LA MER INSOMNIAQUE, Natalie Häusler, Eric Sidner, Margo Wolowiec, at Laura Bartlett Gallery, London

20 February 2015 By

Spring’s suddenly on hold and it’s going to rain all weekend.  So the only thing to do is get out there and look at some interesting shows. The Approach has obligingly extended its wonderful Bill Lynch exhibition to 1 March so you can catch that, have a pub lunch downstairs with a glass of something to warm the cockles, then head over to Herald Street to see Laura Bartlett’s current show.

The insomniac sea of the show’s title is taken from Marguerite Duras’ 1986 erotic novel Blue Eyes Black Hair: “The insomniac sea is there, quite close to the walls. That’s its murmur, slow and external, the murmur inviting you to die.” Rather than more melancholy themes, take the literary and sensual elements here as signposts with which to approach the work in the show.

Laura Bartlett has chosen to bring three artists to London, none of whom have exhibited here before, so this is an opportunity to get ahead of the curve with young practitioners who are fast making reputations in the US and Europe.

Natalie Häusler lives and works in Berlin and got her MFA from Bard College in New York just four years ago. Her practice encompasses poetry as well as a range of media including painting, performance and sculpture – she published a volume of verse, A Virus can be on a Mussel, with Mousse just last year following on from a string of exhibitions in very respectable German venues. Her work in the current show combines painting, poetry and spoken word too. A group of wall-based works all entitled CORALS takes the form of hinged panels each furnished with a handle in pure white artstone with forms that speak of the quiet accretions of submarine reefs. The panels are faced on one side with acoustic foam framing a small non-figurative painting. On the other side is a laser print on paper of one of her long-form poems. On the other side of the gallery are works on plinths. Aquatic blue and green coloured glass combines with speakers the size of cigarette packets, playing back fragments of poetry. Häusler writes poetry that is not intended for live performance, but for playback recordings voiced by friends.

Eric Sidner is another Berlin-based artist who  graduated from the California College of the Arts in 2007 and more recently completed his MFA from the Städelschule, Frankfurt in 2011. His three dimensional works defy comparison with any other artist I am familiar with. He uses silicone, Styrofoam and a grotesque pastel-coloured confectionary called Hostess Sno Balls to create objects that fascinate and then repel by their moist-looking fleshy-ness that seems to evoke bacteria, or genitalia.  His large scale work here, Car Bag (2013) is a strange, inflated structure. A domestic fan has been crudely inserted into the eponymous car cover bag to create an alien form that cradles in its soft, puffy creases a cheap ceramic figurine of an Alsatian dog, and a spherical object that could be a geode, or perhaps a coconut, or the abandoned egg of some sinister sci-fi organism. On the other side of the structure is a grotesque Halloween type mask, blinded and gagged with extruded Styrofoam. 

Continuing the show’s emphasis on materiality, Margo Wolowiec is showing two works using hand woven fabric.  Wolowiec, like so many artists, is sourcing photographic material online, but then processing it through the most ancient of old technologies. The original imagery undergoes a kind of horizontal visual disturbance that instantly recalls malfunctioning screens, while the imperfections of the fabric emphasise the repeated vertical gesture of weaving. Over the top of these layered, machine-sourced and mechanically created images, Wolowiec paints in fabric dye. Abstract gestures in black, or quickly-rendered red coloured x’s overlay the mark of the author on otherwise more anonymous material.

Laura Bartlett has created a compelling dynamic in bringing these three artists together for the first time, conjuring a useful friction between differing uses of media and materials by artists of the same mid-80s generation. Sensuality, lyricism, some romanticism even connects them, as well as an easy facility and cool skepticism with digital media. Pay attention, people – here comes the future.

Caroline Douglas

Laura Bartlett Gallery, 4 Herald Street, London E2 6JT. Open Wednesday – Saturday 1.00 – 18.00, Sunday 12.00 – 18.00. Exhibition continues until 8