Here is a question? If you had to chose a colour which characterises London, what would it be? Adults will probably say grey – to reflect the grey skies, concrete buildings, the murky river Thames and the dirty granite and stone pavements. Children might be more positive and chose the colour red, the red of London buses, postal vans and post boxes and, at night, the red of traffic lights and brake lights on vehicles.
In the Blain Southern gallery in London, you can see the hustle and bustle of the street outside, including the red buses passing along the street. Is it coincidence that red is the colour of transport and postal systems that are essential to keeping London alive, almost reflecting the colour of the blood which pulses through our veins? Inside, springing from two feet, is an explosion of red thread, growing to a huge cloud that hangs from the ceiling of the gallery. In her work ‘Me Somewhere Else’, Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota creates an installation where the thread has multiple meanings linked to connections within the human body and externally to the universe. At one level, it represents the neural pathways in the brain, or the veins of the body, exposed when the body has gone; at another it represents the many connections by an individual to the world and universe beyond, with the cloud-like structure perhaps hinting at the unseen ‘Cloud’ in which all our data sits and which connects everything. Shiota explores the deeply philosophical question of what connections exist independent of a human body, and what consciousness would continue if the physical body no longer existed.
Downstairs, German artist Jonas Burgert explores another aspect of human life in ‘schlagen und bleiben’ (beat and stay). In this case, the figures in his highly-detailed drawings are actors in a drama or characters in a story and he shows them both within the narrative and as separate portraits. In a sense the theme of connections is here too. What in the individual portraits links back to the narrative of the large drawings and what is new, separate and different? What mysteries do the portraits hide of the true characters, freed from their identities within the drama? It raises an interesting question for all of us. What is our real character? Where does acting out our everyday lives stop and reality take over?
It is interesting to see how two artists who probably don’t know the work of each other can create something similar and yet at the same time so different. In the Collerodo-Mansfeld Palace in Prague is another contemporary installation created from thread, this time connected to two hands, rather than two feet, in Marie Tuckover’s crocheted masks and enclosure which explore the fears and the comfort found in 21st century anonymity. Two different works, from two different artists in two different countries, but both exploring aspects of human life.