White Cube presents a selection of Rachel Kneebone’s new works as a play in two acts: Lamentations, a group of plinth based works on the ground floor, counter positioned against Shields in the first floor gallery. In both parts Kneebone has continued her reworking fragments of human anatomy into compositions in porcelain.
Reminiscent of the contortions present in a Hieronymus Bosch painting or a Goya etching the imagery is curiously more uneasy than horrifying. The shock of seeing mutilated and distorted body parts is curiously curtailed by the beguiling translucent porcelain surface. It is hard to dislike the maticulously crafted object dispite their underlying content. The questions set up within the piece circle around particular notions of death - trauma, loss, grief and despair - the emotions which one might describe as taking place "after the fact". To an extent these works are about death in th past-tense, crystalised and hardened into porcelain.
‘Eyes that look close at wounds themselves are wounded’ sets the “wound” in its many guises as the pivot of the work. The materiality of the work can convey little of the viceral gore of being wounded and instead draws us to consider other readings of the term.
On another level these works are about the role of ornament from a distance the complexity is blinding, appearing like an over embellished plasterwork or the top of a wedding cake. The devil is in the detail (literally in the case of some pieces) and the intricacy and delicacy of the piece is apparent on closer inspection.
From Meisen to Capodimonte porcelain in Europe has always been a highly prized, contentious and political material, the working of which has required consideranble technical virtuosity. The material therefore is one of prestige and reassurance but one that is recoded through the use of disturbing imagery. Kneebone's work represents an interesting case in point about the use of materials in contemporary art.
As viewers of art we have become immersed material parody. Even high street shops contain objects of ironic recodification - garden trowels printed with symbols of human mortality, rubber bath ducks with satanic horns. It remains to be seen how this trope of manufacture can remain a communicative and high art method in the face of constant commercial replication.
In the first floor gallery, the six works - the 'Shields' - are mounted on the wall. The translucent surface of the porcelain is done little service by reproduction in photography and is a joy to behold. One is left with no doubt about why nations fought for contol over this most achemical of materials.
-- Mike Tuck
All images courtesy the artist and White Cube
Photo: Stephen White
Images: Rachel Kneebone, Eyes that look close at wounds themselves are wounded, 2010, Porcelain, 21 1/4 x 18 1/2 x 18 1/2 in. (54 x 47 x 47 cm); Rachel Kneebone, Shield II, 2010, Porcelain, 18 7/8 x 18 1/8 x 5 1/8 in. (48 x 46 x 13 cm).