Thursday, October 6th, 2016
The Koppel Project Cafe (Baker Street)
My talented artist friend Natalja recently visited The Koppel Project in London and I’m very happy to present to you what she has discovered. After you’ve read all about The Koppel Project make sure to also check out her own artworks here.
Visiting The Koppel Project spaces was inspiring and moving. This art venue delves right into the most current events with their exhibition that centres on Colombia and its people.
Both a place for social engagement, as well as a commercial gallery, The Koppel Project is an interesting, inclusive space that infuses the local community with art. Spread across two spaces, one located in a decommissioned bank vault in 93 Baker Street, the other one situated in 26 Holborn Viaduct, the project encompasses studio spaces, a cafe, and co-working space, as well as Phaidon publishing house’s only UK bookstore.
In contrast to other, more commercial galleries, The Koppel Project offers mentoring to artists and writers and runs a program of free cultural events, on top of offering traineeships, work experience, and mentoring programs. It is actually a non-profit venture, run by Gabriella Sonabend and Hannah Thorne, the gallery co-directors and co-curators. An interesting mixture of a simultaneously commercial and educational space, both directors hope that the future of the project will include a flourishing educational program that runs alongside exhibitions that will help international artists sell excellent work as a crucial part of sustaining their practice.
Paintings by Gabriella Sonabend and sculpture by Sol Bailey Barker (The Hive)
Phaidon bookshop at The Koppel Project (Baker Street)
The current exhibitions, “From Myth To Earth” and “Mitologia De La Tierra”, are immersive, outwardly gorgeous, thematically ambitious and very current.
“From Myth To Earth” is comprised of work that Sol Bailey Barker and Gabriella Sonabend produced during their seven-month residency in Colombia, as well as during a year and a half of research thereafter. Sol’s and Gabriella’s works invite the viewer to see, feel, smell and listen, taking them through Colombian history, mythologies, folklore and landscapes. The exhibition is situated in the Koppel Project Hive in Holborn, it is spread over two floors and spans a variety of disciplines and media.
“Mitologia De La Tierra” complements the previously mentioned exhibition. It is comprised of work by a variety of Colombian artists and gives the viewer an inside perspective of the country and of Colombian identity. Both shows bring the country’s struggle to life, providing a background to the recent signing of the peace treaty between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group and the subsequent rejection of it by a very fine margin of the population via a referendum.
Gabriella’s body of work consists of a series of paintings and several short stories that she wrote and that were then recorded as audio files. The former are vibrant figurative works, depicting, as seen through the artist’s eyes, the people she encountered in Colombia and their surroundings. Some of the colourful pigments used in these works were harvested in Colombia and now lend this series of paintings a unique charm.
Gabriella’s short stories are a jarring counterpoint to this seemingly idyllic imagery. They talk about casual greed, war, dehumanisation and how people strive to find solace in any kind of normalcy, numbed by the horrors befalling them. These stories can be listened to via several pairs of headphones while sitting down on a bench within a tin-hut that is open on one side; a semi-private setting I was grateful for when immersed in the intense narratives.
‘From Myth To Earth’ installation, Sol Bailey Barker sitting in bus shelter, listening to audio narrative by Gabriella Sonabend (The Hive)
‘Recuerdo La Selva’ by Gabriella Sonabend (The Hive)
Where Gabriella’s work covers the visual and aural aspect of the exhibition, Sol’s creations are of sculptural and photographic nature. The materials used, span everything from local wood and metal to found objects, combining indigenous items and shapes with industrial materials. A lot of the sculptures seen in the exhibition are one of a pair of identical pieces. One of each of them was left in Colombia to decompose and rejoin their place of origin, representing the artist’s response to recent and historical events.
The sculptures that were left behind were documented via photographs, which are part of the exhibition in Holborn. The sculptures’ identical counterparts, physically present, invite the viewer to explore their textures and interact with them. Outwardly beautiful and light in shape, they simultaneously are an exploration of heavier themes, such as resistance and the turning of instruments of death into instruments of life.
‘From Myth To Earth’ installation, sculptures by Sol Bailey Barker (The Hive)
The Koppel Project space in Baker Street is housing another side to the previously described exhibition. “Mitologia De La Tierra” is comprised of artwork by 7 Colombian artists whom Gabriella and Sol interacted with and were influenced by during their residency and whom they believe are key voices in understanding contemporary Colombian identity.
Similarly immersive to the show in Holborn, 93 Baker Street’s underground exhibition space is beautifully curated and leads the viewer through a labyrinth of sculptures, drawings, paintings, video and audio works that speak of individual narratives, self-expression within and outside of the country, as well as reflections on Colombia’s past and present. Most prevalent is a sense of mourning and also an enormous longing for hope for the future.
