Gabriel Kuri’s exhibition at South London Gallery includes a variety of sculptural work that appears to draw wide-ranging artistic references and political comment. Untitled (Scoop) (2011) feels like a twist between Richard Serra‘s Tilted Arc (1981), tilted further until it is elevated off the ground, and Ellsworth Kelly‘s similarly segment-shaped canvas White Curve (1974), whilst it is painted with a smooth block of dark red colour in the Field Colour Painting style of Kelly, but taking this into a more three-dimensional form. Meanwhile the steel nature of this work and red painted finish also seem to reference the sculpture of Sir Anthony Caro. Where Kelly’s work is hung away from the wall, Kuri’s similar Untitled (3/4 Blue) (2011) is raised off the ground on a blanket, seemingly suggesting installation work is still in progress.
Some of the works may appeal to smokers (and those anti-smoking) as cigarettes feature. In Untitled (Charted Topography) (2011) a series of resin casts have been made in the ribbed bottom of plastic bottles which have been used as ashtrays and hence Kuri has preserved the evidential cigarette ends like fossils, probably even locking in a trace of DNA like a fly trapped in amber as used in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Beneath the table sits a wholesale pack of water bottles, seemingly suggesting that one is used each day. I recently saw Lewisham Stop Smoking campaign advertising funding for relevant public projects; perhaps they should commission some of Kuri’s art. However, which way do you think the giant roll-up cigarettes or cigars of Untitled (Shells and Stubbed-out Cigarettes) (2011) leans? Are they a smoker’s dream, like the giant billboard cigarettes of the past or do they highlight the dangers of smoking, with the title potentially referring to them as a ticking explosive device? On the other hand, this work may discuss gender politics through sexual connotations of phallic cigarettes and concave shells, with the prototype voting table dividing the objects into heterosexual and homosexual couples, and creating boundaries between them.
Untitled (Shelter) (2011) prominently features two giant credit cards with raised numbering that have been cut up into strips and mixed up with similar strips of polished marble with curved corners that resonate with the cards. Hence it is apparent that besides the financial politics surrounding credit cards, Kuri is also interested in the throwaway nature of western society and the longevity of plastic and stone materials. Indeed it seems likely that the numbered cards were discarded promotional material, which Kuri has de-branded with black paint, something of a political statement regarding the misery of debt, the current lack of credit, and banks considering loans as assets. Additionally the marble may be left over from a kitchen worktop or gravestone and two drinks cans are crushed between some of the stones. This resonates with Paolo Cirio‘s P2P Gift Credit Card featured in The Art of Selling and the Selling of Art and Michael Landy‘s Credit Card Destroying Machine at the Frieze Art Fair that cut up a credit card in exchange for an automatically produced drawing. Meanwhile these oversized credit cards are also tantamount to Scott Myle’s work The Past from Above (Elba Grey 1), a trio of A1 sized replicas of branded manilla wallets or folders in three monochromatic tones seen on the Meyer Riegger stand at Frieze, along with a similar work in the three primary colours on The Breeder stand. It seems as though this work may have been a witty, literal response to someone asking to see Myle’s portfolio, questioning whether what is inside counts, or if first impressions are all important.
Alongside the cards in Kuri’s work stand a group of small modesty panels or ‘privacy screens’, which seem to reflect the shape of the card. Whilst seemingly more like an office divider made to the wrong scale or for a very open plan and transparent business, we are asked to think about emergency housing and refugee camps and the need to divide land. Hence these small barriers create boundaries which are open to be moved and contested like the borders between countries or fences between suburban houses, a comment on the human condition of wanting to separate ourselves, which is more prevalent in London than the rest of the country as we often don’t even know our next door neighbour, whilst I gather in Kuri’s home country, people will come along and build on top of your home in the Barrio ghetto in Mexico city.
Between the screens we can see, if we peer over like a news helicopter, giant matches and cardboard, as people try to get by cooking and sleeping. The rolls of corrugated card feel like a gentle nod to Michelangelo Pistoletto’s installation The Mirror of Judgement at the Serpentine Gallery over the Summer, where Pistoletto filled the space with rolls of corrugated card to create a labyrinth, somewhat like Monika Sosnowska’s Untitled work there in 2004.
To surmise, Kuri has explored a variety of sculptural media and methodology in a thoughtful and intellectual manner, referencing and paying tribute to a number of artistic predecessors.
Gabriel Kuri: Before Contingency After the Fact is at South London Gallery, 65 Peckham Road, London SE5 8UH until 27th November 2011.
Sir Anthony Caro’s sculptural work will be shown in the grounds of Chatsworth House, Bakewell, Derbyshire D45 1PP from 28th March 2012 – 1st July 2012.