Thursday, 19 November 2020

You Are Here @katmapped - Review


Part I

It’s a long time since I’ve reviewed an exhibition. It’s an even longer time since I reviewed an exhibition in which I have a piece of my own work.  However, I have never reviewed an exhibition that I haven’t been in the physical presence of. This changes everything - you can’t walk around the works, move close in, step back, see them from across the room or from different angles. You can’t directly perceive colours, textures, shapes and even smells. This makes it much harder to have that physical and emotional response that can occur when you are directly exposed to a work of art.


There is also the factor of that solid gallery environment itself - the design and atmosphere of it, the light and how the works are placed within it. None of that applies here and the tool for leaning in and stepping back is a digital zoom. This means that the key factor in the presentation of this exhibition, and indeed any online exhibition, is the quality of the ‘gallery’ website, although the size and quality of the device you are viewing from is also a factor.


Over the past few Covid months I have looked at several online exhibitions and have become quite irritated by the way in which many of them are presented. Those that try and replicate the gallery experience are the worst. Your focus is inevitably taken up with often awkward navigation through virtual rooms and corridors. This makes the experience more like an estate agent's website, or a very dull game and just compounds the frustration of not being in an actual gallery space. Some sites seem to scroll with a life of their own and others try to jazz things up with unnecessary animation, either of the work or parts of the site. Don’t get me started on inappropriate musical accompaniment.  


So the first thing to say about this exhibition is that the design of the website is really good. It is clean, with a simple layout on a white background, absolute stillness and zero visual or audio distraction from the large images that stand out with crystal clarity as a consequence. It is organised into loosely themed groups but all on one page rather than breaking it up into separate gallery pages. This makes it very easy to navigate and easy to dip in and out of because it’s all in the same place. Furthermore, the information is kept to the delightful minimum of just what needs to be said about the particular work. There is no superfluous text or imagery and this enables instant immersion in the entire show. So that’s a big thumbs up from the get go. The exhibition also unfolds on Instagram over the course of the month, putting the focus on just a few participating artists each day.  

Given the amount of work in the show - 50 artists in all – it is hard to make this review comprehensive. However, I had a cunning plan. First, to go through and pick the pieces that were highlights for me - tricky exercise given the outstanding quality of the work and the fact that I really do like so much of it. Second, to ask a few people to look at the site and send me a couple of lines about works they particularly liked and why. So I am effectively crowdsourcing part of this review!

This should enable a wider appreciation of the show because people’s perceptions will be different so it is likely that they will choose different works. If everyone chooses the same work then that’s just testament to the appeal of that particular artist. So it works either way. Furthermore, all the comments I receive will then form a kind of digital visitors’ book.


I will begin with contextualising this show using part of the press release:

YOU ARE HERE explores how the concept of maps and mapping, internal and external, has informed living artists works and thoughts. This online exhibition presents a stimulating and visually striking grouping of works and spans drawing, video, sculpture, photography and installation from artists around the world. 

The ‘You Are Here’ exhibition has been curated by two practising artists: Kate Trafeli, working out of London, and James Stewart, working out of Devon. The selections were chosen after evaluation by the curators, working in tandem remotely, from 400 submissions received in response to an open call request made by @katmapped. The works on show have been selected by the curators on the basis of the strength of the work presented combined with their relevance to the show’s theme. 

Unprecedented times have changed how and where artists work, show their art, and what they are creating in an uncharted world. This online exhibition presents an avenue for artists and viewers to collectively participate in the arts while many museums, galleries and shows remain closed. This exhibition showcases living artists making engaging works around the world — and which when viewed together are thematically cohesive. Here, far flung geographies and lockdowns do not constrain us. 


The exhibition opens with the three artists who received the curators' choice awards: Henry Burnett, Jon Halls and Tahira Noreen. I think all three are very well chosen. I particularly love the idea behind Henry Burnett’s Last Map. It works on so many levels that assemble themselves into layers of thought as you gaze in wonder at the sublime and delicate objects in front of you. Tahira Noreen’s work are other sublime pieces in which the originality of the idea tells a complete story of time and humanity, embodied in complex and beautiful wall sculptures. These work as exhibits online because you can get a sense of the entirety of them and see them close up. Jon Hall’s illustrated geographical story of London’s Green Belt, Drawing a Modern Myth, on the other hand, really needs to be seen in a gallery. It is very hard to appreciate what would be the impact of its scale in space, and to see its remarkable detail.


