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Kati Heck at Sadie Coles

  • Posted:
  • Friday dispatch
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  • Read Time: 4 minutes

Installation view, Kati Heck, TIP-TOE-ECHO, Sadie Coles HQ, Kingly Street © Kati Heck. Courtesy the Artist and Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photo: Arthur Gray

Sadie Coles, 62 Kingly Street London W1
11 April – 11 May 2024 

The work of Kati Heck bears a surrealist fantasy symbolism that subverts art historical tropes, addressing notions of desire, escape and the psychology of the unconscious. For her solo Tip-Toe-Echo at Sadie Coles, Heck crafts an installation that includes a structure-come-room divider, directing viewers across the space in a calculated manner, as if to produce a series of acts that unfold throughout the gallery, evoking narratives and iconography from the Old Testament, ancient mythologies and popular culture.

The crenellation of this structure references the architecture of medieval castles with a recurring merlon and embrasure pattern snaking through the gallery. At intervals, paintings are hung on this divider, some grand in scale, others more discreet. Sculptures are interspersed through the space, at points in direct conversation with the paintings or alternatively assuming the role of an allegorical prop. The subject matter of the works wildly varies including references to parochial still life flowers in a vase set against a silk backdrop, an atmospheric and haunting scene that features a blue woman (possibly the artist herself) covered in cicadas and sitting on a veranda with a drink in the early evening, a cartoon depiction of historical, political and cultural figures confined to a cross section of a dolls house and a re-interpretation of Adam and Eve devoid of apples and accompanied by prying cat eyes that peer out from the blackened background in anticipation of the infamous betrayal. Surrealism and social realism dance with one another in Heck’s work teasing out notions surrounding the literary genre of the legend – core truths, post truths and belief systems have melded and evolved over time, forming the basis on which daydreams and modes of desire have become hinged to one’s consciousness.

The motifs, style and overall execution of the wall works assume a classically trained and academic approach, in a similar vein to that of early Netherlandish, Dutch and Flemish paintings from the 17th century, whilst the emphasis on light also speaks to the works of Vermeer. However, there is an artificiality to this light presented in Heck’s paintings which brings it firmly into a staged and theatrical world. The subject’s skin reflects a brilliant luminosity, as if to be positioned in front of an industrial studio lamp whilst the stark accentuations of shadow bring about a heightened sense of drama that chimes with the extremities of night and day and the folkloric tales attributed to these.

Peering through to the other side of structure we can see the exposed supporting grid which highlights the thin and fragile veil of illusion attributed to ideas of escapism and fantasy role play. There is a sense of the trompe l’oeil in effect here. Distinctly separated from the rest of the sculptures on the other side of this divide are a box of apples, each one half bitten and slightly rotting – the missing apples from the Adam and Eve painting perhaps. Their placement humorously suggests they are stocked for audience members to launch toward a main stage, the question remains as to where that stage may be given these apples are behind the structure rather than in front of it – are we in fact the actors of some feverish fable. Back over the divide a carved hybrid snail-woman gazes toward a painting of an eclipsed moon face hung high on the gallery wall – these works feel like meta-intonations of contemporary emojis. For a moment they highlight the fantasy realm that covertly intertwines with daily life, visually surfacing as signs and iconographies that appear in everyday conversations, at the end of a WhatsApp message or as a light-hearted sign off on a casual email for instance.

Heck yields art historical tropes and casts them into a quasi-fantasy zone of illusion, subverting classically skilful approaches to artmaking and deploying symbols and icons that echo and reverberate through the space. Her reference to fantastical and religious motifs are akin to the likes of Hieronymus Bosch and I am left in a state of wonderment as the show’s depictions of mythology, passing of time and varying dimensions of space ricochet through the air.

Jordan Mouzouris
Curator, Digital

Sadie Coles, 62 Kingly Street London W1
11 April – 11 May 2024, opening hours 11am to 6pm, Tuesday to Saturday