Jonathan Baldock disputes the notions of contemporary art

by adela smejkal

 

The British artist presents a remarkable show of visual and performing arts creating a scene inspired by the world of ‘The Wizard of Oz’.

When you search for the quote ‘There is no place like home’ what pops up as a definition is: ‘Home is the most satisfying place to be’ and ‘a quote from The Wizard of Oz'. This cliché phrase is also the title of so far the largest solo exhibition of British contemporary artist Jonathan Baldock. His previously unseen works span over both spaces, at Dilston Grove and CGP London, and are inspired by the notion of the 1939 musical.

 
Installation view of Jonathan Baldock, There's No Place Like Home, 2017 | Photograph by Damian Griffiths | Courtesy the artist, Belmacz Gallery, and CGP London

Installation view of Jonathan Baldock, There's No Place Like Home, 2017 | Photograph by Damian Griffiths | Courtesy the artist, Belmacz Gallery, and CGP London

 

A surreal world full of uncanny characters and objects lacking sense swallows the viewer the minute he/she enters the premises. The in-comprehensive encounter of random objects waits on every corner. A pink ear installed on the wall or a sandy table in the form of an eye striving for attention are not explicitly nightmarish but then again not echoing a fairy tale either. Even though ‘There is no place like home’ indirectly refers to the fantasyland of the Wizard of Oz, we perceive the notion of mythology, folkloristic traditions, tribes, and rituals, which are Baldock’s sources of inspiration for most of his artistic creation.

 
Installation view of Jonathan Baldock, There's No Place Like Home, 2017 | Photograph by Damian Griffiths | Courtesy the artist, Belmacz Gallery, and CGP London

Installation view of Jonathan Baldock, There's No Place Like Home, 2017 | Photograph by Damian Griffiths | Courtesy the artist, Belmacz Gallery, and CGP London

 

By positioning objects such as a Trojan horse sculpture, life size puppets, tribal-like masks, or various body parts (skeletons wearing skirts, chandeliers in the shape of a woman’s breast, or a human scale candle elaborated with ears) the features of human form are mostly deformed, disintegrated, and moulded into abstraction. Figures don’t appear as characters anymore but rather objects transit into figures containing body parts. The artist’s handmade works resemble rural household activities such as home felting, basket weaving, candle making, and ceramics, evoking a homeland atmosphere. Baldock’s use of fabrics, craft materials, and traditional techniques reveals the artist’s vast array of skills. He extraordinarily uses more than one artistic medium, implementing slight elements from fashion, design, and folklore.

Those who are familiar with work of the artist Louise Bourgeois might recall her exhibition in 2002 at Cheim & Read, New York. Especially two of her works presented at the show could resemble with Baldock’s sewed dolls and tribal-like masks in ‘There is no place like home’‘Obese Bulimic Anorexic, 2001’ and ‘Rejection, 2001’ Bourgeois made from different coloured terry cloth, hand sewn together. Her techniques of carving, welding and casting, along with references to domestic objects are similar to the ones Baldock uses in the exhibition. Whereas, the artist’s production of various body parts resembles Sarah Lucas’s exhibition ‘I Scream Daddio’ created exclusively for the British Pavilion at the 56th la Biennale di Venezia in 2015. For that show, the British artist produced series of plaster sculptures of fragmented body pairs of legs, adroitly enlivened through their combination with ordinary domestic furniture. Similarly, as Baldock, Lucas also interrogated our assumptions about gender and domesticity with the recurring trope of the lying down nude or sole standing figures.

 
Installation view of Jonathan Baldock, There's No Place Like Home, 2017 | Photograph by Damian Griffiths | Courtesy the artist, Belmacz Gallery, and CGP London

Installation view of Jonathan Baldock, There's No Place Like Home, 2017 | Photograph by Damian Griffiths | Courtesy the artist, Belmacz Gallery, and CGP London

 

However, Baldock’s body-part sculptures appear unfinished as if they were inviting the viewer to be part of the scene. They are incomplete for a reason - they are to be activated by a live performance. Baldock and Vancouver’s Kokoro Dance execute a series of three individual performances at Dilston Grove, where they interact with the installations; wearing specially created costumes while live music is being played on hand crafted instruments. The show explicitly blurs the lines between performative and visual arts thus creating a new medium. It is, in fact, connecting the static world of art and the variable world of theatre.

 
Installation view of Jonathan Baldock, There's No Place Like Home, 2017 | Photograph by Damian Griffiths | Courtesy the artist, Belmacz Gallery, and CGP London

Installation view of Jonathan Baldock, There's No Place Like Home, 2017 | Photograph by Damian Griffiths | Courtesy the artist, Belmacz Gallery, and CGP London

 

Along the live performance, this space presents works that the artist was commissioned to create specifically for the venue. The features of the former church such as having a rectangular shape, high ceiling, and wooden beams furthermore create a natural feel of theatre arena. This duality of the space cooperates with Baldock’s intentions – to integrate the venue in his artistic activities. Observing this atmosphere, the church suggests motives of mortality and acts as a human body where Baldock's sculptures serve as fragmented body parts. Baldock is significantly preoccupied with the question of life and human vulnerability. The feature of ‘orifices’ is often presented in his sculptures, and serves as a metaphor for the trespassing between one space to another.

 
Installation view of Jonathan Baldock, There's No Place Like Home, 2017 | Photograph by Damian Griffiths | Courtesy the artist, Belmacz Gallery, and CGP London

Installation view of Jonathan Baldock, There's No Place Like Home, 2017 | Photograph by Damian Griffiths | Courtesy the artist, Belmacz Gallery, and CGP London

 

An interesting contrast is created by the pastel colours that the artist selects - mainly pink hues are associated with childlike innocence, thus generating a contradiction to the dark elements of mortality and the human form. By the end of this exhibition journey, a multitude of sculptures collaborate and become an ensemble. Referring to the Wizard of Oz, we experience a utopian world, which is a home of all unusual characters inhabiting a setting, equipped with crafts of a traditional community. 

The live-performance points out the relationship between people and their homes as it shows an interaction of humans with handcrafted objects of the domestic sphere. The show, as a whole, provides the visitor with a distinctive and collective experience.

 

"There's no Place Like Home" is on view until 30 July 2017 at CGP London, 1 Park Approach, Southwark Park, SE16 2UA, London.

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