A Snake Without A Head Is Just A Rope | November 7 – December 21, 2019 | Sim Smith | London

A Snake Without A Head Is Just A Rope

November 7 – December 21, 2019

Sebastian Hammwöhner, Vojtěch Kovařík, Dan Mandelbaum, Stefan Rinck

In the early years of our 21st Century so much appears to have changed—technologically, sociologically, politically. Across cultures, inherent structures from the recent past of modernity, including of course the production of art are found inadequate, and often at times simply over run. In George Kubler’s 1962 The Shape of Timean alternative vision of art history is proposed, one that is more fluid and boundless than conventional containers of style or iconology permit—driven more by repetitions and process, akin more to the transmissions and structures of ritual. Rational and technological qualities quickly become inadequate when isolated from spiritual need. In such a context surprising morphologies have arisen, exactly like those represented by the artists of this exhibition. In a moment when yoga, crystal healing, and meditation are common coping mechanisms that compensate activities enabled by logarithms’ and high speed internet data, what are we to make of such an anomalously aggregated daily routine. 

Berlin based Sebastian Hammwöhner uses coloured chalk and dust to make works of imagined textile fragments, presented against a black background like fragments of ancient woven carpet. The work exists between figuration and symbolism, like much of his work in painting, sculpture and installation, he explores the gaps between clear categories—an aspect that is just as true of the other artists included in this exhibition. This most portable object, a textile is now in meta-transit, from idea to drawing, a presence both practical and talismanic. Images of repeated figures or creatures evoke anthropological research as much as magical folkloric potential. Dan Mandelbaum ceramic sculptures, made in his Brooklyn studio, are human, animal or a hybrid of the two. In form, they are direct and frontal like diminutive Brancusi’s or three dimensional cartoon figures. Stefan Rinck, another Berlin based artist, uses traditional materials and techniques—carved stone and marble, to depict animal form or invented creatures. The traces of carving are often visible on the finished object, raw and implicit rather than refined. These sculptures are totemic, roughly hewn, and imply ritual use or fetish like power. Czech artist Vojtěch Kovařík, lives and works in the Czech Republic after studying in Warsaw. His paintings represent an alternative, marginalized, liminal world of boxing and nightclubs. Shapes that fill the picture plane—the view close and uncomfortably awkward—are tight and silhouetted. As serious as they are comic or abject the figures grapple like cartooned adversaries or profiled Assyrian warriors.  

The historical redux pursued—where elements of the past made coeval in our highly technocratic present—has as much to say about ritual as representation. The artists here imbue a complexity of thought through often deceptively simple objects that manifest a different conception of time and place from the limited and topical durations we are now all too familiar with. This enables, like a rite, reconnections to human desires and needs that must necessarily, it seems increasingly evident, find interface with the uncertainties of contemporary life and so restructure understanding, and in the process, not only look to the past, but struggle with the present and engage with the future.