Céline Condorelli’s recent survey exhibition, After Work, has just come to a close after being hosted by Talbot Rice for several months. Modestly tucked away in the back corner of Old College, the University’s gallery is a playground for contemporary artists to manipulate space.
The swooping ceilings and excess of light pouring through eight windows of the first room make for a bright, almost heaven-like, entrance. Walking into this tardis-like space, one is surrounded by the soft echoing soundtrack of to let the city in. Condorelli attempts to challenge notions of collaboration, materiality and the “institution”. The narrative throughout the exhibition is profoundly environmentalist. In particular, the installations Zanzibar and Thinking through Skin, spotlight the natural world as their key subjects. Condorelli constructs a biome, which challenges the artificial division between culture and nature.
Condorelli’s Zanzibar has been an ongoing project since 2018, inspired by Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi. This is evident by the ridged grooves of the gravel centrepiece, which adopts a similar curved container-like shape to Bo Bardi’s Coati restaurant. There’s an immediate strangeness here, the contradiction of outdoor elements being displayed inside a very clean “white cube” gallery space. Two canopies are suspended above either doorway in the room. Named Brise Soleils, Condorelli was inspired by European shop awnings to evoke a sense of holidaying and leisure. I felt a curiosity from so many juxtapositions being in one space, one room. The transparency, from the clear windows, makes us aware of the changeable weather outside.
The most significant takeaway from Zanzibar was how the botanicals were personified as unruly protagonists. The left corner from the entrance to the gallery housed a huddle of Plant Studies. Six line drawings accompanied with text addressed where unique plants have been exhibited in various spaces. Condorelli identifies how nature shall outgrow civilisation and institutional spaces. This is quite literal by the green paintwork smudged across the sprawling illustrations, layered as the foreground above textual sources. The Philodendron plants, entwined upon the Props (three free-standing pink rods) appeared communicative too by their directing positionalities. The arrow-like shaping of these steel poles acted as guides towards the more “conventional” prints and models which were discarded to the periphery of the surrounding walls.
The multisensory pinnacle of the exhibition was the supernatural embrace at the end: Thinking through Skin (2021-2022). Encroached within the cinematic darkness of the old natural history Georgian gallery, you are immediately hit by an overstimulation of light and sound. The whirring audio, as accredited to Hannah Catherine Jones, sets the scene of being in an underwater spell. The source of inspiration are deep-sea molluscs, known as Cephalopods, which have outlived humans for years by seeing the world through tactility, therefore adapting to their environment in a chameleon-like fashion. I felt very much a sense of sublimity from how alien-like these creatures are. The first screen projects Aural Studies I & II; close-ups of pulsating flesh. Black and white microdots are enlarged on screen, appearing acidic and hallucinogenic. Almost mythical.
Mid-cycle, a mechanised curtain judders to create a partition in the floorspace. This sweeps round, revealing an enlarged Aural Study, again imitating the environmental adaptability of Cephalopods. The audiovisual production of Urth, by Ben Rivers, then jolts into life. A series of video clips reveal the dystopian world of a female scientist enclosed within a biosphere of her own. Her narration is depressing, she repeats a log noting the interference of artificial intelligence and fluctuating oxygen levels. The passage finishes with the profound statement “Fact: I see you, Observer. I always have.” Any viewer therefore feels addressed as a bystander. The exhibition ends almost apocalyptically, as a cautionary projection of where we will stand if we don’t adapt our current behaviour towards our environment.
Céline Condorelli, After Work at Talbot Rice Gallery, 25 June-1 October 2022.
Images of installation courtesy of Sienna Woodward.