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The Hepworth Wakefield presents Heather & Ivan Morrison, Ben Rivers and David Thorpe
Ben Rivers, Slow Action, 2010. Image courtesy the artist and Kate MacGarry, London.

WEST YORKSHIRE.- Opening on 11 February and running until 10 June 2012, this will be the first in a regular series of spring exhibitions that explore common concerns and themes in the work of some of the most innovative contemporary artists.

Heather and Ivan Morison, Ben Rivers and David Thorpe use film, sculpture, installation and performance to pose questions regarding our relationship to nature and what happens when man-made and natural worlds collide. These exhibitions explore utopian beliefs and practices and an impending sense of apocalypse.

Simon Wallis, Director of The Hepworth Wakefield said: “We are delighted to be working with these four artists, whose work has a fascinating resonance and dialogue with our collection. I look forward to seeing the rich variety of ideas and mediums within the gallery spaces and how they will, once again, transform our offer to our audience.”

Heather and Ivan Morison will present a new body of work using objects, performance and puppetry to draw on the life and work of 20th century British novelist Anna Kavan. This new work will be framed within Anna, an allegorical piece of object theatre that depicts a tale of love in ominous and foreboding times. Anna’s three narrators are represented by a large netted sphere that floats sun-like in the gallery space and two contrasting large-scale wall works, produced using soot and black bone pigment, and chalk and white bone pigment.

Other objects will be placed amongst the three narrators including a piece of lime representing a bone, cast concrete representing a wooden plank and melted church candles as beautiful flowers. This new exhibition will complement the Morisons’ outdoor commission for the gallery, The Black Cloud, 2011.

Ben Rivers will be showing his recent award-winning film Slow Action. Fresh from the Viennale Film Festival, this post-apocalyptic science-fiction film comprises a series of four 16mm sections filmed on location at three island sites across the globe: Lanzarote, Gunkanjima and Tuvalu, as well as Somerset in England. Presenting a series of constructed realities, the film exists somewhere between documentary, ethnographic study and fiction, with soundtrack narratives by American novelist and critic Mark von Schlegell.

Continuing his exploration of curious and extraordinary environments, Slow Action applies the idea of island biogeography - the study of how species and eco-systems evolve differently when isolated and surrounded by unsuitable habitats - to a conception of the Earth in a few hundred years where the sea level rises to absurd heights, creating hyperbolic utopias that appear as possible future mini-societies.

Slow Action was filmed in four locations: Lanzarote - a strange and beautiful island known for its beach resorts, yet one of the driest places on the planet, full of dead volcanoes and modernist architecture; Gunkanjima - an island off the coast of Nagasaki, Japan, a deserted city built on a rock, once home to thousands of families mining its rich coal reserves; Tuvalu - one of the smallest countries in the world, with tiny strips of land barely above sea level in the middle of the Pacific; and Somerset - an as yet to be discovered island and its inhabitants.

This series of constructed realities explores the environments of self-contained lands and the search for information to enable the reconstruction of soontobelost worlds. Slow Action, inspired by novels such as Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis, Herbert Read’s The Green Child and Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, embodies the spirit of exploration, experiment and active research that has come to characterise Rivers’ practice.

From the same body of work Rivers will also exhibit a series of photographic portraits entitled Somerset Clade.

David Thorpe’s installation comprises new watercolours and meticulously crafted sculptural works, presented for the first time in Europe. Thorpe’s sculptures explore his interest in rehabilitating ancient craftsmanship and labour-intensive artisanal techniques. Drawing on the Arts and Crafts Movement and the work of William Morris and John Ruskin, Thorpe explores new forms of utopianism, where past and present intersect.

The exhibition includes two watercolours, A Necessary Life, 2011 and Revived Pattern, 2010. The latter depicts a repeated motif of natural forms. The beautiful and stylised paintings of intertwined leaves and berries are visually analogous to a hedge or natural shield. The reference to barriers is also apparent in two ‘screen’ sculptures, both titled Endeavours, 2010, that stand over a metre high and are inlaid with ceramic tiles. These imposing forms create a secondary space within the gallery, one that contains and encloses the other sculptures so that the idea of a natural enclosure repeats itself in the exhibition.

The sculptures Private Lives, Quiet Lives and The Collaborator (all 2010) resemble a box or container each patterned with vines, leaves and flowers and resting on carved wooden legs. Light emanates from the enclosures of Private Lives and Quiet Lives, conveying a mysterious, protected void. In the case of The Collaborator, the sculpture makes a low noise when approached, a kind of warning signal perhaps. In all cases the objects are imbued with a sense of animation or spirit. The idea that an object carries with it the energies and conditions of its making is drawn, in part, from the work of John Ruskin. In working with skilled craftsmen Thorpe researches and uses pre-industrial methods of paint production, carving, wood-turning, ceramics and leather-cutting. Each of these works stand as a manifestation of the endeavour and care with which they are made and, as in the time of the Arts and Crafts Movement, act as a riposte to today’s contemporary cheap industrialised production techniques.

The Hepworth Wakefield is one of largest contemporary art spaces outside London. Since opening its doors to the public on 21 May, the gallery has already welcomed over 385,000 visitors, doubling its initial first year target. The Hepworth Wakefield offers an engaging programme of learning projects, regular talks, lectures, performances and screenings. Facilities include a café bar, a shop, a unique conference venue, learning studios, gallery garden and riverside play area.

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