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Review: Surreal Landscapes @ Tate Liverpool

Tate Liverpool is renowned for producing exhibitions that are aimed at pushing the boundaries, and that are particularly reflective of concerns, issues and artists from the north-west locality. Tate Liverpool has been open for over 20 years now and its approach to curating and gallery space is well-recognised as being innovative and pioneering, particularly in comparison to the conventional London-based ‘White Cube’ spaces. Surreal Landscapes is part of Tate Liverpool’s Spring Season, that looks to expand and challenge the ideas traditionally associated with surrealism and as such three very different artists have been collated under the Surrealist banner, who are connected by motifs of mystery, domestic settings and interesting assemblages. Surrealism is often referred to as that of dreams, of the weird, the wacky and the presenting of a combination of imagery that just should not fit together. Surreal Landscapes looks to investigate the theme further and the way Carrington, Wilkes and Kepes’ work all present ideas around domesticity, dreams, ritual, subconscious, symbolism and thresholds yet in very different ways.  Leonora Carrington is probably the most obvious artist attached to surrealism, as her work is often populated with mythical creatures and settings that explores symbolism, mythology, ritual and death. Cathy Wilkes uses everyday objects, often from a domestic setting and also explores the crossover between life and death. Finally, Gyorgy Kepes was both artist and scientist, his exploration in photographs, photomontages and photograms explores the otherworldliness of image and how light can be used to present ghostlike representations of the everyday.leonora

Leonora Carrington, 1917-2011 El mundo mágico de los mayas 1964 Casein on panel 2130 x 4570 mm Archivo Digital de las Colecciones del Museo Nacional de Antropología. CONACULTA-INAH-CANON. © Estate of Leonora Carrington / ARS, NY and DACS, London 2015

Do you remember your last dream? Surrealist painter Leonora Carrington’s works are like visions of a fantastical dream world, filled with mystical creatures, fiery skies and supernatural ritual, but if only our own dreams could be this magical, this detailed in their oddities and so far away from the humdrum of reality. The Tate Liverpool’s showing of Carrington’s work invites us to explore the eccentric realms of her imagination. With their surreal blend of Celtic folklore, Mexican mythologies and whispers of the occult, her paintings are like fairy-tales with a dark, underworld twist. Visitors are lured through whimsical worlds by snippets of the artist’s own musings, adorning the walls beside paintings in which strange hybrid creatures and obscure beasts roam free. It’s a sort of Alice in Wonderland meets Mighty Boosh repertoire, unwinding into elusive paths and twisting labyrinths of meaning. Before we frown at the feat of deciphering them all, perhaps Carrington’s own words will let us off the hook, ‘you can’t intellectualise art, it’s a visual world.’carthy wilkes

Cathy Wilkes Untitled 2014 (Detail) Mixed media Dimensions variable Installation view Tramway, Glasgow, 2014 Commissioned by Tramway, Glasgow Collection of the Museum of Modern Arts in Warsaw Courtesy of The Artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd, Glasgow Photo: Keith Hunter

Bringing together over a decade’s worth of work, Tate Liverpool presents the largest and most comprehensive display of Cathy Wilkes’ work to date. The exhibition includes large-scale sculptural installations, paintings, and archival materials that all weave together to evoke places of loss or transformation and its placement within a large white gallery space proved most effective at raising feelings of inhibition, wonder and misplacement within the viewer. The meta-installation, a collection of works from different times and places, allows you to wander around the eerie space that has forgone text completely, and encourages you to find your own meaning amongst the discarded everyday objects, ‘junk’, textile work and towering mannequin figures. The cold, sparse space depicts another dimension of reality, a visionary world where ghosts and memories of the past enter your experience – an exploration of Cathy Wilkes pieces is an exploration into your own imagination, a decryption and interpretation of the everyday that reveals stories, be they biographical or poetic. Use your detective skills and immerse yourself in the mystery of the stories as works that Wilkes writes as ‘inhabited by both the living and the dead.’kepes

György Kepes, 1906-2001 Bone Fragment, Stone, Shadow c.1939-1940 image: 411 x 504 mm © estate of György Kepes. Image courtesy Wilson Centre for Photography.


The Tate is getting technical this spring. On the ground floor, the work of Hungarian artist György Kepes is challenging everything we thought we knew about photography. His images may all look like photographs on first glance, but his photograms were taken without any cameras and uncover a surreal intersection, somewhere between art and science.  A photogram is the photograph’s dark cousin – by placing an object on photosensitive paper and exposing it to light, it leaves behind nothing but a record of a shadow. His images reveal bizarre fragments of familiar objects, from stones and leaves to string and slices of bread, all abstracted into hazy visions. Through his probing examinations, Kepes sought to forge a visual bridge between art and science, something he termed ‘interseeing.’ If you’re interested in delving beneath the surface of things, this investigation of form, sign and meaning might just open up a new way of seeing the objects that permeate our everyday lives.

Surreal Landscapes is yet another successful exhibition at the Tate Liverpool that will unearth new ways of perceiving the everyday alongside the faraway with intimations towards the themes of ritual, death and the afterlife. The combination of very diverse artists and artworks ensures that there is something for everyone, embrace the exhibition with an open mind, unlock the many stories and hidden possibilities and prepare to leave in a dreamy, mystical haze.

Curated by Artistic Director Francesco Manacorda alongside artist Cathy Wilkes, assistant curator Lauren Barnes, author Chloe Aridjis (Carrington) and assistant curator Stephanie Straine (Kepes).
Words: Emma Seery and Katie Tysoe
Katie Tysoe
LS Radio's Arts and Culture Editor. Studying an MA in Arts, Aesthetics and Cultural Institutions. Big-time 80's enthusiast. @katiemarietysoe

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