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Institute of Contemporary Arts opens exhibitions by artists Sonia Boyce and Helen Johnson
Helen Johnson, The sack, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, wood, 380 x 220cm.


LONDON.- The ICA announces solo exhibitions by artists Sonia Boyce and Helen Johnson. Sonia Boyce’s We move in her way explores questions around power and play between audience and performer within a live improvisation, then uses the documentation to create a multimedia installation. Helen Johnson: Warm Ties uses painting to highlight the relationship between Britain and colonial Australia. Johnson places the viewer in a space in which to reflect on the mentality of British colonisers on Australia. Both highly acclaimed artists will be exhibiting in the Lower and Upper Galleries, respectively, 1 February – 16 April 2017.

Sonia Boyce’s piece We move in her way involves the exploratory vocal and movement performances of Elaine Mitchener, Barbara Gamper and her dancers : Eve Stainton, Ria Uttridge and Be van Vark, with an invited audience. The title of the work suggests two possible readings: that ‘she’ dictates our movements; or that we obstruct ‘hers’, with both interpretations suggesting power is at play.

Boyce has a participatory art practice where she invites others to engage performatively with improvisation. In this process, she encourages contributors to exercise their own responses to the situations she enables, where she steps back from any directorial position to observe the activities and dynamics of exchange as they unfold. Once the performance is played out and documented, Boyce reshapes the material generated, in what she calls “recouping the remains”, to create the artwork as a multimedia installation.

We move in her way was created in this way as a performative laboratory, in which the audience and performers negotiated the ICA Theatre space around sculptural objects and their own bodies. Play and playfulness unfolded during the open-ended live performance, sparking a breakdown of assumed order between performers and audience. The dynamics of power-play shifts between the masked audience, the performers and the sculptural objects created as a means to facilitate touch and being together, whilst remaining distinct.

Notions of difference and relatedness make reference to the enduring influence of Dada within We move in her way. Processes of collaborative improvisation are exemplified in the piece, referencing the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark in the late 1960s and 70s. Some of the masks worn by the audience are a re-working of Sophie Tauber’s ‘Dada Head’ (1920) – itself an appropriation of Oceanic sculpture. The final artwork takes another playful turn to create a multi-layered and multimedia installation.

Helen Johnson: Warm Ties
Lower Gallery

Warm Ties is a solo exhibition of Australian artist Helen Johnson, in collaboration with Artspace, Sydney. Johnson weaves and overlays historical and contemporary signifiers creating points of tension and reflection through the medium of painting. In this exhibition, the complex colonial relationship between Australia and Britain is dealt with on the level of the body, using large-scale paintings mounted to a structure that zigzags through the space.

An economy of images is established within and between paintings; some are given precedence, others made barely legible. The paintings are the size of theatre backdrops, in excess of the body, becoming sets before which to act. Mindful of the ICA’s location on The Mall, close to the seat of power that served as the originary point of Australia’s colonisation, some images concerning Australia’s fraught relationship to British culture and power are freighted back to their point of origin. Humour plays an important role in reflecting on this return – or perhaps more accurately, persistence – of the repressed.

In one painting, a man masturbates as the lyrics to the Australian national anthem are whispered into his ear: ‘For those who come across the seas we’ve boundless plains to share’, a far cry from some of Australia’s current strict immigration policies. He stands before an image of Queen Victoria overlaid with handcuffs, whips and shackles used to punish colonial convicts. Hands reach from inside this image to smear the paintwork.

The zigzag structure within the exhibition is derived from the layout of Canberra, Australia’s capital city. Designed by Walter Burley Griffin, this pre-fabricated modernist city was imposed on Ngunnawal country in the early 20th century. Here, the angles of Masonic symbols imbued in Burley Griffin’s plans are reduced to a gesture, a mere squiggle across the space.

This body of work resituates 19th century images of the White Man as an imperialist brute, a sycophant and a greedy solipsist, scaling them up and reasserting them – they are the founding historical legacy for non-Indigenous Australians. The works repurpose and re-examine images of rituals used by colonists in an attempt to legitimise their occupation of Australia; ‘civilised’ procedures that thinly masked widespread massacres, dispossessions and attempted destructions of sophisticated, ancient cultures.






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