The artist Saelia Aparicio is one of the most vibrant presences to emerge in recent years. With a multi-disciplinary practice, her work spans large-scale mural drawings, videos, installations and sculptures, and delves into issues from climate crisis to housing problems, disease, equality and deliberations around gender. Unapologetic in her visual force, she often lingers on the human body and its messy reality, always with humour and depth.
A graduate of the Royal College of Art, a fellow of the Alexander McQueen foundation Sarabande and winner of the Jerwood Prize, she has exhibited in locations from the Kunsthaus in Hamburg to La Casa Encendida in Madrid and the Serpentine in London.
Though incontrovertibly an artist, she has nonetheless found a way to make strongly functional work, without compromising its sculptural credibility. Her first design work, a plywood stool, emerged unexpectedly in 2017 from a drawing of a female figure folded in on herself. This was taken up by Gallery FUMI, who have continued to work with Aparicio to develop this part of her practice.
For her new exhibition at FUMI
, called a sentient space, she is furnishing the gallery with furniture objects designed to bring a sense of both protection and entertainment to the home so full of life it seems wrong to call them inanimate. At a time of multiple tensions and global emergencies and anxieties, Aparicio wants to make us feel good. And in a world where anything can be made digitally, she wants to create real things that invite touch. I hope people will use these works, and will embrace them she says. In Aparicios view, there is always room for fantasy in the home, and she aims to reintroduce a childs sense of play and imagination into the adult world.
The new work is deliberately humorous and approachable. But for Aparicio these cartoonish qualities have deep historical antecedents. She points out that as far back as Mayan and Inca civilisations you find cute characters, with exaggerated features, forms and genitalia. Among others multiple sources of inspirations are medieval carvings, manga and anime, the novels of science fiction author Octavia Butler, mythology and folklore, and the urban ecosystem.
New pieces in a sentient space include additions to her series of plywood anthropomorphic stools painted with characters from mythology and fictions. There is Persephone, with their lustrous black hair filled with starfish and flowers; and Gulliver who has little people hanging from theirs. Hair has a particular fascination for Aparicio Its an expression of personality, she says, a cultural tool of communication.
There are benches and consoles painted with hugging humans in soft tones arms and legs intertwined. Mirror frames made in papier-mâché, and finished with a charcoal grey graphite paste, are in the form of a head of hair or a ghoulish figure whose long arms clasp the glass. An enormous fireplace is a squatting human: the space between the spread legs occupied by a brightly coloured neon tube.
Aparicio often works with her sister, the artist Attua Aparicio whose practice occupies the intersection of design, craft and art. Focussing on experimentation and research with processes and materials, her recent work combines ceramic clay with borosilicate glass. On this occasion, the sisters have collaborated on a shelving piece, composed of a hand-built stoneware totem made by Attua and furnished with ash shelves painted by Saelia. A bench with stoneware legs and a ceramic tongue-shaped back by Attua has a wooden seat embellished by Saelia with a wood-grain pattern.
The Aparicio sisters have studios in the same complex in Stratford, East London, along with Jochen Holz, known for his quasi-figurative glass jugs and vessels, who has also contributed to this project. Saelias terracotta people like preColombian figures embrace Holzs lamp-blown bulbs to create glorious lighting. An additional work by Jochen Holz will also be on display: a chandelier made from wiggly lamp-worked tubes of clear glass connected by simple twisted aluminium tags. With its sprawling form made of multiple ribbed components, it takes this classic decorative typology on a radically deconstructed journey.
This is work that erases the boundary between art and design. Welcome to a sentient space a wonderful world of unexpected creatures, mythologies and emotion.
Saelia Aparicio was born on a secret island in 1982. She graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2015. She lives in London.
Attua Aparicio was born Ávila (Spain) in 1981. She graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2011. She lives in London.
Jochen Holz was born in Kaiserslautern (Germany) in 1970. He graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2003. He lives in London.
Text by Caroline Roux