The current show at Frith Street Gallery, Secret of the Landscape, brings together three artists within a very specific art historical genre: landscape. The curator of the show imagined the space of the gallery – a traditional Victorian townhouse – as if filled with water, inserting the sounds, colours and power of the sea. Secret of the Landscape needs to be experienced as a physical and emotional place, one loaded with references and memories.
Downstairs, Jessica Warboys’ Sea Paintings are hanging loosely on the walls, as if recently pulled from the water and waiting to dry. These paintings were made by immersing the canvases with pigments directly into the sea, imprinting the water’s ebb and flow. For Warboys, landscape is a physical place where a performance takes place, a mapping of physical gestures on the shore. This series was made in Dunwich on the Suffolk coast, a town brought to literary fame in W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, once one of the most important ports in Europe and now a melancholic space of psychogeographic meditation. The Sea Paintings invoke this particular landscape, a place disappeared where Warboys lets the memory rekindle. It is an immersive environment that overloads and overwhelms in metaphors of submersion, disappearance and return.
The steep staircase that leads to the upper floor brings gallery visitors up from the depths to a foreshore encounter with the sculptural work of Isabelle Cornaro, small volcanic islands rising from the sea. Made of strong dark rubber, the sculptures have different objects on them – rocks, jewellery, a head of a bird, a brain, a found object that suggests the flotsam of the beach. Here we encounter a landscape that is formed by chance, seemingly at random. The title of these two works is Orgon Doors and – while signalling a relationship to the work of Edward Kienholz, an American artist famous for his ‘70s Concept Tableaux Series – Cornaro’s sculptures also bring to mind a geographical site in the South of France, Orgon, a village on the shores of the Rhône known for its Templar ruin. As mythical, magical locations, the works of Cornaro make landscape multiple – land and sea and the spaces between – both created and found.
Lastly, the maps of Giulia Piscitelli’s work explore the ways that landscape is used to order and control, to make a governable territory – enclosed, constructed, and delimited. Working on historical maps of the ‘30s and ‘40s, Piscitelli invites us to view the human changes imposed by borders throughout history, reminiscent of another Italian conceptual artist of the post-War generation, Alighiero Boetti. Piscitelli brings further nuance to her cartographies by including nimbus, an iconographically divine symbol that has a deep cultural connection to her home town, Naples, a city whose landscape is populated with a dense art history. Piscitelli’s work unravels the contradiction of proportions, depicting the political with and against the spiritual. Her landscape is abstract, highlighting the absurd attempt to measure the length and development of places and spaces, to visualise a spritual geography.
The show at Frith Street expands our ideas of what a landscape can be. Far from the traditional art historical concept of the figurative genre, the artists exhibited, each in different ways, have exposed the manifold definitions of landscape as an immersive phenomenon and one held at a distance. From an actual place to a space that has a virtual reality, from a mytical location to an abstract representation, Secret of Landscape discloses a few of landscape’s many secrets.
Dr. Ilaria Puri Purini
Curator of Programmes
Frith Street Galley, Soho Square, 60 Frith Street, London W1D 3JJ. Tuesday – Friday 10.00 – 18.00, Saturday 11.00 – 17.00. Exhibition continues until 6 April 2018. www.frithstreetgallery.com