A Gift to the Dark
Duration: January 14 - February 11, 2023
Artists: Beatrice Alici Paulina Aumayr Sarah Fripon Alex Macedo Esther Martens India Nielsen Georgia May Travers Cook King Rohmberg
Photos: Flavio Palasciano
Contemporary Art Library
‘A GIFT TO THE DARK’
A group exhibition presenting works by Beatrice Alici, Paulina Aumayr, Sarah Fripon, Alex Macedo, Esther Martens, India Nielsen, King Rhomberg, and Georgia-May Travers Cook.
Curated by Sayori Radda 13.01-11.02, 2023
“The intense light of reason and revelation combined, cannot shed such blazonings upon the deeper truths in a man, as will sometimes proceed from his own profoundest gloom. Utter darkness is then his light, and cat-like he distinctly sees all objects through a medium which is mere blindness to common vision.”
Hermann Melville, Pierre (1852)
‘A Gift to the Dark’ showcases eight international artists based in London, Milan, and Vienna, whose works explore Sigmund Freud’s concept of the unheimlich. The term, which imperfectly translates as the “unhomely” in English, stems from, and is in direct contrast to, the heimlich (the “homely” or familiar).1 As such, the unheimlich (or, the uncanny) generates an eerie, estranged, or frightening effect, of a thing or occurrence that originates from the unfamiliar within the familiar, or vice versa. Freud stresses that the uncanny is “that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar.”2 Triggered by an external force in the present, the unheimlich is repressed unconscious material erupting to the fore in a hybridised, concocted manner. ‘A Gift to the Dark’ unearths the uncanny from positions of dark romanticism, exploring its liminal planes and uncertain territories.
Rather than shying away from the sinister tropes inherent in the works, ‘A Gift to the Dark’ celebrates their uniquely charged motifs and timely subject matter by recognising their authentic avenues anchored in the unheimlich. Whether apparent through technique, medium, motif, or subject matter, each work reveals a potent confrontation with the unheimlich.
1 “The unheimlich has been inadequately translated into English as the uncanny; the word which better captures Freud’s sense of the term is the ‘unhomely’”, Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie, (London: Repeater, 2016)
2 Freud, S 1919, Das Unheimliche, First Published in Imago, Bd. V.
In Georgia-May Travers Cook’s The Daydream (2021), a woman sits in a domestic setting, vacant yet poised, suspended in an uncanny gesture. Does the smile encapsulate an ecstatic moment or a composed tranquillity? The eyes glare into an unknown territory beyond the canvas, while the plaits wistfully envelop the figure’s neck. Within the iconography of art history, hair often represented a mythical intimate extension of womanhood and depicted power as well as veiled mysteries.
In terms of materiality and its painterly effects, both Alex Macedo and Beatrice Alici extract the light from within the dark, generating a sacral affect. Macedo incorporates the traditional glazing technique common to old master paintings, where multiple layers of red umber are applied, and finally top layers are withdrawn allowing for undercoats to illuminate the motif. Alici paints nocturnal scenes in naturalistic settings, in which sacral and ancient ethereal figurines emerging from the dark are empowered as well as endowed with supernatural qualities often depicted as goddesses, witches, incubuses or emperors. Between the Cypresses (2022) depicts a ghostly figurine illuminating from cypresses in the dark through candlelight. Being a symbol of eternal life, the cypress is known to be planted in cemeteries across Italy.
In unsettling ways, both India Nielsen and Sarah Fripon explore distinct limitations and consequences in the communicative power or failures of language, creating estranged incomprehensible junctures. Transferring an old fur coat into a shaved fur rug or canvas, Nielsen’s works display encrypted letters and sigils transforming each piece into an undefinably self-referential object of magick. For Nielsen, “they are beings in their own right.” Similarly, Nielsen’s My Tongue is a Vessel (Slim Shady Kisses a Fan at a Concert, 1999) (2022) interrogates the depersonalising consequences of mass consumerism, popular culture, and the global proliferation and circulation of images and its empty gestures. As Fisher puts it, “Capital is at every level an eerie entity: conjured out of nothing, capital nevertheless exerts more influence than any allegedly substantial entity.”3 Indeed, King Rhomberg’s lithography Avaritia (2019) further incongruously critiques the gluttony, greed, and overconsumption of a parasitic elite through dark romanticism and sinister humour.
