Updated: Jun 11, 2020
On a Sunday afternoon in late summer, a young, tall, blonde glass of water ventured through the Mayfair jungle of designer stores and beautiful Capitalism to a small townhouse on Grafton Street. As she struggled, with the heavy door of wealth and privilege from the street into the private space, her hair swung across the golden sign which read DAVID ZWIRNER. Within the great rooms of this cosy little mid terrace, lurked the works of JASMINE THOMAS-GIRVAN in collaboration with CHRIS OFILI, collated in the show: AFFINITIES. Her work draws on subjects of spirituality and her Caribbean heritage. There was a sense of wonder and magic in the space, as if entering a spiritual enchantment. Within the show, she sculpturally describes magically realistic beings. They whisper stories to the viewer and run around the gallery when you’re not looking. Many traditional visual cues of serenity, beauty and tranquility had been invoked through the use of materials like gold and glass, partnered with slate. This speaks to middle class individuals who come into contact with these materials everyday, and thus value them beyond their materiality. Coming from within this class myself, the creatures felt like spirits risen from my grandmother's kitchen floor, moulded with the rings resting on the kitchen sink, while she does the washing up. Henceforth, no location could be more fitting than a gallery branched from middle class, midtown Manhattan.
Storytelling has become a central part of my practice. Thus, THOMAS-GIRVAN directly connected many evolving aspects of my current mode of thinking. Collaboration can be seen as a core and valued resource within this concept, -passing stories through families and communities without much regard for factual truth. THOMAS-GIRVAN's Jamaican heritage must no doubt feed into this, and is interesting to see brought under the lens of the corporate art world. To my mind comes the work of CARLOS AMORALES from the FRIZE 2019 promotion, quoting: “I sold myself as art’. Questions of using spirituality and cultural practices within commercial art arise here.
However, these values translated beautifully into the high-end space, while maintaining the authenticity of our trade. OFILI has said: “Jasmine’s work tells beautiful and mysterious tales that are a combination of fragility and dread with a knowing nod towards alchemy and witchcraft of the past, present, and future”, showing the special relationship they have, based in a heartfelt understanding of each others practice. This can be felt in the space also, though I preferred the works of THOMAS-GIRVAN, the relevance of OFILI’s references to HOMER’s ODYSSEY and Western theory cannot be ignored. We are in London. It is also interesting here to see THOMAS-GIRVAN’s use of bodily energy in the placement and use of hands throughout her work. Through a religious context; this could be seen as creating deities by using the body parts, but her work feels more like an appreciation of vitality, relating to LEONARDO DA VINCI's explorations in the 15th Century. Lurking further into the space, after climbing whining staircases to the point of the ‘private’ sign, I discovered the most special and magical scene of a dinner table reminiscent of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party (as conceptualised by LEWIS CARROL). I am not given to reading the information provided by the art house, so my recollection of the event could be given to rose tinted nostalgia. However, as I walked amongst the hearts on plates and babies diving forth from tea cups, I couldn't help but wish I was there for the event which transpired.
This idea also emerged in a talk given by ADJORA ARMAH, in which she discussed her connection to Spiritually and Witchcraft in relation to her Archival practice. Furthermore, to quote ARMAH, artefacts as evidence of happenings could be seen as: “the thing that makes the thing possible, but not the thing itself”. She referred to this in relation to a spiritual guider she had throughout certain phases of her life. This idea can also be applied to other theorems like Feminism and Capitalism, whereby women could be seen as a catalyst for men to archive further within a patriarchal structure (achievements which may not have been possible without ‘Female' ephemeral support). Furthermore, the ownership of work arises here, of whether one should, or needs to, make known their work to reap the rewards, or whether the work itself is reward enough. ARMAH's spiritual journey could be seen as her reward, and many young artists would say we we create for ourselves, but does this then not just feed the Hedonistic Gratification of Capitalism? Whereby we need to achieve something, by acting, to make acting worthy of our time.
With this in mind, my work has become very practice based, centring around impulse and creator enjoyment throughout the process. Researching Happenings, a term first coined by ALLAN KAPROW, greatly excited me with regard to this. Organising events, involving artist with audience, in collaboration, to create moments holds something very special to me. Hot Soak by HELENA GOLDWATER could be another example of this; a performance piece where she invited the audience to hold an ice cube over her mouth while she, wearing a red gown, laid submerged in water for five minutes waiting for it to melt. She quotes "without [the audience] the work cannot exist". The theatricality of this links to the feeling of the dinner table created by THOMAS-GIRVAN, and how I feel Happenings can be evidenced by the artefacts left behind. This stems from my belief that the creative process is the most rewarding and pure experiences, and thus to share and evidence this is how I define art.
Another talk I bare reference to is the Carnival of Popularity, delivered by PAUL O’KANE. In said talk, he discussed artists who worked and lived in a Carnivalesque manner, questioning the lines between life and art. Celebrity is a fabulous example of this with Designers such as: JEFF KOONS, ANDY WARHOL and ALEXANDER MCQUEEN, blurring the lines between Art and Artist. This connection between ‘Self’ and 'Work' is something I have always been intrigued by, with the central question as to whether the ‘Self’ is, in fact, the greatest creation of the Artist. In relation to popularity this makes one question the morals under which they work, and who they are working for. Seeking happiness in moments, in the structure of a Happening, seems (to me) to be the purest of pursuits.
One remaining thought that was prevalent throughout the show was the concept of the 'Tribe’. THOMAS-GIRVAN’s creatures form their own species within the space, and linking back to her use of Materiality, combine objects that feel found in a thriving atmosphere. This inclusivity of the collaboration aspect also may be what is to tribute for the special energy within the space. With regards to ‘Popularity’ the authenticity of this may be found in the undefinable aspect of it. However, this could make the work feel inaccessible to some audiences and rebuke the idea of contemporary art pushing boundaries. Furthermore, placing such work within the walls of DAVID ZWIRNER could again be seen as an inaccessible space to some, who may feel such too commercial or financially driven. Henceforth, I conclude with the questioning of how to protect Magical, Beautiful and Spiritual artworks without them becoming cliche, cliquey or formulaically created. Moving forward I wish to explore this further in collaborative practice.
Upon leaving the establishment, the young blonde girl tootled down the steps, running her fingers across the iron cast bars. On the street, a scene between a mature man of authority and a cloud of people dressed in black was unfolding.
He caught her eye and they stared at one another for a moment, before she ran off to BALENCIAGA, and forgot it ever happened.