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Modern Art Oxford opens the first ever UK solo exhibition of Johanna Unzueta
Johanna Unzueta, A Garment for the Day , 2019-ongoing. Courtesy the Artist and Proyectos Ultravioleta. Field Station: Johanna Unzueta , installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2019. Photo: Eat Pomegranate Photography.

OXFORD.- Tools for Life is the first ever UK solo exhibition of New York-based Chilean artist Johanna Unzueta (b. 1974). Shaped in close dialogue with the artist, the exhibition presents four new commissions for Modern Art Oxford, in addition to a selection of her abstract drawings.

Unzueta’s work explores labour’s technological, historical and social impact on the human condition, and its relationship to nature. Combining elements from Chilean craft techniques, natural tinting processes and repetitive mechanised movement, Unzueta considers how materials and structures can be manipulated to explore the physicality of a daily practice or trade, in relation to the history of industrial production. The new works on show in Oxford are a large-scale felt installation; a collection of garments; a film shot at a textiles factory in Chile; and a site-specific wall mural.

Related to Myself (2018-20) is a large-scale sculpture consisting of a chain of oversized interlocking cogs in natural felt, which are based on the measurements of Unzueta’s own body. The work explores the human dimension of tool making and industrial manufacturing processes. Her site-specific mural surrounds a presentation of simple handmade garments, reminiscent of uniforms, made from fabric sourced from a factory in Guatemala that up-cycles jeans and natural cotton. The garments have been designed to fit gallery staff members, who will wear them on the exhibition’s opening night. The subsequent absence of bodies in the hanging uniforms as the exhibition continues reflects labour practices and the often nameless and unacknowledged individuals in precarious or exploitative employment.

Movement and motion are inherent in Unzueta’s work – across the chains, cogs, wall murals and garments activated by bodies in space – but never more so than in her large-scale brightly coloured freestanding abstract drawings. Referencing the ‘golden ratio’ found in nature – such as the wing structure of insects or the petal formation of flowers – these abstract diagrammatic systems map their own paths around the ovals and circles traced by the artist’s hand.

Unzueta explores the experience of the human body as both a means and tool of production. Through her manipulation of materials, scale and manual processes, she draws the humanity out of the industrial, paying respect to those humble and overlooked objects that perform energy saving efficiencies. This exhibition offers viewers ways to consider the unseen human actions and efforts required to produce the objects and technologies they so unthinkingly rely on in their everyday lives.

Johanna Unzueta (b. 1974, Santiago, Chile) studied art at the Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago. She has lived and worked in New York City since 2000. Unzueta has exhibited extensively throughout Europe, North America and South America, with her major solo exhibition Field Station: Johanna Unzueta, From My Head to My Toes, to My Teeth to My Nose presented by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University in 2019. Unzueta was recently featured in the group exhibitions Searching the Sky for Rain at Sculpture Center, New York, and What’s Love Got to Do With It? , part of the 2018–20 Open Sessions programme at The Drawing Center, New York (both 2019). She was also included in We Don’t Need Another Hero , the 10th Berlin Biennale curated by Gabi Ngcobo (2018). Further solo exhibitions include Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros, Mexico City (2017); Jewett Art Gallery, Wellesley College (2017) and Queens Museum of Art, New York (2009). The artist has co-edited and published artists’ books with Felipe Mujica since 2008. Unzueta is a recipient of the FONDART grant from the Chilean Board of Arts and Culture (1999, 2004 and 2010) and the DIRAC prize from the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2004 and 2008).

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