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Havana Biennial 2019: Constructing the Possible Ocula Report Havana Biennial 2019: Constructing the Possible 17 Apr 2019 : Federica Bueti for Ocula

I first visited Havana in November 2016, a few days after Fidel Castro died, and just under a year before Hurricane Irma hit Cuba in September 2017. Since then, much has changed, including the hand-painted signs that punctuate the journey from the airport to the city centre, which today do not celebrate the revolution so much as the 'Unidad y...

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Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui Ocula Conversation Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui

The exhibition Beyond Boundaries at Somerset House in London (12 March–2 April 2019) marked the historic contributions of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (CAFA) and the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, on the occasion of their 100th and 150th anniversaries, respectively. Spread across several rooms of Somerset House's...

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The National 2019: New Australian Art Ocula Report The National 2019: New Australian Art 13 Apr 2019 : Elyse Goldfinch for Ocula

The National 2019: New Australian Art features work by 70 contemporary Australia-based artists split across three venues: the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Carriageworks, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) (29 March–21 July 2019), as curated by Isobel Parker Philip, curator of photographs at AGNSW; Daniel Mudie Cunningham,...

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Renee So

b. 1974, China

For Renee So, the pomp and grandeur of male self-representation throughout the ages form the basis of her anthropological-interest-turned-formal-experiment. Historically masculine vestments and accoutrements—top hats, beards, pipes, canes—make regular appearances in her ceramic sculptures and knit tapestries, summoning the image of Victorian dandies and other courtly types to whom these dated tokens of masculinity likely belong.

So's compositions emerge out of her research into ancient and early modern forms, among them Neo-Assyrian and Classical sculptures, playing cards, and dandyism, which she brings together in her practice that alternates between a hand-operated knitting machine and ceramic carving tools. In her interview with Vault in 2016, the artist noted that her sculptures emerge from a rough sketch in her mind and the textiles are the product of detailed patterns that are mapped out with geometric rigour onto gridded matrices. So employs a type of knitting known as the intarsia process or picture knitting, which involves working with blocks of colour, while her sculptures are often matte black or white. In either case, both mediums build from top to bottom—the knitting, line by line, and the sculpture, slab by slab.

The bellarmine (or bartmann), a German beer vessel commonly found across Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, has long functioned as a central motif in So's practice. Mockingly named after Saint Roberto Bellarmino (1542–1621), an Italian Cardinal who condemned the consuming of alcohol, the bellarmine was often adorned with representations of a bearded man (supposedly descended from the 'wild man' figure of medieval European folklore). In So's works, the bearded man's face typically appears doubled, at once upright and vertically upturned like the kings or jacks in playing cards. The stoneware series 'Bellarmine' (2016), for example, depicts the janus-like heads of bearded men combined with variously shaped vessels as their lower bodies. So also mimics the forms of past figurative carvings and hieratic bust portraits by constructing the beards of her bellarmine with bulbous forms, reminiscent of Neo-Assyrian sculptures, or the pantaloon-like containers in Bellarmine XII or Bellarmine XIII (both 2016) that recall trousers worn by men in early 19th-century England.

Another motif that So favours is the cowhide boot. A recurring form in her works is the synthesis of a tall leather boot and her double-headed bearded man, whose playful absurdism unsettles the formality of the tall plinths upon which So's sculptures are displayed. These anthropomorphic forms can also be found in the artist's knit tapestries, which So painstakingly builds up to confect her diagrammatic, cartoon-like figures often surrounded by vast swaths of finely mottled colour. Drunken Bellarmine (2012), for example, depicts a figure with wine glasses for legs, keeling over and slumped at an implausible angle, his state of intoxication and the spilt fluids on the floor punning on the function of his constituent parts. So renders this scene as slapstick in two dimensions, blending the wry sadism of physical comedy with the aesthetic forms of Neo-Assyrian carving and cartoon graphics into her signature stylised hybrids.

