A Review of Adventitious Encounters by Open Space Contemporary at Whiteleys, London
Walking into Whiteleys Shopping Centre, I was surprised by the setting of the Adventitious Encounters, an exhibition put on by the contemporary art platform Open Space Contemporary, which is based between London and Istanbul. However, I was eager to see it after a glance through the press release. Curated by Huma Kabakcı and Anna Skladmann, the exhibition presented a series of twenty emerging and established artists from all over the globe. The list included everyone from Chloe Wise to Volkan Aslan and Joshua Leon as well as Kate McMillan and Paloma Proudfoot.
Making my way over to the escalators I slowly took in my surroundings. I quickly noticed the beautiful Art Deco architecture of the shopping centre, which was an unexpected pleasure amidst the bright and uninviting lights of the shops and cafes. At the apex of the structure, a stunning glass dome caught my eye. Open Space Contemporary boldly commissioned Conservatory Archives, the ‘indoor gardening and project plants specialist’ from Hackney to decorate the centre of the dome with a menagerie of plants. With an Instagram of millennial dreams, his participation was a clever move.
Adventitious Encounters was curated to both respect, and align with its unusual surroundings; I discovered that both curators fell in love with the space some time ago and have been eager to use it ever since. I was also told that Whiteleys Shopping Centre was built to the vision of William Whiteley, who had originally conceived a desire for the dome in question to be central to a botanical paradise. What would he have thought of All Star Lanes?
In today’s society - ‘woke’ as it is on pressing global topics such as climate change and human rights - the curation of this show felt strong and current. Drawing on the history of the architecture, whilst simultaneously tapping into inescapably topical subject matter, Adventitious Encounters draws attention to the interaction between humans and nature. It explores the processes of human production and consumption in response to nature as an object of desire. In this world, there's a fear that nature is losing its desirability on an aesthetic level at a critical point in our history when human production and consumption are having disastrous effects on the natural world. Given its relevance in current news, this exhibition seemed a timely reflection upon human impact on the natural world.
A particular acclaim for this show was the sheer diversity of works on show. From the collaborative installation by Conservatory Archives to the performance art on opening night, there was so much on offer, which made it easy to connect with the rest of the audience. Perhaps this variety was intended to reflect the varying states that the natural world has to offer. I was particularly struck by a few, which for me provoked the most interesting narratives.
Alex Flick’s video installation capturing the movement of flowing water was utterly mesmerising. Both immersive and calming, the video work cast a spell over the small space in which it was exhibited. Just outside Flick's space were small minimalist landscapes by Sigrid Viir. This corner of the exhibition was beautifully curated in its message to inspire the viewer, and portray what is possible in nature when devoid of human interaction. The main element of human interaction in these works is participation and viewing, as a bystander and witness to natural elements at play. Whilst the natural elements are adapted for human pleasure by the very means of making the work of art, nature itself is left to its ‘natural’ cause. Another set of works that captivated me were by Anna Skladmann, co-curator of the show, pearlescent photographic floral studies that examine digital techniques and notions of nature and beauty.
Whilst these works focused on nature in its natural beauty and form, other works in the show examined the natural world by way of human adaptation. Chloe Wise’s eye-catching sculptural installation was an alternative dining set up that for me seemed to deal partially with the theme of memento mori, and was centred around consumption and its impact on nature. She finds inspiration from Edouard Manet’s 1863 painting Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, by incorporating hand-painted casts of decaying foods, including a wheel of Cemenbert and fruit explore desires built around foods.
Mustafa Hulusi’s stunning optical illusion paintings seem to take a similar theme of perception, with meticulously painted still-lifes contrasted with abstract forms in the vein of Op artists like Bridget Riley. These attention grabbing works fuse themes and imagery to explore abstraction and figuration in direct contrast.
Nature and manmade industry collide again - albeit in a far more harmonious manner - in the Soojin Kang’s woven sculptures, which hung from the ceiling. Kang’s delicate craftsmanship evokes themes of sustainability in these eco-friendly works. Her practice of weaving is inspired by ancient Mayan mythology, which suggested that weaving was a way to instill healing powers into an object.
Each work in the show allowed for different considerations of encountering nature. The very title of the exhibition, ‘Adventitious Encounters’, suggests unexpectedness and chance, something I thought was well embodied through these very different artistic interpretations of the interplay between nature and humanity. The underlying theme for me was that it is impossible through these works, and indeed in real life, to separate the impact of human desirability on the natural world - well dissected in great variety by the exhibiting artists. Indeed, humans are an intrinsic part of the natural world, despite their sometimes hostile interactions with it.
Written by Georgia Messervy, a Contributor to Arteviste