FEATURING: BAR ALON, BEATRIZ GLEZSA, KATE GROOBEY, YANMEI JIANG, CHANTAL JOFFE, ANETA KAJZER, EMMA KOHLMANN, FLORENCE PEAKE, JURGA RAMONAITE, MAYAN TOLEDANO, AVIYA WYSE. CURATED BY BAR ALON AND SIM SMITH.
Bodies existing together in a space is an experience that has recently become fraught and foreign. In a time when we are used to meeting through screens or waving from a distance, the importance of contact has become all the more apparent. In having close encounters intermittently removed we have come to fully appreciate how much we crave contact and shared experiences.
And there are shared experiences in abundance in this exhibition. Wild Horses brings together 11 artists that explore a broad spectrum of relationships in all their forms. It gathers moments of togetherness but also highlights the multiplicity of relationships and the confusions therein. There are mixed messages, blurred lines and different meanings.
Wild horses are by definition untamed and unruly, and there is a strong physicality to all of the works in this show. They can be raw and intimate, sensuously languorous, gregarious, convivial or detached and humorous. There's also the spectrum of relationships that form the backdrop to the famous Rolling Stones song, which gives the show its name. Wild Horses was allegedly started by Keith Richards whilst missing his young son when on tour, and then taken over by Mick Jagger with his troubled love Marian Faithful in mind. This layered origin story also hints to the known tensions within the two musicians' dynamic, which was close, competitive, fractious and volatile. From father and son, to friends, to lovers - like the exhibition which takes its name, the song encapsulates a myriad human connections.
There are soft, secluded pairings in the Beatriz Glezsa's photograph of an intertwined couple; while in Aneta Kajzer's 'Pony Twins' more ambiguous concealment is taking place with two pairs of hoofed legs emerging from what appears to be a curtain of hair shared by the figures, creating a kind of encompassing bower. Is this a close secretive moment, or a strange animalistic strip tease? Maybe either, maybe both.
Humour and power play out in the paintings of Kate Groobey whose two figures are propelled across the surface by giant disembodied hands shoving their backsides. Above them a text reads, "HEY, WE'RE MAKING IT". Arms outstretched and naked but for their fedoras and boots, these funny ladies seem intent on getting somewhere, even if what they are actually making isn't known. More power games play out in Florence Peake's glittering, muddy struggle where it is unclear whether the pair of figures are wrestling, or perhaps intertwined in a sexual embrace, but in either case the energy they exude is palpable.
The anomalies and dualities in these works could also be seen as a reflection of the multiple relationships that we have with ourselves and the different personae we can assume. In the case of Emma Kohlmann's painting, a use of vivid colour helps her figures to manifest different personalities, different versions of what could be the same person.
Are certain figures one homogenous body? Are they merging into each other in an act of codependency, or is this bodily fusion instead the ultimate stage of intimacy? The couple's embrace in Yanmei Jiang's work could be either.
Sometimes one figure sits apart, as 'the other,' while the protagonist looks out to the viewer. We see this in Aviya Wyse's photograph 'Untitled' from 2014, and Chantal Joffe's painting 'Lola and Scarlett'. Here Lola (or perhaps Scarlett?) looks out to the viewer conspiratorially. We are drawn into a relationship with these two individuals, who invite us to be complicit in their world. Joffe is economical with her brushstrokes but also expressive and rich in the stories she makes them tell. We know something is afoot with Lola and Scarlett, but quite what will always remain a mystery.
A powerfully female presence pervades this entire exhibition: amidst the shifting dynamics there are curved lines, flicks of eyeliner, and pink fingernails. Our relationship to the feminine seems to be yet another factor that is being investigated by this all female lineup of artists.
But we are by no means simply voyeurs who have trespassed into these secret moments of connection. These subjects have their own agency and often seem to know more than us. We are given permission to view these worlds, from Bar Alon's bathing couple in 'Tom & Gome' to Chantal Joffe's Lola and Scarlett, the invitation is conscious and empowered. Mayan Toledano's kissing subjects don't seem to notice or especially care whether they are observed or not. Overall, whatever their dynamics, all the protagonists in Wild Horses are fully empowered in their companionship.
- Nancy Dewe Mathews, November 2021
Nancy Dewe Mathews is a writer and host of Now Nancy on Soho Radio in London.