The first group exhibition to take place at Art : Concept since the gallery relocated to a new space in the Marais last September coincided with the launch of carnival festivities across Paris, ushering out the winter. Fittingly, paper streamers, images of dancers, and eerie but colourful figurines in trancelike poses filled the immaculate room. The gallery represents Ulla von Brandenburg, with whom Parisians are familiar after she transformed the cavernous Agora of the Palais de Tokyo into a multi-coloured skateboarders’ ramp in 2012, and who is one of the four nominees for this year’s Prix Duchamp. Art : Concept’s director, Olivier Antoine, decided to show her work alongside that of Haris Epaminonda and Francis Upritchard, grouping them together for the first time.
All three women live away from their homelands: Von Brandenburg is German but based in Paris; Upritchard hails from New Zealand and lives in London; and Cyprus-born Epaminonda is based in Berlin. They share an interest in folklore and rituals and, more specifically, in how these customs are understood by outsiders. In late 2015, for ‘Volume XVI’, her solo exhibition at Le Plateau in Paris, Epaminonda filled the gallery with the paraphernalia of a Japanese tea ceremony. But her meticulous staging disregarded the traditional cultural conventions: rather, she simply imagined what such a scene might look like and then re-created her imaginings. The power of objects to embody both the reality and assumptions we might have about cultures, traditions and histories is something Epaminonda also brought to the show and which resonated with the works of Von Brandenburg and Upritchard. The latter’s frail clay figures, which she ‘dresses’ in found textiles and trinkets, look at once primeval and futuristic, solemn and psychedelic, while the former’s paper cut-outs on canvas of dancing silhouettes (Schattenkreis, The Round Dance of Shadows, 2016) or colourful grotesque figures (Drei Figuren mit Stock, Three Figures with Sticks, 2016), seem to engage in obscure pageants. All evoke anthropological findings as much as pop culture – Upritchard’s fluorescent green Leader of Men (2012) looks like a levitating Master Yoda, its supporting structure hidden under its flowing robes. Upritchard also contributed a lamp with two shades entitled Shiny Face (2015) which, on closer inspection, reveals delicate cartoonish faces inscribed on the surface. Her interest in bringing together art and craft was also manifest in Pink and Purple Strike (scarf set) (2012) – three small pots laid out in a line on a tiny carpet.
Epaminonda, Upritchard and Von Brandenburg are fascinated by masks and puppets, figurines and ceremonial artefacts; in other words, with the objects associated with theatre, folklore and religion. How these objects then perform as artworks is central to their practice. Upritchard works with her husband, the designer Martino Gamper, to create the metal structures that support her figures. Epaminonda creates the frames and supports that she teams with found objects, intentionally disguising what is made and what is found. In the show, her elegant metal rectangular sculptures, Untitled #02 t/a and Untitled #03 t/a (both 2014), were propped up against the wall and resembled discarded picture frames. Untitled #07 t/e (2013), with its methodically arranged tiny metal slabs and ceremonial terracotta figurines from the ancient Indus Valley, was laid out on the floor. All are minimal juxtapositions – works without plinths and supports without content. Von Brandenburg also confuses this distinction between presentation and representation by layering used pieces of paper onto the canvas in order to create discreetly 3D images, which stand out against off-white backgrounds. The sculpture Prolog (Prologue, 2016), installed at the back of the gallery, was her most enigmatic work here: it consists of a metal square next to a rolled-up piece of blue cloth arranged on ochre fabric placed on the floor and partly up the wall. But what is this unassuming Prolog a prologue to when it is presented at the end of the show? The assemblage reiterated a shared concern amongst all three artists about upsetting the genealogy of objects and with confusing the distinction between what is made, found or appropriated.
First published in Issue 178