There is much in this exhibition that is delicate and beautiful and this certainly applies to the work of Rihanate Bigey who took the emerging artist award. Houses: the map of the houses (deconstruction), is a sculptural installation of porcelain and plaster engraved with traditional African/Burkinabes houses  amidst cut out spaces that could be doors or windows or just aspects of disintegration.It communicates very poignantly the fragility of dwellings that for whatever reason, can be easily destroyed or erased, and the consequent dislocation and necessary reinterpretation of the notion of home itself. 

The next piece that strikes me strongly is Mountains by Monika Ruiz.  I love the perspective in these works and the way in which the contour lines overlay the aerial image. I particularly like the distorted hexagons that seem to wrap and constrain the mountains like discarded plastic packaging. 

Teresa Hunyadi’s Current consists of a piece of birch wood carved with contours representing the internal life of the tree as it absorbs water and grows. Presenting a piece of wood in this way takes your perception of it, and by extension the entire life of the tree, into a totally new place. Similarly in Kate Lyons-Miller’s Earthfast the viewer sees not just a piece of shaped ceramic, but the constantly reactive substance of nature. The content in this work transcends the form, becoming simultaneously a macro and micro presentation of a geological landscape. It is sad not to be able to be in the elemental presence of these works.

It is in the nature of the show’s theme that many pieces feature grids, gridlines, underlying structures and patterns and objects and things mapped or overlaid with other things. I particularly like A Sea by Liz Griffith, in which she transforms a decaying wall into a map, and Moscow XXI, Keri Millers superimposition of computer graphics onto a poster. 


I also like Justin N. Kim’s piece in this show and how it suggests, to me at least, another level of relationship to the theme. It may be called Modern Age but it seems to map out the visual history of how it got there at the same time. I suppose it depends how you define ’modern’ but there is something about this work that encapsulates a longstanding and rich seam of American creative culture.


Chloë Natalia’s colourful and mesmerising Australia is another piece that is very hard to fully appreciate online. It has a depth to it that makes it frustrating to see online only. Definitely a piece of work that you want to look at sideways as well. Henryk Terpilowski’s Fragile is a simple but quite profound idea, that at this point in time could easily be extended and applied to an entire map of the world.  

There are several textile works in this show all of them completely different and beautifully conceptualised and expressed but the one I like most is Karena Ryan’s The Great Hill of Queen Maeve. I do love the contrast in texture, depth and content between the two sections of this piece but really I’m just a sucker for any harmonious use of the colour green. The gently overlapping shades in Lisa-Marie Price's Naturally Artificial are another lovely display of green's diverse spectrum. 


Scrolling down the show and reaching Mark Clay’s A Crack in the Record took my breath away. It was like standing on a cliff and looking down at a beach just before sunset when the light is low and picks up every golden glint of water on sand. Absolutely zero connection to what the work is actually about but thanks for that experience, which interestingly would probably not have happened in an orthodox gallery environment.

This is a necessarily whistle stop review and there is so much more to be said but a few concluding mentions - either for the work or the idea or both - Russell Hughes, Chris Wilson, Tracy Davidson, Romina Cristi, John Cowen, Helen MacRitchie. 

Thank you @katmapped, not only for including me in this great show, but for inspiring me as a consequence to put fingers to keyboard. 

You are Here 12 November – 12 December 2020 online at

Links to all participating artist websites are on the exhibition site.
All images courtesy of artists and @katmapped 

Part II - The Crowdsourced Review Book

Roni Ben Porat, Flickering Street
I like this work precisely because, as the artist says, it’s ‘ready-made’. This work is testament to the fact that art is everywhere, is in the eye and ear of the beholder, and can be as much about atmosphere and attitude as fine lines. In its geographical melding it also says something about a disparate city of difference where sometimes paths don’t cross or aren’t appreciated or understood when they do, other perhaps than by those who are, as the artist mentions, on the outside (literally or otherwise).

Liz Griffiths, A Sea
This is an absolutely stunning and, it seems, a largely ‘as found’ wall. It’s beautiful. It looks part moon shot, part map, and it’s in Peckham and Peckham’s quite near to Penge, which is where I grew up.

