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Jessi Reaves © Courtesy of the Artist and Herald St
android stroll

2 Herald Street
London E2 6JT
United Kingdom
October 1st - November 12th
Opening: September 30th 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

QUICK FACTS
WEBSITE:  
http://www.heraldst.com/
EMAIL:  
mail@heraldst.com
PHONE:  
+44(0)20 7168 2566
OPEN HOURS:  
Wed-Fri 11-6; Sat-Sun 12-6

DESCRIPTION

For  her  first  show  at  Herald  St,  Jessi  Reaves  has  built  sculptural  chairs,  shelves,  lamps  and  cabinets  which  obscure  traditional  distinctions  between  the  functional  and  the  aesthetic.  While  her  constructions  employ  the  structural  and  technical lexicons of  furniture - making, utility is resolutely downgraded in favour of the grotesque and the excessive.

Reaves  enters  an  almost  exclusively  male  domain  of  artists  who  have  worked  with  furniture  to  challenge  the  fixed  binaries of design and fine art. Isamu’s Noguchi’s iconic modernist coffee table, created for Herman Miller in 1947 and  described in the original catalogue as “sculpture - for - use” and “design for production”, has been a particularly significant  point  of  reference.  And  yet  Reaves  brutally  re - imagines  th is  and  other  such  hallowed  relics  of  modernist  furniture,  fetishised as art objects in design history. By combining such “art objects” with unrefined industrial materials and objects  that  many  of  us  might  describe  as  junk,  she  transgresses  their  codes  of  e legance  and  good  taste  to  create  a  new  idiosyncratic language.

The  sculptural  shelving  units  which  protrude  from  the  gallery  walls  are  surreal  bricolages  of  plywood  (the  marker  lines  from initial measurements still visible), remnants of wicker chairs and b askets, gnarled branches of driftwood and gaping  handbags emptied of their prior purpose as vessels for belongings. Within the broadly geometric frame of the shelves,  space  is  articulated  by  a  complex  layering  of  planes  and  curving  lines.  In  the  larger  she lf,  an  amputated  headpiece  of  Eames’  iconic  recliner  is  wedged  into  the  assemblage  and  painted  in  a  plain  brown  paint,  undercutting  the  austere  autonomy of the original form and denying its function.

In  a  similar  way,  the  chair  titled  The  History  merges  high  and  low  junk,  combining  the  skeleton  of  an  outdoor  reclining  chair with the seat of Marcel Breuer’s famed Long Chair. The fabric that binds these two forms together is a knock - off  version of John Galliano’s brazen newsprint dress for Dior, which was cov ered with sensational headlines from the news  stories  of  his  sullied  reputation.  Galliano's  use  of  the  raw  material  of  newsprint  to  make  a  functional  textile  provides  a  fitting parallel to Reaves’ wider practice. The fabric at the top of the chair reads ‘The History’, perhaps a playful comment  on how the materials in her work are being ‘read’ in the art gallery context. 

Unlike  the  mid - century  ergonomic  furniture  made  from  sleek  steel,  wood  or  plastic,  Reaves’  ottoman  in  two  parts  (X  chromosome and Find it on a map) is heavy, impractical and inconvenient, constructed out of plywood, foam and blocks  of  fabric  stapled  aggressively  into  place.  Split  in  half  where  Reaves  would  usually  have  incorporated  a  recognizable  furniture element, we are left with two voluptuous biomorphic shapes and no obvious place to sit. Similarly disconcerting  our  expectations  of  function,  one  of  the  cabinets  is  draped  in  a  translucent  yellow  slip  that  renders  its  interior  shelves  largely inaccessible and instead strangely eroticizes it. Yet the partially unzipped cover heightens our awareness of what  is  underneath  as  we  begin  to  discern  the  painted  plywood,  wicker,  plexiglas,  encrusted  sawdust  and  patterned  fabric  upholstery. 

Reaves' lamps also pervert their assumed purpose. One hangs upside down from a nail like a sconce, adorned by two  futile straps  – fake balancing mechanisms. The standing lamp is  of an intentionally awkward scale, too small to light from  above but far too large to place on a table. Whilst we struggle to understand where the light is being cast, a  purposeful  purposelessness, the work is never totally divorced from the utilitarian.

The basket at the base of the lamp is embellished with floral motifs which Reaves has made by mixing wood glue and  sawdust swept from the floor of her studio. Construction techniques are constantly conflated with the ornamental as this  typical  carpenter’s  trick,  more  usually  employed  to  repair  imperfections,  is  here  transformed  into  a  crude  and  exaggerated  decorative  gesture,  replacing  the  flourishes  and  ornate  inlays  used  to  adorn  traditional  furniture.  Lumpy  accretions  cling  to  many  of  the  objects’  surfac es,  a  stark  contrast  to  the  reductive  tendencies  of  both  modernist  and  minimalist forms. 

This body of work is not without its contradictions as delicacy coexists with the crude. The round swivel chair is adorned  with gold and silver thread, painstakingly  hand - sewn, though it might easily have been spray painted or even singed. A  box  beneath  the  base  props  it  up  awkwardly,  creating  tension  between  the  intricacy  of  the  texture  and  its  implied  instability.  Displacing  practicality,  Reaves  sculptures  are  instil led  with  subjecthood,  turning  the  modernist  autonomy  of  the design object on its head.

Text by Jessica Freeman - Attwood