3 Mark Fisher, The Weird and the Eerie, 2016
In Fragment 1 (2020), Esther Martens captures a suspended grotesque cry originating from a convulsed horse’s mouth. Abstract figurines that oscillate between humans, animals, and folkloric characters refer to inanimate porcelain objects. As such, we are confronted with a speculative space encapsulated by strange phantasmagoric figurative compositions. Are these figures portrayed as alive or inanimate? In contrast, Paulina Aumayr’s Wieder Da (2022) [Back Again], depicts a shuddering moment of a figure in self-reflection: A woman is suspended in a moment of delirium as she catches her reflection in the mirror and recomposes herself and her encompassing environment.
Beatrice Alici (b. 1992) is a Venetian Artist based in Milan. She studied at the Liceo Artistico of Treviso and a completed an MA at Academy of Fine Arts in Venice. Her recent series of paintings depict nocturnal scenes in which ethereal female figures in naturalistic settings explore and redefine notions of femininity and its controversial representations throughout history. Sacred and ancient female figures are empowered as well as endowed with supernatural elements depicted as goddesses, witches, incubuses, emperors and more. As opposed to depicting these figures using daylight, Alici illuminates them through natural light either reflected by the moon in its various stages or by candlelight, therefore rendering colour tones and scenes in a delicate manner. Recent group exhibitions include Galleria Michela Rizzo, Italy (2022), Venice Time Case, Italy (2022) and Opus Focus, Italy (2021).
Paulina Emilia Aumayr
Paulina Emilia Aumayr (b.2002) is a Viennese artist based in Vienna, Austria and is studying Fine Art und Daniel Richter at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Confronting, observing, and reflecting on one’s experiences and self are central to Aumayr’s works. Figurative imagery leads the way, implying scenarios without being self-definitive. Through personal experiences and memories from her childhood that often reflect on a suppressive patriarchal system, Aumayr permits pressing yet personal subject matters. An intimate personal memory or experience will spark the basis of a new work. Aumayr recreates such memories through self- shot and staged photographs that are finally painted onto the canvas as multi- layered and bleeding into one another. Inherently painting onto the reversed side of the canvas, she creates earthy-tones and raw-textured strokes. Scratched thin layers of diluted oil paint across the rough surface of the beige reversed canvas leave soft pastel tones and translucent strokes. Her paintings will often pair the organic with the inorganic and address primordial relations between man and animal as well as the human and non-human. Formally, Aumayr is inspired by figurative work and its expressionistic entities. Painters such as Marlene Dumas and Francis Bacon were early impacts that initially drew Aumayr to further explore her discourse. Recent group exhibitions include Parallel Vienna (2022), ‘Promised Land’ and Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (2022/23), ‘Rundgang’
Sarah Fripon (b. 1989) is a German Artist from Zeitz and is based in Vienna, Austria. She completed an MA in Fine Art at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna in 2021. Working with acrylic on canvas using an airbrush, Fripon’s uncanny paintings resemble stock photographs, snapshots or screenshots of motifs that simultaneously appear familiar yet disturbing. Through citing and reflecting on misleading proliferating images in advertising within our global network, Fripon captures the zeitgeist of a crisis-ridden, paradoxical absurdism in which society is continually feeding itself through deceptive capitalist super-structures with no means to an end. Likened to a fleeting moment captured in long shutter-speed, the blurred effect and characteristically subdued colour palette apparent in Fripon’s work, resemble the aura of an intangible long-lost dream or memory. Recent group exhibitions include Harkawik Gallery, ‘Talking About C’, New York (2023), Fünfzigzwanzig, ‘Pending Objects Part 1’, Salzburg (2021) and Palais Lichtenstein ‘Die Akademie Schläft Nicht’, Vienna (2020). Amongst others, Fripon’s work is housed in the permanent collection of the Wien Museum.
Alex Macedo (b. 1995) is an artist from Luxembourg who is based in Vienna, Austria and is currently studying Fine Art under Henning Bohl at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. Painting in oil on canvas or aluminium, Macedo investigates intersecting relations between archaic functions within art historical religious iconography, Catholicism and contemporary popular culture. Executed in the traditional painting technique known as ‘glazing’, often applied during the renaissance period and in old master paintings, Macedo incorporates multiple layers of semi-transparent burnt umber, creating a distinct symbiotic effect of light and dark tones that bring forth luminosity from within the canvas. Such is achieved by retracting existing umber from the top layers of the surface allowing for lighter underlayers to shine through the foreground. Selected motifs are often a pastiche of iconic images circulating in the network of contemporary society. Archaic, art historical iconographic motifs are for example, taken from widely circulated and reproduced images such as contemporary postcards; and are juxtaposed with motifs of contemporary popular icons such as cult football players, renown characters from TV Series, trends in fashion or hip-hop album covers.