One of Ivan Castillo’s contributions to the exhibition, “One Night”, depicts a number of hand-drawn, graphite star maps of the date and time of where massacres during Colombia’s recent history occurred. He strives to “make present the experiences of pain without reproducing images of violence”. These drawings achieve that by using the sky as a metaphor for connection between people, which can bridge the distance that the city population of Bogotá experiences in regards to the violence prevalent in the countryside. These works seem pitch black from a distance and are faceted like an illuminated night sky up close. Furthermore, they are discreetly labelled with the place, month and year of each massacre.
Ivan Castillo is usually based in Bogotá and will participate in a Koppel Project residency. “His work ties together an emotional and intellectual response to history and memory, questioning how he defines and locates himself within his country’s past.“
Crista Castellanos works with documentary and photography, she “is a Colombian visual artist who unearths stories of those who dare to question lifestyles inherited by their culture.” Her contribution to the group exhibition at the Koppel Project is a short documentary about narratives to do with Colombia. She manages to emphasise the contrast between personal narratives and their wider context by addressing the stories of individuals, the stories that the media tell and the influence it has on people’s perception. Seeing her work, it seems that she addresses a global phenomenon rather than a local propaganda problem. “Her topics vary from the use of sacred plants, African dance in Colombia, to the ancestral feminine ritual called ‘Lasiembra de Luna’ where women offer their menstrual blood to the earth instead of discarding it.”
You can view part of her documentary here.
Juliana Góngora’s artwork within the Koppel Project’s exhibition deals with the passing of time and the evolution of craft, centring on a highly personal narrative. Her artwork “Cuja” is the replica of Juliana’s Grandfather’s bed, which she covered with a blanket made of woven cotton thread and rice grains. “Cuja” is a term that is used to describe “an artisanal bed made of wood and cow skin used in warm climates to keep the body fresh while sleeping”. The artwork by that same name is a part of a series of four pieces that recreates scenes from the old house of Juliana’ grandparents and her father, which is situated in a small village in Colombia. The original artwork is photographically represented in the exhibition at the Koppel Project. Additionally, a miniature copy of the cotton and rice blanket of a filigree quality is on show there. The distance to the point of its origin is a vital component of the original work, which endows the photographic representation, as well as the miniature, with a new kind of meaning.
Omar Castañeda’s work includes some of the most intriguing pieces within the exhibition and yet, his work is probably the most bizarre sounding in writing. He addresses the concept of contrast in a variety of combinations by using a very specific medium: tin cans. He describes the reasoning behind his own work best by stating that there is no pleasure in opening a tin of pineapples in Hawaii where you are surrounded by thousands of fresh and sweet specimens. His cans, however, open to reveal sculptures made of human teeth, precious metals, feathers and other assorted materials instead of pineapples. Dissolving “most preconceived distinctions between nature and culture, production and consumption, morals and markets, family and society, the individual and the collective, body and mind” via the subject of food, each can seem to have its own narrative.
One artwork of Maria Leguizamo’s that can be seen in this exhibition is made up of the most fragile and invisible part of the human body. Having collected strangers’ single hairs, she tied them together into a thread that is hundreds of meters long and wound it around a spool. The end of the thread was then attached to the wall of the exhibition space. Despite its fragility, this thread of hair is used to represent a physical and symbolic connection between people. This spool, “always coiled to be used”, was the main instrument of a performance piece of Maria’s in 2012, wherein she uncoiled the hair-thread along the so-called “divorce street” in Bogotá, on one side of which sat Colombia’s seat of power and on the other end was San Victorino, a neglected neighbourhood.
Melissa Cruz Garcia has been educated in various parts of Europe. Interested in artisan and portable ways of communicating, as well as searching for unconventional uses of visual technology and other media, her somewhat nomadic life is reflected in her artistic practice. Melissa’s contribution to “Mitologia De La Tierra” includes works such as “Portable landscape in your palm”. An installation that consists of, what appear to be, about six foldout books contained in boxes, which sit on shelves of different levels that are attached to the wall length-wise or perpendicularly. They represent the artist’s meditations on what a landscape could look like and feel like from an aerial view. Visitors are invited to interact with the colourful work, entering into this imaginary place and gently changing its topography.
German Arrubla’s artwork revolves around being present in “the Here and Now”. Part of his process involves utilising historical documents, a physical residue of the past, and “images that are no longer part of the collective memory”, which the audience relate to presently and which changes their relationship with the present. One of his contributions to “Mitologia De La Tierra” is a sculptural work that is part of a series called “Space-Time Coordinates”, in which a copy of the Colombian constitution drafted in Rionegro in 1863 is encased within a metal grid made of rods that are normally used to reinforce concrete. The document, which is the most advanced one in the 19th century, only remained in force for twenty years, but it “paved the way to a secular society and the triumph of radical liberalism.” The gravity of the object and the elation associated with it are both represented within this artwork.