Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Opening this week at PM/AM on Great Titchfield Street, 10 is an exhibition that celebrates the diversity, construction and expressiveness of the body. Created by multiple artists, this international exhibition explores the relationship between the body and its historical and figurative representation in the present day.
Curated across two rooms, at ground level most of the works on display explore the ambiguities of posture and its ability to reinforce or entirely contradict facial expressions. Notably, ‘Not for Real’, Wahab Saheed’s painting of a young man on a chair attempts to obscure the physical position of its subject whose arms are drawn behind his back, whether as part of a slouching possession of the seat or in some kind of restraint we cannot tell. His defiant, staring intensity could mean either interpretation as could the emoji adorning his t-shirt, making it intriguingly difficult for the viewer to translate the clues given by his body language.
No such difficulties in the positions of his nearest neighbours, a beautiful Vorticist-inspired composition by Tahnee Lonsdale that references the simple rounded forms that emerged during and after the First World War. Here, a family group is depicted, heads hung in defeat or shame, the whole frame dominated by the droop of their large, curved shoulders painted in blue with hints of orange, the largest figure holding a bunch of wilting flowers. Equally effective in this corner of the gallery is small line drawing of a reclining man whose pocketed hand and collapsed stance looks restful and almost a seductive invitation.
Other works here offer a more neutral scene including a shimmering yellow painting by in which the figure of a crouched woman looks abstractedly into the distance, her brown shoes and hair picked out against the serenity of expression. Even James Ulmers’ five doll-like figures in vibrant harlequin patterns give little away as their layered forms replicate one another in gesture and focus.
Downstairs is an alternative world of colour as various artists explore the human body as it looks beyond itself. Particularly effective are Didier Williams’ companion portraits of two figures, ‘Makome’ and ‘Monkonpe’, both muscular and sturdy, painted with short lines. This creates the impression of scales or some other layer of exoskeleton that seems to bristle with energy as though their bodies continually flex in front of you. They are recognisably human but still amphibious and distorted.
Equally fascinating is Emma Cousin’s image of three figures entwined in a torturous embrace – ‘The Voice of Dinosaurs’. Referencing the imps and devils of medieval religious art (which revived during the Civil War and Interregnum) with the overlong and fleshy tongue of each creature in the grasp of another while their boldly coloured limbs enfold their companions in hellish eternity.
The final section of the exhibition looks at the female body in particular – including some more troubling work like Matthew Hansel’s fully nude woman in a fantasy scene filled with quirky creatures. Best among this final selection though is Oska Gutheil’s three-faced woman looking at her phone. The vibrant colours including electric blue explode from the canvas, but the dimensions of the picture are most engaging, representing the many faces we simultaneously present to the world.
Name plates and descriptions of the work are not available in the gallery but can be accessed through a QR Code. For its tenth exhibition, PM/AM has brought together a discrete but meaningful selection of works that approach the body, its representation and the complex messaging it convey, and there are plenty of artists here whose work skilfully and innovatively grapples with these debates.
Runs until 13 June 2021