A Review of Olivia Steele's exhibition at the Circle Culture Gallery in Berlin, Germany
In June the Circle Culture Gallery hosted a private view of the American artist Olivia Steele’s (b. 1985) new body of work Faux Real. Situated on Potsdamer Straßem, Berlin, the large open planned space has been supporting international contemporary artists since 2001.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee the contemporary visual artist lives and works between Berlin and Mexico. Olivia's artistic style is distinctive as she employs the commercial medium of neon glass with the intention of challenging the traditional preconceptions that we are often presented with in modern culture. Covering subjects that are often philosophical or spiritually-charged she believes it is important for human beings to embrace the unknown, question our judgement and welcome curiosity.
As Olivia explains in her artist statement; “a crucial aspect to our evolution as a human race is replacing fear of the unknown with curiosity and nurturing your imagination in a journey to know thyself through self reflection as you come to discover what is Faux and what is Real.” Olivia’s neon works have been installed and exhibited internationally as her ‘interventions’ have gained notoriety for their sincere yet sarcastic commentaries. From cultural establishments such as the Royal Academy of Arts, London to barren desert scapes, the artist creates charged spaces where her dialogue either conflicts with or complements its settings.
In Faux Real Olivia presents new works that encourage the viewer to use their imagination and spark a drive to better understand oneself. In Stay Present, 2016 these words are showcased in the form of silver helium balloons set against a photographic backdrop of a mountainous desert landscape. The work is both playful as the balloons are evocative of childhood memories whilst the message they form seeks to provide a more meaningful statement. Similarly in Fountain of Truth, 2016 we see the artist’s playful approach as she blurs the lines between reality and illusion. Olivia invites the viewer to enjoy - rather than worry about - what they believe to be real or false, as she uses a blue neon strip to symbolise water pouring from a tap into a bucket. She allows us to embrace our curiosity and make sense independently of the abstract forms we are presented with.
Tucked away at the far end of the gallery we find I Feel 4 You, 2016 with the sentence written in blue neon across a thin tree trunk. Here, Olivia plays with conventional semiotics as the viewer is forced to explore the relationships that could be found in the pairing of the two. The melancholy colour and poignant line bring to mind the universal feeling of pain that one endures for the sake of love. Yet at the same time the coupling of the line with the natural material suggests positive feelings as we are allowed to appreciate the beauty we so often take for granted in nature.
Olivia’s ability to bridge the playful and meaningful in her practice is refreshing. Her new body of work Faux Real achieves exactly what it sets out to do; it allows the viewer to embrace what they may perceive as the unknown and enjoy questioning what they believe to be ‘Faux’ and ‘Real’ by applying the use of their imagination. The stories that Olivia wishes to form through her art have gone from strength to strength, Faux Real undoubtedly contributes to her legacy.
Olivia Steele's Faux Real will be exhibited at Circle Culture Gallery from June 24th until September 3rd 2016
Written by Lara Monro, Contributor to Arteviste.com in Berlin, Germany