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Saatchi Gallery opens a major new exhibition featuring the work of 17 contemporary artists
Installation view, Stefanie Heinze © Justin Piperger, 2018. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London

LONDON.- Saatchi Gallery presents Known Unknowns, a major new exhibition featuring the work of 17 contemporary artists.

Known Unknowns showcases an international selection of artists, born between 1966 and 1990, from the Saatchi Gallery’s collection. The title refers to the artists' status in the mainstream art world – whilst the group is largely unknown, their respective practices are greatly admired by their artistic peers and seen as breaking new ground.

The exhibition features a diverse range of art forms including painting, sculpture, video and mixed media, with a particular focus on the craft of art-making. The works deal with a myriad of themes that relate to the visual conditions of contemporary life, such as the exponential flow of images, the representation of the body in the Internet age, and the ethics of viewing versus voyeurism.

These artists are not afraid to explore new media in thought-provoking ways, and each pursues a highly individualised practice. They are a seemingly disparate group, yet together reflect the diversity and breadth of contemporary art in a globalised and increasingly digital age.

While Known Unknowns does not offer an obvious unifying theme or ideological point of view, it presents its audience with a group of artists that are worthy of wider exposure.

Tom Anholt (born in the UK, lives and works in Berlin)
For Anholt, the process of painting is one of discovery, and his imaginative works always contain traces of their construction. His works often have strong narrative elements, yet they are not examples of obvious linear storytelling. Figures and objects appear and there are numerous visual references to art history – from Hellenic antiquity to European Romanticism – but they are largely absorbed within the greater meaning of the painting. Anholt graduated with a BA from the Chelsea College of Art and Design in 2007 and lives and works in Berlin, Germany.

Alida Cervantes (born in California, lives and works in Mexico)
Travelling daily across the US-Mexico border between Tijuana and San Diego gives Cervantes a heightened awareness of the struggles determining power relations across race, class, and gender. She creates her subject matter using collaged photos of dolls to construct an alternate historical narrative. Domination, subjugation and submission play out through an assortment of scenarios, often tainted by sexual violence. The status quo often flips between paintings – at one moment a figure is portrayed as victim, the next, aggressor – giving the viewer an insight into the hypocrisy of social structure and the chaotic environment of Tijuana. Cervantes graduated from the University of California San Diego with an MFA in Visual Arts in 2013 after previously completing her BA there in 1995.

Francesca DiMattio (born and works in New York)
DiMattio is inspired by the immersive blend of cultures and classes she encounters living in New York. She states that she is most inspired by “taking things that shouldn’t work together and finding ways of making them work,” and her distorted ceramic sculptures fuse different traditions and techniques, from 17th Century French Chinoiserie to mass-produced kitsch. While ceramics have historically been relegated to the lowest position in the hierarchy of the arts, DiMattio elevates them by drastically increasing their scale and incorporating their forms within her distinct visual language. DiMattio received her MA in Fine Art from Columbia University in 2005, and recently featured at Frieze Art Fair 2017 in New York.

Theo Ellison (born and works in London)
Through technical photographic processes, Ellison reveals his simultaneous attraction to – and distrust of – seductive imagery. Playing with the allure of visual representation, he aims to seduce the viewer into openly enjoying manipulative constructions where the distinction between observation and voyeurism is no longer apparent. Ellison’s play on desire and repulsion is a subtle elbow-dig at our everyday relationship with imagery, and calls into question the notion of consent: the consent of the subject whose image is taken, and the viewer who cannot avert their gaze. Such complexity encourages implicit participation (whether through avoidance, confrontation or acceptance) and betrays man’s inability to control our unfettered desires. Ellison recently graduated from the Royal College of Art, London with an MA in Photography.

Maria Farrar (born in the Philippines, lives and works in London)
Farrar’s paintings are deeply connected to her personal narrative, emerging from experiences in both the East and West (having lived in Japan before moving to England). Throughout her work are subtle references to the cultures and traditions she was exposed to growing up: calligraphy, manga and the flatness of the Japanese pictorial plane contrast with the gravitas of twentieth century Western modernism. Swiftly drawn lines are combined with deliberate errors – smudges, stains and occasional redactions – that deconstruct the visual trickery of paint. Farrar graduated with an MFA from the Slade School of Art in 2016. Last year, she gained a residency at the British School in Rome, as well as receiving the Melville Nettleship Prize at Slade School of Art.

