Los Angeles-based artist Pae White merges art, design, craft and architecture through site-specific installations and individual works which defy our expectations of a variety of techniques and media. For her South London Gallery exhibition she creates a mesmerising installation in which vast quantities of black and purple yarn span and criss-cross the room to form a dense cloud of darkness which struggles to exist within the ethereality of the space. As visitors make their way into the work beneath the mesh of threads, supergraphics spelling out the words TIGER TIGER and UNMATTERING gradually emerge and dissolve depending on both the viewer's physical relationship to them and the relative weight of the overall aesthetic experience. Inspired by the artist's recent bouts of insomnia and consequent reflection on the transience of our existence, the installation also makes reference, through the colours of the yarn, to the cover of Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality album, a copy of which she remembers having terrified her so much when she was a child that she had to hide it under her bed to be able to sleep.
In all her works, Pae White responds very specifically, if completely unpredictably, to each space and situation in an intuitive and unique way, weaving together personal, aesthetic and cultural references. At the South London Gallery, what she describes as the ‘other-worldliness’ of the high-ceilinged exhibition hall, its ‘heavenly condition’, served as a trigger for the creation of a work which would be in perceptual conflict with the persistent ethereality of the space. Having made her first yarn installation incorporating supergraphics in Philadelphia in 2012, White was also intent on extending her interest in text and language. Her choice of the words TIGER TIGER and UNMATTERING, spelt out on a monumental scale, play on the capacity for fleeting ideas to take on overwhelming importance in the course of the night, and on the relative insignificance of individual lives in the universal scheme of things. Legible only by entering and interacting with the space, the words themselves are both physical and visual manifestations of the fragility of matter, as well as seeming to shout all the louder for being set amidst the muffled soundscape of the cocooning environment.
Pae White’s work is characterised by its diversity and the artist’s ability to develop visually impressive responses to a range of contexts. Gallery installations have included a shimmering sea of over-sized, gold-lined popcorn kernels suspended from fine threads to hover just above the floor, huge tapestries of photorealistic smoke plumes, and room-filling mobiles of mirrored geometric shapes. In 2009 she responded to Miami’s architectural skyline with her own micro-development of temporary scaffolding structures, made magical through the interior illumination of their brightly coloured translucent walls, whilst in 2008 an outdoor exercise park for dogs proved to be a popular hit with dog owners at the Folkestone Triennial. For the 2009 Venice Biennale animals were again a preoccupation when White transformed a warehouse into an imagined haven for birds. Hanging beneath a ceiling of coloured acrylic thread, a series of extraordinary seed-encrusted chandeliers implied the presence of birds, periodically made audible by impersonators whistling live in the space.
White has exhibited extensively across the USA and internationally over the past twenty years, as well as undertaking high profile projects for the Venice Biennale in 2009 and Whitney Biennale in 2010, and numerous commissions including those for Transport for London, the New Opera House in Oslo and Berlin Brandenburg airport. Forthcoming solo shows include those at the Langen Foundation, Neuss, Germany (March-July 2013) and at MAK in Vienna, Austria (Autumn 2013).
The exhibition is supported by Vicky Hughes and John Smith, and The Henry Moore Foundation. With additional thanks to greengrassi, London.