Barakat Contemporary proudly presents El Anatsui: Day after Night. The exhibition, which will run from 29 November 2022 to 29 January 2023, is a compelling study on the materiality of light. El Anatsui returns to Korea after his first exhibition in the country in 2017, El Anatsui: Topology of Generosity, which was also presented by Barakat Contemporary.
From the broken ceramics and wooden reliefs to the monumental bottle cap sculptures, El Anatsui has experimented throughout his life on how to represent the form and potential of African sculpture in his own unique formal language that transcends sculpture and painting. His artistic scope has constantly expanded from the history of Africa to all mankind. Following the discovery and reinvention of bottle caps as a new sculptural material, El Anatsui has worked on the bottle cap sculptures since the late 1990s; they are now considered a work of significance in art history. El Anatsui's continued self-reflection, perception to details, and creative touch have allowed the objects of his works to represent their own meaning within the history of Africa. At El Anatsui: Day after Night, the artist's second solo exhibition in Korea, Anatsui's latest bottle cap sculptures are embroidered across the space of Barakat Contemporary, shining the light of re-creation in abstract patterns. Anatsui's works whisper visual poems with ephemeral implications, fascinating the viewers with the indulgence of light reflecting out of the darkness.
Small bottle caps of red, black, yellow, gold and silver colours are laced together piece by piece into a giant sheet where light can play about. On its surface, light fractures, scatters and concentrates endlessly to show a rich display of colour. Shining like a web of light and rippled like crumpled skin at the same time, the surface of the sculpture is massive, dense, and porous. El Anatsui's sculptures are both maps of Africa as well as maps of the world. They may even be maps of our hearts. Anatsui's sculptures warmly embrace the space around where they are installed. Viewers willing to step inside its embrace may witness the artist's perception of the origins of media and the internal awe that transcends the boundaries and limits. The glittering reflection from the delicately rippled materials renders the sculpture's surface—rich with ripples—seem as if it were alive. Visually, the works feel Baroque-esque, soft and warm, even when they are made with day-to-day materials. The fabric-like softness resembles the natural shape of flow, wave, ridge, and valley, inviting us into the maze hidden inside.
In the colonial era of Africa, rum from New England was shipped to the west coast of Africa to be traded with slaves. Slave ships traveled to West Indies, where the African men and women were traded for molasses and sugar. Connoting such historical background as a metaphor are the small metal bottle caps. In the hands of Anatsui's studio assistants, they are flattened, cut, twisted, dried, compressed and combined into 'blocks' of colour. The blocks are then arranged and assembled. The objects are trivial and common, yet there is a sense of historical implication in them. The process of transforming them into an inspiring vision involves many people working together. Tying separated parts together and sublimating life into art have long been integral to Anatsui's art workings. The process is also about combining the things that are related or belong together. Anatsui seeks to highlight certain conditions of mankind's existence, as well as his relationship with himself and the environment. The artist, therefore, tries to bring these objects back, to present them again in ways which seem to make them confront their former lives and the lives of those who have used them.
When viewed from afar, the bottle cap sculptures resemble the patterns from Africa's traditional kente. Their uniform structure hints at a sense of cohesiveness and belonging. As the late world-renowned Okwui Enwezor commented that El Anatsui's works conjure the popular African rule of life that 'no condition is permanent,' the artist's works embody his belief in the ever-changing and unpredictable nature of life, the theme of rupture and catastrophe, and the concept of non-fixed form. His installation works herald loss and anxiety, and they change their form every time they are installed. Such features can be connected to El Anatsui's nomadic lifestyle, tolerant collaborative approach and loss of control thereby, and willingness to accept the results. 'of Realities and Illusions' is the artist's latest work to be premiered at the exhibition. With the resemblance of desolate land, the wooden panel piece – while designed in a uniform manner – ruptures repeatedly to keep continuity and discontinuity in a tense balance. The incessant, minuscule discrepancies instill a sense of vigour and suspense.
El Anatsui: Day after Night features the artist's latest print works as well. The woodcut carvings used for these works bear the shapes and patterns from Anatsui's earlier works. Made with CNC routers and digitally photographed, they constitute an artistic language in reiterable modular blocks. Woodcut artist Alexis, who collaborated with El Anatsui remotely, rearranged the carvings to form different compositions, and experimented with colours, placements, and order of patterns in the prints. The exhibition, featuring El Anatsui's select major works, is an opportunity to discover the vision within the small objects we often pass by as we live through the slow progression of time. Within the process of working with the objects to create art—discovering the objects within our lives, generating history, meaning, and symbol, and assembling and disassembling them—is the nature of life: constant exploration and unpredictability. El Anatsui's works emerge slowly from space. The floating fragments of light bring our time to a halt and find their way into our hearts.
Just as our time and pattern persist Day after Night, within the diversity in the pattern of tiny light fragments is a small system of its own—as if a testament to our existence within such harmony of pattern and perpetuity.
Press release courtesy Barakat Contemporary.