Three figures stand watching outwards towards the street from the ceiling to floor bay windows that clad the front of the gallery. At a quick glance one could mistake and sum up these figures as archeological objects, relics from the past. There is an obvious totemic feel about these figures that shout to a deeper history or symbolic gesture (most likely stemming on my part from too many field trips to museums and historic sites as a student). Huma Bhabha’s new sculptures are in fact roughly hewn from cork and ‘aged’ with black paint to look the part.
The exhibition quickly turns from ancient civilization to a science fiction point of reference when entering the second room with Bhabha’s more characteristic sculptural work. The piece shows two figures both resting on a barren surface. One of the figures are made up of a wooden frame in the position of walking. Text literally and humorously helps the viewer out by spelling out the “Front” and the “Back” of the work. The second figure resembles a robot straight out of A.I. (2001), made from car parts, chicken wire, and clay. Surrounding the sculpture are mixed media portraits of human-esque faces. The portraits on photographs in combination to the sculptural elements make for a dynamic pairing which show an investigation in figuration. In every instance there has been a paring down of elements challenging the viewer to still see that face or still recognize themselves within two wooden sticks.
I commend Bhabha for not giving too much away in terms of explanation with her choices in making these objects. Her work is heavily loaded with historical, media, and autobiographical elements creating an autonomy in which the work exists and continue to self describe. This forces a reading of the work to operate on a level much like artifacts found within archeological digs, which have been assigned meaning through educated guessing and speculation. We can access these objects and recognize the visual language but may never understand the more intricate pairings that lay only with the artist.
-- David Yu
All images © the artist and courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.
Photographs: Stephen White
Images: Huma Bhabha, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, Installation view.
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