Daniel Felipe Polania Title n#10
I understand from the description that this work is one of several that the artist has done that incorporate a painted depiction of what he’s photographed. It’s an inspiring idea, especially when the ‘micro painting’ in this case is placed directly on the depicted object.

Liz Clifford, Wheatham Hill - Byway 745, Observatory
Very zeitgeist. Artistic recycling of the highest order that makes its own point very effectively and looks great.

Tahira Noreen, Baradari and others
I don’t fully understand how the artist has created these three ‘sculptures’ from cut-up hand-compressed paper but the effect is wonderful and highly imaginative.

What a range of interpretations!  These are the ones that grabbed me:
Last Map by Henry Burnett
A strong emotive piece that almost cries out 'Walk in my shoes.' The delicate fabric and the fragile plant collected along the way tell of the casual stroll as much as the epic journey.
A Crack in the Record by Mark Clay
The artist's exploration of sound and silence is intriguing.  Pauses in speech or music are as important as the words or the notes themselves.  In visual art too, it is often the negative space that completes the image.
The Everyday by Ruth Selig
Eerily reminiscent of the brilliant blue skies of this year's Spring and Summer during the long lockdown. The convoluted form is as of one swimming in an uncharted sea.
Russia XXI by Meri Miller.
Having always loved Russian Propaganda posters, this work jumped out to me even though that is not what it is. The Russian alphabet always looks good in print, whether you can read it or not & sometimes better if you can't. In that way I see the whole poster as abstract.  It works in the way the artist has intended it but also, for me, I enjoy seeing it as electrical charges fizzing out from a circuit board. It feels live. I love the limited colour palette. Striking red & black. The veins of a city. The white detail of the circuit board slightly muzzy & appearing as an aerial view of streets & buildings.

I don't remember seeing so many excellent works in one exhibition, real or virtual. I would quite happily take them all if I had the money and a long enough wall. However, two pieces caught my eye and stayed with me. The first is Millenium which is a clever adaptation of the world map, satirically exposing the folly of mankind's determination to destroy itself whilst attempting to rocket its way to new worlds on which to live and destroy in the neverending cycle of stupidity. The second is Wheatham Hill which is a topographical piece carved and cut from everyday materials  representing a terraced landscape. There is a hint of Hepworth about this but without using the highly polished expensive media the latter indulges in. Two worthy pieces in excellent company. Well done all.

In an exhibition as eclectic and of such high calibre as this it's perhaps invidious to pick out 'favourites' but, looked at from where I am currently on the map (Tenerife in the Canary Islands), the works that most speak to me are Mountains by Monika Ruiz and Australia by Chloë Natalia. Both works are aesthetically pleasing, of course, but also have, for me, profound emotional depth and political resonances. I'm thinking particularly of the spiritual connection of pre-colonial indigenous peoples - the Guanches of Tenerife and the Aboriginal Australians - to their landscapes via their 'mental maps', and the calamitous impact of European colonisers drawing their own lines in paper maps. I must also give a shout-out to my friend Val Grove and her two Millennium pieces. I've long admired her work and would love to see her update these maps in light of current global events.

Henny Burnett, Last Map
I really like this quasi-footwear, which looks like a set of an ancient culture’s shoes. The patterns and colours look delicate, and you can imagine yourself wandering through the villages and their surroundings.

Lisa-Marie Price, Naturally Artificial
The colours and patterns in this are beautiful. The fact that the pattern looks abstract but is based on real mapped landscapes is intriguing.

The two pieces that caught my eye, as well as much of the remainder of my being, are:
Ria Bauwens Z.T. 
seems evocative of a dreary, by-gone industrial era and forbidding with its unpeopled landscapes, fractured and frozen. The urban and the open land, photographic moments, present a fleeting surface over a geological rainbow resting in unfathomable time below.
Martha Oatway’s Standing Stones Walking Maps make me want to walk around and experience them as real objects; quite an embodied response. Uneven shapes defy any sense of tidiness or symmetry and the earth colours feel deep and connecting, like stories of our human collective experience. I think of songlines and dream times, journeys, shields and arms raised, maybe dance or something more sinister. This is exciting and has an otherness that feels slightly dangerous.

