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Seeing Round Corners, Turner Contemporary

Seeing Round Corners: The Art of the Circle, Turner Contemporary, 21 May - 25 September 2016


Taking its title from an experimental drawing by Barry Flanagan, Turner Contemporary presents the first major exhibition to explore the centrality of the circle in art. It reflects a vast range of themes and ideas from roundness, rotation and visual perception to wonderment and cycles of time.


The exhibition considers the ways in which artists have gravitated to this universal and recurring form. From the globe of the earth and the rotation of the planets, to the shape of the human eye or the smallest atomic particle, the circle - as a form and as an idea - is at the heart of our relationship to the world. Seeing Round Corners: The Art of the Circle explores the significance and symbolism of the circle and sphere in art and culture; architecture and engineering; astronomy and geometry; optics and perception; religion, spirituality and everyday life.


In recent years questions have been raised by artists about the dominance and subsequent legacy geometric abstraction has had on 20th century art. Many of the artists represented in this exhibition, such as Ben Nicholson or Bridget Riley, are just as associated with the straight line or rectilinear form tht defines the visuals of Constructivism and Modernism. In this context, at best the circle was utilised as a formal counterpoint that did not tally with the dynamic trajectory of the straight line. Rather the circle connoted the irrational, the organic, the corporeal. As a symbolically female shape the circle was perceived as introspective, mystical and symbolically representational – a problematic issue in the quest for pure abstraction.


The exhibition is not chronological, it jumps around time, showcasing circular phenomena that we barely notice as such, from the spring (seen in minimalist Carl Andre’s floor-bound coil of silver sheeting) to the rainbow (viewed in a work that couldn’t be more different, Francis Danby’s melodramatic 19th century painting, The Shipwreck).

The story depicts the effect of under-stimulation on the narrator's mental health and her descent into psychosis. With nothing to stimulate her, she becomes obsessed by the pattern and colour of the wallpaper. "It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw – not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things. But there is something else about that paper – the smell! ... The only thing I can think of that it is like is the colour of the paper! A yellow smell."


In the end, she imagines there are women creeping around behind the patterns of the wallpaper and comes to believe she is one of them. She locks herself in the room, now the only place she feels safe, refusing to leave when the summer rental is up. "For outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow. But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way."


The 'Yellow Wallpaper' is driven by the narrator's belief that the wallpaper is alive. At first it seems merely unpleasant: it is ripped, soiled, and an “unclean yellow.” The worst part is the apparently formless pattern, which fascinates the narrator as she attempts to figure out how it is organized. After staring at the paper for hours, she sees a ghostly pattern behind the main pattern, visible only in certain light. Eventually, the sub-pattern comes into focus as a desperate woman, constantly crawling, looking for an escape from behind the main pattern, which has come to resemble the bars of a cage. The narrator sees this cage with the heads of many women, all of whom were strangled as they tried to escape. Wallpaper is domestic and humble, and Gilman skillfully uses this nightmarish, hideous paper as a symbol of the domestic life that traps so many women.

The Yellow Wallpaper,

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

On Ugliness is an exploration of the monstrous and the repellent in visual culture and the arts. What is the voyeuristic impulse behind our attraction to the gruesome and the horrible? Where does the magnetic appeal of the sordid and the scandalous come from? Is ugliness also in the eye of the beholder?


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In other words, beauty is about contemplation, is about disinterested emotion. Ugliness, on the other hand, is not only about seeing, but also about feeling – strong feelings, like repulsion, disgust, horror and fear. 


After identifying three phenomena: ugliness in itself, formal ugliness and artistic portrayal of both, Umberto Eco seems mainly interested in the latter, following the development of the aesthetic category of ugliness. 


From twentieth century to nowadays, the dichotomy beautiful/ ugly has gradually lost its aesthetic value, thus playing havoc with public taste and creating new categories such as kitsch and camp. 


Eco’s conclusion concentrically ends his essay: if it is true that ugliness is relative to the times and cultures since what was unacceptable yesterday may be acceptable tomorrow and what is perceived as ugly can contribute sometimes to the beauty of the whole, the constant in ugliness perception remains the psychological reactions: we are fascinated by it not because it is pleasant, but because it has always created tension, materializing the shadows of our souls: 


So we can understand why art in various centuries insistently portrayed ugliness. Marginal as the voice of art may be, it attempted to remind us that, despite the optimism of certain metaphysicians, there is something implacably and sadly malign about this world.

On Ugliness,

Umberto Eco

Yayoi Kusama - Infinities Room, Filled with the Brilliance of Life, 2011


Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room, is a mirror-lined chamber housing a dazzling and seemingly infinite LED light display.


Using mirrors, she transforms the intense repetition of her earlier paintings and works on paper into a perceptual experience. Ranging from peep-show-like chambers to multimedia installations, each of Kusama’s kaleidoscopic environments offers the chance to step into an illusion of infinite space. The rooms also provide an opportunity to examine the artist’s central themes, such as the celebration of life and its aftermath.


The pinpricks of light in the otherwise darkened room appear to reflect endlessly in the mirrors, giving the viewer the experience of being in an apparently endless space, broken only by points of light in the darkness. Much like in Jean Coctaeu's ORPHEE, the mirror is a symbol, a portal. Although in Orphee it was a portal into another world, this one it is was a way to replicate the world into an infinite world. So by entering the room, you are now in this infinite space.


Changing coloured light bulbs mirrored into endless space is undeniably magical, though Kusama’s manic sense that her work does “battle at the border of life and death” remains just out of reach.

Yayoi Kusama,

Infinities Room

Self-Reflection, Freud Museum, 28 July - 25 September 2016


Mark Wallinger has created a transformative work for Freud’s study. For 'Self-Reflection' Wallinger has installed a mirror across the entire ceiling of the study offering a new perspective, doubling the space. In the artist’s words: ‘The relative posture of the sitting analyst and the recumbent analysed are latent in Freud’s chair and the couch. We can easily imagine his patient’s self-reflection. It’s part homage and it’s part a way of trying to see something anew really and trying to place yourself within a scene that’s real and unreal at the same time.'


The enormous mirror reflects every corner of the room, from the patterned carpet to the figurines on the desk and books on the shelves. Wallinger creates a physical iteration of the psychoanalysis patient’s self-reflection, building on Freud’s musing that the doctor should, like a mirror, simply reflect the patient back on themselves. [Echoes of 'Orhpee']


Mark Wallinger has transformed Freud’s study into a mirror-world. A crystal-clear mirrored ceiling turns reality upside down. It would be a dreamlike effect anywhere. If you reclined on that couch and stared into the ceiling’s glass pool, what would you see? Like Narcissus, you would see yourself. Wallinger’s mirror appears to enlarge space, to expand the room, but it also shows you your own self all over again. The effect is perversely claustrophobic, because it represents psychoanalysis as a nightmarish process of diving into the lonely pool of yourself.


It’s almost impossible to add anything to the room, which is chockfull of collectibles, works of art, wood sculptures, books and furniture, including that famous couch. Instead of adding, Wallinger’s installation draws the eyes upward. From the mirrored ceiling, you see dust atop the bookshelves, an energy-efficient light bulb in a lamp (one of few non-original details in the room, one would assume) and an angel’s view to the couch. 

Mark Wallinger,

Freud Museum

On Ugliness
Yayoi Kusama
Mark Wallinger
Yellow Wallpaper
Seeing Round Corners
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