Rachel Kneebone: Lamentations, White Cube, Hoxton Square, London
Friday 31 December 2010
It's a gloomy world that Rachel Kneebone has created at White Cube. The walls are painted in shades of grey, dark and brooding in the downstairs gallery and paler upstairs, the paint streaked in rain or tears. Kneebone makes extremely complex, delicate porcelain sculptures that teem with confusing, writhing tiny body parts arranged like urns or wreaths: a leg here, a penis or vagina there, and twisting forms that look as though they could be vines or spinal chords. Pieces of bodies in a horrific jumble. The sculptures are at times hideous visions that present bodies in states of fear, sadness and horror.
The sculptures downstairs look a little like fonts, but they are also about the size of wedding cakes. On the top of one of these, entitled Eyes That Look Close at Wounds Themselves Are Wounded (2010), is a tormented hooded figure. Peer under its hood and there is a mourning vagina in place of a mouth in a howl or a scream – it matches the one between her open legs (the gallery's rather prim press release makes allusions to "body parts" and "gender"). The title of this piece, what with the peering and all, makes one feel uncomfortable, as if the artist is trying to create some sense of Freudian horror at the site of a vagina that shrieks. The flipside of this might be Jake and Dinos Chapman's sculptures of children who have penises for noses. What Kneebone also seems to be tackling with some of these works is the bodily nature of grief, alongside visions of Hell that take their cues from Rodin's The Gates of Hell, William Blake and the aforementioned Chapmans.
Upstairs are more delicately rendered grotesqueries: sculptures hung on the wall in the form of wreaths (small tangled bodies around a central hole). Here there are several figures that seem to combine human sexual organs: the bottom half of a woman that has a penis instead of a head. These forms loop in and out of one another in endless, mindless fashion.
Kneebone's use of porcelain is startling in terms of its craftwork, and there are occasions when details spring out: tiny feet and bottoms for example, lost in a sea of vines or tangled limbs. But the porcelain is ossifying and deathly. The writhing bodies don't really have much movement to them, and it's hard to take anything away from all this deathliness and body horror, shock and awe, themes that have been well tackled by many of the artists who also exhibit at this gallery. These sculptures seem like pretty things for daring collectors who love the shock that comes from the marriage of big bad themes like sexuality and death with a finely made object. The heavy-handed themes are, in the end, too heavy to carry at once. Ultimately they weigh down her fragile art.
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