So graduated with a BFA from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 1997 and moved permanently to London following her Australia Council London Studio residency in 2005. She has held solo exhibitions internationally, including Bellarmines and Bootlegs, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds (2019); Vessel Man, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney (2016); and Renee So, Kate MacGarry, London (2016).

Tendai John Mutambu | Ocula | 2019
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Featured Artworks

View All (10)
Cross Legged Man by Renee So contemporary artwork Renee SoCross Legged Man, 2018 Glazed ceramic, oil paint
49 x 34 x 40 cm
Kate MacGarry
Bellarmine XV by Renee So contemporary artwork Renee SoBellarmine XV, 2016 Stoneware
45 x 38 x 38 cm
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
Bellarmine XV by Renee So contemporary artwork Renee SoBellarmine XV, 2016 stoneware
45 x 38 x 38 cm
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
Bellarmine  XVI by Renee So contemporary artwork Renee SoBellarmine XVI, 2016 stoneware stoneware
49 x 23 x 19 cm
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
Bellarmine XII by Renee So contemporary artwork Renee SoBellarmine XII, 2016 stoneware
49 x 23 x 19 cm
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
Bellarmine XIII by Renee So contemporary artwork Renee SoBellarmine XIII, 2016 stoneware
49 x 25 x 26 cm
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
Bellarmine XI by Renee So contemporary artwork Renee SoBellarmine XI, 2016 stoneware
45 x 38 x 38 cm
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
Legs II by Renee So contemporary artwork Renee SoLegs II, 2016 knitted linen and acrylic yarn, oak frame
150 x 120 cm
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, The Like Button at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Closed
13 December 2018–19 January 2019 Group Exhibition The Like Button Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Fifteen at Kate MacGarry, London
Closed
11 November–16 December 2017 Group Exhibition Fifteen Kate MacGarry, London
Contemporary art exhibition, Renee So, Vessel Man at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Closed
24 November–16 December 2016 Renee So Vessel Man Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

Represented By

In Ocula Magazine

Renee So Ocula Conversation Renee So

Renee So's first institutional solo exhibition in Europe, Bellarmines and Bootlegs (8 March–2 June 2019) at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, centres on a long-standing motif in her work: the eponymous Bellarmine—a domestic jug used in the Rhineland in the 16th and 17th centuries to carry wine and beer from barrel to table. Following its...

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In Related Press

David Noonan’s 'Lead Light' and Renee So’s 'Vessel Man' at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney Related Press David Noonan’s 'Lead Light' and Renee So’s 'Vessel Man' at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney Art Agenda : 16 December 2016

David Noonan and Renee So, whose work is shown in concurrent solo exhibitions at Sydney's Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, share an interest in the research, appropriation, and reconfiguration of traditional iconography. Hung on the walls of the main gallery, hidden down a terraced street in the suburb of Paddington, David Noonan's Lead Light consists of...

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Renee So, Artist Related Press Renee So, Artist Sight Unseen : 19 November 2012

London artist Renee So found the inspiration for her current body of work in the hallowed halls of the Victoria and Albert Museum, where she'd stumbled upon a collection of so-called German Bellarmine jugs — stoneware vessels that 16th- and 17th-century artisans carved to look like portly bearded woodsmen, purposefully firing them full of...

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Reviews / Renee So Related Press Reviews / Renee So Frieze : 19 March 2012

The first thing that needs to be known, if reproductions are all there is to go by, is that Renee So's two-dimensional works are knitted. These are not flat, static drawings but aerated designs with a warp and weft, tension and drift. The knit declares itself like a wry quip, emitting a frisson of wit from what might otherwise seem voguishly...

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Artist of the week 175: Renee So Related Press Artist of the week 175: Renee So The Guardian : 2 February 2012

With their penchant for drunken acrobatics and big jolly beards, the characters Renee So brings to life are a lovely gang of odd bods. In the giant 'knitted portraits' she creates on a 1970s pre-computerised machine ...

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