Historical iconographic motifs are stripped from their original meaning and clichés, creating unchartered territory. Macedo’s work explores aligned structures inherent in religion, its art historical iconography and contemporary popular culture: Namely, the art of storytelling, fanaticism, ceremonies and the glorification of the iconic figure or emblem. Recent Group exhibitions include Ostra, ‘Ostreoidea’ (2022), Czech Centre, ‘Days of Unearthing’ (2020). Recent Solo exhibition includes Franz Joseph Kai 3, ‘L’orange est parti’ (2021).
Esther Martens (b. 1992) is a Viennese and Canadian artist based in Vienna, Austria who completed an MA with distinction in Painting and Animation at the University of Applied Arts Vienna in 2020. Martens primarily works with oil on canvas and oil on copper by painting expressionistic and abstract figurines that oscillate between conditions of the human and non-human, such as animals and folkloric characters. Distinct to her approach and inspiration, Martens will source porcelain objects from auctions, flea-markets and the internet to create an eerie pastiche of motifs on the canvas, that translate the inanimate glossy three-dimensional materiality of porcelain onto the two-dimensional canvas through paint. As such, the work depicts speculative spaces encapsulated by strange phantasmagoric and absurdist figurative compositions. The transformed motifs on the canvas of the acquired porcelain objects, indeed, are charged with imperialist histories and Martens takes importance in highlighting as well as unearthing controversial subjects within class-struggle, race and gender politics. Recent renown group exhibitions include Parallel Vienna, ‘Footloose’ (2020), Krinzinger Projekte / Krinzinger Galerie, ‘Tomorrow is Cancelled’ (2018) and MAK, ‘Ästhetik der Veränderung’ (2018).
India Nielsen (b.1991) is a British artist who lives and works in London. Nielesen is a true 90s kid, raised on Cartoon Network’s revival of vintage animation, MTV’s coverage of hip hop’s golden age, the arrival of the Internet and with it primitive incarnations of social media. It is only with hindsight do we appreciate how such information overload has led to an inherent distrust of facts and the redundancy of knowledge, how global connectivity has led to a detachment from our local communities and indifference towards our immediate surroundings and how instant digital interaction has led to an unappreciation of intimacy and insufficiency of both physical and emotional engagement. It is this dissociation that Nielsen explores within her work as she attempts to awaken the subconscious and reintroduce an emotional narrative into the visual and verbal language of ‘online’.
The works are therefore not representational or illusionistic, but functional, sigilistic, magick objects. Fragments of letters, words and image are carved into paint and shaved out of fur. Figures are animistic and mystical, swiped from pop culture, art historical books or transcribed from memory. India Nielsen (b.1991) lives and works in London. Recent shows include Darren Flook gallery in London, UK, imlabor gallery in Tokyo, JP and Annarumma gallery in Naples, IT. In 2023 Nielsen will have her first solo institutional exhibition at Kebbel- Villa in Bavaria, DE, as well as a solo exhibition at Lazy Mike gallery in Riga, Latvia.
King Rhomberg (b. 1993) is an artist from Hong Kong based in Vienna. He is currently studying Fine Art under Professor Henning Bohl at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. King works with mixed media including painting, ceramics, woodworks and printmaking in the forms of etching, lithography and screenprinting. His process is often experimental as he incorporates multiple mediums through a fluid, changing and reflexive approach. His works will often critique an elite from differing time periods, through a satirical and humorous lens. Recent exhibitions include Art Austria, Vienna (2022), Never at Home, Vienna (2022) and A2Z Gallery, Hong Kong (2019)
Georgia-May Travers Cook
Georgia-May Travers Cook (b.1995) is a British artist based in London and is a BA graduate of Goldsmiths College (2018). Drawing upon art history, literature and autobiographical writing, Travers Cook stages domestic ‘happenings’ in her preferred medium, oil on linen. In response to these suspended scenes, the viewer slips into the guise of a voyeur, provoked to unpick visual cliff-hangers, whilst waiting for the calamity to resolve. The uncanny is at play as Travers Cook usurps the notion of still life in her presentation of these seemingly mundane scenes. Recent shows include Vortic, ‘Fever Dream’ (2022) and V.O Curations, ‘Stranger Than Paradise’ (2022).
Sayori Radda (Vienna, 1992) is a London-based curator, writer and theorist exploring dark romanticism within visual cultures through a lens of the weird, the eerie and the uncanny. She has completed both a BA in Visual Cultures, where she was taught by Mark Fisher, and an MFA in Curating at Goldsmiths University, London in 2018.