by twisting the sentimental or superficial lightness of the Smiley face, in what has become an emoji icon in an all pervading digital culture.
(Note – see Gilda Williams’ ‘The Gothic’ from the Whitechapel Gallery’s Documents of Contemporary Art series for a collection of writings examining this ‘Gothic’ phenomenon in art today.)
Other imagery in Pjota’s work includes the representation of fruit that is commonly seen on walls, shop windows and, of course fresh fruit at the supermarket – whether in Brazil or other countries. This apparently innocent category of imagery in commercial visual culture – which takes on an indigenous identity – is juxtaposed with more traditional and non-European imagery too. For example, the Priestess Medusa from Greek mythology, shares the same space as modern, commercialised images of fruit in both ‘Black Paintings part 2’ and ‘Vacaciones in Europe’. This latter work, a diptych, has previously been exhibited with the two panels switched from left to right, casually subverting any fixed arrangement. The pink panel has a painterly area in the top left hand corner, but may be no more than an area used as a smeary palette. The over ripe bananas and a forlorn pineapple might reference traditional still life painting – but look quite unappetising. They are merely display objects, unfit for human consumption.
In ‘3 reis magos part 2’ what look like three pre-Columbian mask images are presented, one in the centre of each of the metal sections of the triptych. The historical reference here might be to the Fortress of the Three Wise Men near Natal in Brazil but circular, geometric, contemporary glyph-type symbols bring the imagery into the present day, as if someone from the invisible hoard of street ‘artists’ have intervened in the gallery setting as a change from the high street. Eight melon or nut-like forms are casually arranged on the floor – they seem petrified like fossilized vegetation.
The largest work in the show, ‘Black Paintings part 2’ appears to represent an aerial view of a four sided pyramid, with three heads from a mixture of world cultures. The five labels at the bottom seem to be passing through, as is indicated by a sixth symbol that is applied to the wall outside of any notion of the picture-plane. In front, and on the floor, are five resin cast basketballs. The colour gives them a melon-like appearance but the Nike sportswear symbol reduces the name of the Greek goddess of Victory to a graphical ‘tick’. It is not only the post-modern artist who appropriates – the mythological past is available for exploitation by big business too.
In ‘The History of Colonialism’ several versions of Smiley faces are torn or turned upside down to invert the smile. Is this a visual joke or a sad reflection of notions of freedom or happiness? I guess it’s up to the viewer to decide. The four large water jugs, one on its side, another with a missing handle, seem to allude to something lost – but not in a nostalgic sense as the forms look infinitely reproducible. Pjota’s graffiti-artist past is referenced by a handwritten comment – “THIS GUYS TURNED MY CONTINENT IN BAD VIBES BABE” – which was written by a visitor to his studio in São Paulo. Pjota is as seriously irreverent about his own imagery as any other, offering another element of irony as he is clearly committed to his practice and his modus operandi as an urban artist.
Are such facile, commercial interventions giving the finger to high-culture? The purposely-ironic contradiction here is that the contemporary art gallery is the epitome of such elevated status. Pjota’s engagement with the viewer seems to be one of presenting visual information from a world in which hierarchies have broken down and ‘history’ and ‘culture’ (high or low and interchangeable) are available as ‘product’, as much as a lesson to be learned. Images and objects from any era are indigenous artifacts of sorts. The ethnographic visual representations and symbols of modern cultures are as loaded as those from way back in history. In repeat mode? Maybe, time will tell.
All artwork images: ©Paulo Nimer Pjota courtesy Maureen Paley, London & Morena di Luna, Hove