Stefanie Heinze (born and works in Germany)
Heinze creates large paintings depicting fleshy, distorted forms that stretch and twist around the canvas. Upon first glance her work appears to be no more than hallucinatory abstraction, but on closer inspection one can discern intermingled figures who are caught mid-action. Interlocking fingers, heel-clad feet and trunks unexpectedly collide before dissolving into vivid, lush brushstrokes. Her colourful and chaotic forms can be read as culminations of her use of “clumsiness” as an artistic tool. Last year, Heinze took part in the renowned residency program at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. She gained a Diploma in painting from the Academy of Visual Arts, Leipzig, in 2014.

Chris Hood (born in Atlanta, lives and works in New York)
Hood constructs his works using a distinctive technique of applying paint to the reverse of his immense canvases and allowing it to bleed through. Likening them to faded advertisements or T-shirts turned inside out, he invests his paintings with notions of identity, memory and loss. Hood’s broad, swirling brushstrokes recall Van Gogh’s Starry Night, but he also includes visual references to American counter-culture and social media. The works hint at challenges to the idea of static perspective while pointing to larger questions concerning the role of images in both society and contemporary painting. Hood went to the San Francisco Art Institute, where he graduated with an MFA in Studio Art in 2010.

Rannva Kunoy (born in the Faroe Islands, lives and works in London)
Using a specialist crystal paint in her work – the sort usually applied to luxury cars – Kunoy presents a strong use of colour that dictates the movement of the eye across the tonal gradient of the canvas. Her energetic gestures (created by scratching into the work’s surface to prevent the paint from becoming too ‘palatial’) produce marks that are difficult to categorise, as the image constantly fluctuates to reveal new compositions in changing light. By working this way and encouraging shifts in visual language, Kunoy explores the experience and psychology of perception. Kunoy graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2001 after completing her study of painting at City and Guilds of London Art School, London in 1999.

Jill McKnight (born in Sunderland, lives and works in London)
McKnight’s sculptures appear to exist in an imagined future without corporeal human forms. Her works contrasts the figurative and the abstract by disembodying familiar characteristics from their human whole. She employs an array of materials such as plaster, chicken wire and expanding foam, which appear at once both dense and fragile – often to comic effect. A lot of her plaster and bandage sculptures are inspired by her family and memories, with a particular focus on female identities. Both grandiose and shell-like, the objects speak of absence and presence in equal parts. McKnight completed her BA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths, University of London in 2013.

Stuart Middleton (born in UK, lives and works in Scotland)
For Middleton, the human body is a site of reflection and performance where internalised fantasies meet public expectations. His Sad Sketches sculptures combine caricature paper mâché legs in distorted and twisted poses that have been truncated to form anonymous objects. In Middleton’s practice oddity and absurdity combine with serious, often tragic subject matter, and he examines how fictional narratives enter popular culture as tools used to underpin social divisions. Through a combination of drawing, painting, sculpture, text and animation, Middleton seeks to echo conditions where extreme violence, senselessness, ignorance and paranoid aggression is commonplace and perceived as ‘normal’. Middleton graduated from Camberwell College of Art, London in 2009 and from Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main in 2016.

Saskia Olde Wolbers (born in the Netherlands, lives and works in London)
Olde Wolbers creates dream-like miniature worlds that she films underwater. Her films combine carefully crafted fictional scripts with visuals that reveal other-worldly environments. The off-screen narration often tells a chillingly surreal tale that explores themes of neurosis, deception, consciousness, and mental illness. Although referencing computer-generated imagery, her liquid visuals are entirely analogue, and are shot in real-time using model sets. The fluidity of her underwater scenes means that objects appear distorted, oscillating between representation and abstraction. Olde Wolbers completed an MA at Chelsea School of Art & Design, London in 1996 and has since received numerous awards including the London Artists’ Film and Video Award (2007) and the Prix de Rome Film and Video award (2001). She is currently a lecturer at Goldsmiths University.