Tahira Noreen, Touchdown
Vivid, lively, engaging. Simultaneously delicate and strong. I know I’m not ‘supposed' to look for images in abstract art, but I enjoyed the impression of flight, foliage, filigree and fish. Touch of the Vorticists about her work.

Tracy Davison, When is Daddy Coming Home? 
This piece had an emotional impact on me that I feel uncomfortable about, because of its elements of rather sentimental Victorian melodrama: the snowy innocence of a beautifully-made small child's dress, on its little wooden domestic clothes hanger, with its stark and jarring decoration of a very harsh prison, plus embroidery reminiscent of chains or barbed wire. But it tugged at my heart strings!

Chloe Natalia, Australia 
I enjoyed the organic quality of this piece, with its sunny bright colours, reminiscent of coral, or of tropical flowers. The folds and pleats are fascinating to follow, and I am always impressed by flat images that look so thoroughly three-dimensional. I wanted to grab hold of the whole country and fold it into another shape entirely, before it collapsed in on itself into that orange chasm in the middle.

Nerissa Cargill Thompson, Milkshake Series: Broken Britain & Political Weapon 

For me, litter is a finger on the pulse of mass consumption; yet we consume not just physical artifacts like drink cans and milkshake cartons, but ideas and opinions too. In the same way that we often eat food from a box or packet rather than cooking it from scratch, we also import ideas and mainstream media narratives ready-cooked, with little regard for or awareness of the ingredients, a fact that politicians are keenly aware of - hence the weaponizing of discourse through the use of barely-concealed or crudely constructed fictions and dissimulations. For me, this work speaks to the decay of intellectual rigour in public discourse,  the consequent erosion of trust in political and social institutions, and the discarding of ideas and opinions as they are displaced by the latest media-generated fad . 


Daniel Felipe Polania, Title n#10

I have always liked work that celebrates the mundane, and particularly the no-frills, matter-of-fact aesthetic of objects such as this - a traffic barrier on what appears to be an industrial estate. The implied implacability - lent added power by the low-angle of the original photograph - and the refusal of design elegance, is offset by the blue sky, the light and space suggesting optimism and freedom from cares contrasting with the utilitarian brutality of the barrier. 


Monika Ruiz, Mountains,from Borders without Limits 
Lines on maps usually denote man-made borders, encountered when passing from one territory to the next. The contour lines in Monika Ruiz-B’s work remind us of the natural borders, extreme terrain that people pass through to escape the ravages of their homeland. ‘Borders without Limits’ does not attempt to prettify the landscapes, but rather draw our attention to each hard square mile of a traveller’s journey on foot.  

Mark Clay,
A Crack In The Record 
There’s a beautiful warm light caught in this image. The copper ink drawing allows for ambiguity and interpretation by the viewer - the work is indeed reminiscent of rings on a fallen tree, grooves on a melting vinyl record, or plough lines in a sunlit field.

Touchdown and Promised Land by Tahira Noreen are probably my favourites, find the  shapes, form and texture very pleasing on the eye, not to mention the colours....also quite like the idea behind the images, namely a way off following her husbands journey and his safe return to her ..a tad cubist which is always appealing to me.  

Zones by Ronald Gonzales appeals because it very much reminds me of my friend Jolyon's work with found objects ..simplicity and solidity, very appealing ....recycling into art ..perfect. 

Day in Day out 4 by Bethe Bronson very much appeals to the photographer in me. The work involved in creating such an image via a pinhole camera reminds me of the time and effort required to creating a photograph back in the pre- digital, pre photoshop days ......end result is very pleasing on the eye. 

Standing stones-walking map by Martha Oatway. Lovely idea and very beautiful and delicate looking ..kinda reminds me of animals skins/hides or dyed fabrics stretched out to dry in the sun..... perhaps a Native American encampment or an African tribal village.  

1 comment:

  1. This article is a great exploration of a great exhibition. I love Valerie’s idea of 'crowdsourcing' additional reviews too (in fact I liked it so much I became an additional reviewer). Re-reading Valerie's assessments, and looking at those of others posted below her review, made me look again and often re-appreciate some of the work on display. And the fact is, for all the frustrations of a Covid-enforced virtual show, this way you can so easily and repeatedly, enjoy work from around the world, and sometimes see it, and properly appreciate it, in ways that you might not if you were in a public gallery.