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What’s On London: Iconoclasts at Saatchi: Curator Q&A

Looking for something different this season? You’ll find it at the Saatchi

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If you like art that pushes the boundaries, as usual; you’ll find it at the Saatchi London, where the new show Iconoclasts: Art Out of the Mainstream is in town until January 2018. Here, curator Philippa Adams talks us through some of the most experimental pieces from this collection of ground-breaking artists.

Lewis Dale Eurovision 2015

Lewis Dale Eurovision 2015

Iconoclasts: Art Out of the Mainstream at the Saatchi 

Why this exhibition? Why now?

This exhibition invites us to engage anew with what modern-day iconoclasm might be by presenting the work of artists who are breaking today’s mould in very different ways. This is not a beautiful show, it has an undercurrent, these artists are very much working outside of the mainstream practice of others.

What can emerge out of the current issues that we are facing within the 21st century, confronting today’s prevailing beliefs, ideologies and perspectives.

Why this collection of artists?

Iconoclasts explores the experimental and often transformational practices of these artists, who use a myriad of diverse image-making techniques, from branding imagery onto human skin, to weaving 1000s of crow feathers, to embroidering onto vintage photographs. Their interpretations and references hold contemporary significance and give us an opportunity to reflect.

Where do you start with a project like this?

We often work concurrently on a few shows, so we have the flexibility to continue shaping them. Bringing together this distinct group of artists seemed very relevant right now. Like any good recipe, starting with a few artists we felt were current, we start building, layering the Iconoclastic myriad cake.

What makes this group worthy of the iconoclasts title?

While this group cannot be described as iconoclasts in the traditional sense of the word, they are all driven by an iconoclastic urge, which manifests itself in the intriguingly diverse and often destructive ways they produce art.

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How does this exhibition reflect or go against the grain of the current art landscape in the UK?

This exhibition, you might say does both. In more traditional galleries you’re unlikely to find artists whose works challenge on so many levels, whether it’s the medium, the process or the resources they use.

In contemporary galleries and institutions, artists are being more celebrated for their wide-ranging appropriation, their distinctive voices. It’s a very important time to be an artist, the current art landscape is a direct overflow, reflecting on what is happening globally, culturally, politically. Artists have enormous freedom and we have a responsibility to listen.

Some of the pieces were produced using very unusual techniques; which artists stood out to you for this reason?

Alexi Wynn Williams sculpture, Echoes of the Kill, is an oversized butcher’s block with a forest like installation of wax forms rising up off itThe forms were created from filling the negative space of lungs with molten wax, poured directly into the airways of dead cattle and horses. These casts were then put through a maceration process which uses acid to dissolve the flesh and reveal the wax forms.  The viewer approaches the work without knowledge of what they are engaging in.

Echoes of the Kill blurs boundaries and explores the boarders of where something stops to exist in one way and takes on new meaning. It’s beautiful, surprisingly arresting.

Williams Alexi Echos of the Kill detail 2015

Williams Alexi Echos of the Kill detail 2015

The Current Best Art Exhibitions in London

Which piece in the exhibition made the biggest impression on you?

Thomas Mailaender’s series, Illustrated People. He is the unparalleled master of re-appropriating unclassifiable imagery in a completely new and often totally unexpected way. Mailaender brings a real sense of playfulness and freedom to his work.

In the series Illustrated People, original negatives from the archive of modern conflict’s collection are placed onto the skin of obliging models, friends, even his wife, before projecting a powerful UV lamp over them.  The result reveals a fleeting picture on the skin’s surface, which he photographs, before exposure to daylight causes them to eventually disappear. It’s very clever, very much out of the mainstream!

Mailaender Thomas Illustrated People 6 2013

Mailaender Thomas Illustrated People 6 2013

What’s next?

Saatchi Gallery has two shows in the planning stages for next year:

Known Unknowns – showcasing artists well-established in the Gallery’s collection alongside those that are fresher,Known Unknowns will bring the two collections into dialogue, offering visitors an opportunity to reassess and reposition our global community.

Black Mirror: Art as Social Satire  – this playful show offers an in-depth look at the Saatchi collection, using art as a tool for political and satirical critique.

Philippa Adams

Philippa Adams, Exhibition Curator

You can catch Iconoclasts: Art Out of the Mainstream until 7 January 2018. 

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