Mona Osman (born in Hungary, lives and works in London)
Osman’s figurative works depict a struggle with self-identity and belonging, informed in part by her dual heritage of Hungarian Judaism and Sudanese Islam. Using a mixture of oil, liquid latex, collage, paper, ink and mixed media on canvas, Osman uses heavy brushstrokes and intense colours to create melancholic meditations on what it means to be human. She finds much of her inspiration from philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Friedrich Hegel, in particular their ideas concerning the struggle of earthly existence. Osman graduated with an MA in Painting from the Royal College of Art in 2017 after completing her BA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths University of London in 2014.

Kirstine Roepstorff (born in Denmark, lives and works in Germany)
Roepstorff works predominantly with collage, often featuring a variety of materials such as photocopies, glitter, fabric, wood and paper. Central to her practice is an acute awareness of balance in its various meanings; moving away from Western philosophies that hinge upon scientific logic, the artist invests in the sense of balance within the body that is taught by Eastern traditions. Roepstorff studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and was chosen to represent Denmark at the 2017 Venice Biennale. More recently, she has been integrating sculptural elements into her work that allow her to deal with themes of consciousness, such as her public installation at Middelfart Townhall, Denmark.

Ben Schumacher (born in Canada, lives and works in New York)
Schumacher’s architectural background is evident in his cross-disciplinary work. Central to his practice is the use of documentation as material, and he attempts to re-educate computer literate audiences with their traditional viewing abilities. Undersea Cables, Reflected Ceiling Plans. With John Keenen (2013) is made from mixed media (including a chair and a speedboat) and heralds the work of architect John Keenen, part of the New York based collective K/R. The piece engages with discourse on technology, the Internet, and the environment, reflecting and responding to systematic development in a technological age. Schumacher completed his Masters of Fine Arts from New York University in 2011 after receiving his Bachelors of Architecture from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada in 2008.

Tamuna Sirbildaze (born in Georgia)
Taking inspiration from Viennese Actionism (a movement characterised by frenzied, violent and explicit performances), Sirbiladze’s work consists of large expressionistic canvases depicting naked women with unapologetic intimacy. She experiments with the boundaries between primitive figuration and modern pornographic influence, leaving the meaning of her works open to interpretation. Sirbildaze’s work fluctuates between representation and abstraction, and her practice encompasses painting, oil stick on canvas, sculpture, photography, and performance. She favours various modes of installation including paintings leaning against paintings, which she initially employed in the display of the Map series (2005-2008) featured in this exhibition. Sirbildaze studied at the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts in Georgia, the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, and Slade School of Fine Art in London. An important influence in her life was her husband and fellow artist Franz West, with whom she collaborated on several art-projects.

Isobel Smith (born in York, lives and works in East Sussex)
Smith refers to her work as a combination of “the miraculous and the monstrous”, and her sculptures inhabit the space between reality and imagination – what is, what isn’t, and what might be. Live work provides the inspiration for her sculptures, which attempt to capture the ephemeral essence of a performance. Some of her previous artistic acts have included covering herself with bird feathers and hanging rubber sacks filled with water from between her legs. In making sculpture, contrastingly, she seeks to remove herself bodily from the work while attempting to leave it still ‘breathing’. Smith received her MA from the Royal College of Art and was shortlisted for ‘Innovation RCA - Our Place in the World Challenge’ in 2017.

Bedwyr Williams (born and works in Wales)
Williams works with various art forms including performance, video, sculpture and text, often bringing them together as larger installations. He is interested in the tension between the deadly serious and banal aspects of modern life, dealing with themes such as the significance of human life and our impact on the universe, dystopia, and the misery of being an artist. Williams gained his BA from London’s Central St Martin College of Art and Design and his MA from Ateliers Arnhem in the Netherlands. He was selected to represent Wales for the 2005 Venice Biennale and was shortlisted for the Film London Jarman Award in 2015.

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