Kaleidoscope: ‘It’s Me to the World’ Review15th October 2016
The Kaleidoscope series aims to showcase some of the best, most thought-provoking work that
Modern Art Oxford has displayed, as well as brand new pieces, presenting them together to create
focussed and exciting exhibitions that develop the original intentions behind each work. This
particular (and excellent) exhibition – It’s Me To The World – takes as its theme the environment
around us and how we react to and engage with it (in keeping with the shifting and developing ethos
Turning at the top of the stairs to the Upper Gallery, you are immediately presented with an abstract
landscape: a white geometric maze is drawn vast on the floor in soft white China clay with what
looks like a leaden Sun high on the wall above it. This is Long’s Walking a Labyrinth with Ashfaq’s
SHIFT looming above it. On its own, Long’s piece (first created in 1971) suggests the complexity and
ordered disorder of our environment, but here Ashfaq’s specially prepared new piece contrasts that
complexity with an ultra-simplicity. Together, they make the viewer feel somewhat insignificant as
they tread around this beautiful yet striking environment. The occasional roar of Hanna Rickard’s
Thunder – an audio piece which recreates the sound of thunder with musical instruments – adds to
the menacing distortedness of this powerful man-made environment, raising questions about our
perception of the world around us.
In turn, the Middle Gallery immediately presents the challenge of how we manipulate and impact
that world, with Otobong Nkanga’s Tsumeb Fragments. This piece consists of low-lying tables, some
bearing Tsumeb minerals, others delicate photos of the mines and the land around them printed on
a variety of materials. The viewer is forced to stoop to engage with this piece; to pick up the
headphones and learn from an interview with the CEO of a mining company and the artist about the
relationship between the people, the land, and the mining industry; to discover what lies behind the
images and the beautiful minerals before us. It is probably one of the most powerful pieces here.
With this new work is juxtaposed an older one in the incredibly simple screenprints of Agnes Martin
(from 1973) that stand in the opposite corner. It is noted in a sign that Martin prepared these pieces
after moving to a ‘remote village in New Mexico’, and this makes a great deal of sense. They are
simple, washed over with a pale yellowish colour, and the series of geometrically gentle prints curls
around the corner of the room in two rows to impress that sense of place.
the Middle Gallery immediately presents the challenge of how we manipulate and impact
that world, with Otobong Nkanga’s Tsumeb Fragments.
Just before arriving at the Piper Gallery, Yoko Ono provides us with a memento in the form of Cloud
Piece (originally from 1963). This is an interactive piece where we rip off an instruction that makes us
consider nature in a way that is inherently and imaginatively unnatural. Here, symbolism is key and
humanity’s relationship with the nature around it and the question ‘Who benefits from who?’ seem
to be the themes. None of these pieces are new commissions, but all benefit from their new context
in different ways. For instance, many of Abramović’s sculptures were originally intended to be
touched and felt, yet it is noted beside the Black Dragon works that here they are ‘contemplative
rather than participatory’. This is an interesting idea, as we focus less on their intended healing
power and more on the idea of our dependence on the environment and the earth for our
wellbeing, which creates a dialogue with Chadwick’s Viral Landscapes. These embellish traditional
landscape photographs with what is described as the ‘artist’s cellular tissue’ and emphasise the
psychological and instinctual roots that we have in nature. Dorothy Cross’ excellent sculptures bring
everything together, with a work like Telescope highlighting our fascination with the relationship
between human and nature (which is exactly what fuels It’s Me To The World).
Frankly, it is shocking (yet great) that such an elaborately and lovingly curated exhibition is free.
Suffice to say it is definitely a must-see. Indeed, with just under a week left to do so (it ends on 17 th
October) this particularly powerful and inquisitive exhibition is well worth the trip.