Exhibitions at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

The first exhibition of the New Year at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery sees John Flaxman, Timur Novokov and Nastio Mosquito enter a fascinatingly provocative symposium of culture, history and imagery. The exhibition runs until the 21 April allowing each artist’s work to uniquely illuminate the areas in which they are displayed, leading to an intriguing discourse. Despite there being a variety of completely segregated mediums and subject matters, they irrevocably interact through the viewer’s interpretation and perception of each floor of the building.

On the first floor Line To Contour provides, unusually for a contemporary art gallery, work from the 18th century. These are a collection of sculptures and drawings from the UCL Museum collection by prolific British sculptor John Flaxman. The room is calculatedly curated with the iconic resemblances of the sculptures protruding off of the glowing white walls, bathing the dusty weathered protagonists within the works in a religious glow. Upon entering this floor, on opposing walls hidden from sight, wooden framed drawings stipe the walls offering an intriguing mixture of historical documents and modern display. However, it is impossible to not get caught in the solitary sanctuary one would expect these works to be found, as the great white oceans of space between the works and the monumental stature of the medium and subject matters depicted create the most calming introspective discourse to surge through one’s body and mind.

On the second floor the viewer is transposed to a space wrapped in a wealth of historical and cultural bitterness. During the reign of the Soviet Union, Timur Novikov and his peers fought back, staging underground exhibitions where the work was made for practicality as much as aesthetic tendencies. Fabric was used to portray ecological and anti-war sentiments and then hung on display. When Soviet agents came to shut down the exhibition and arrest the responsible parties Timur could quickly pack up the fabrics and carry them out claiming they were simply sheets. The minimal use of space clashes with the architecture of the building, once a school allowing the work to fulfil its forgone prophecy of antagonism and debate. Just as in the Soviet Union, the work here can be seen to visually oppose the rigid structures of art institutions.

In the tower room Nastia Answers Gabi (2010) by Nastio Mosquito sees a projection of the Angolan artist crudely and charismatically answering questions by Gabi Ngcobo an independent curator, writer and artist from Durban. The questions revolve around the transgressing nature of society and art. There are a total of ten scenes in a variety of differing background scenarios, from a chiaroscuro- lit dilapidated house to a parking lot in a port. The answers and delivery of them is flickers between methodically thought out to flippant foreign stereotyping, creating an unusual unbalance to the severity of the film’s documentation nature and to the introspective and rewarding nature of the rest of the exhibition. As such, this exhibition creates an incredible contemporary personification and provocatively historical and cultural outlook that would never exist at any other time or in any other place.

William Davie

Exhibitions run until 21 April, Ikon Gallery, 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace, Birmingham, B1 2HS. www.ikon-gallery.co.uk

Image courtesy Stuart Whipps