Artists of the week: Hew Locke & Gayle Chong-Kwan

Both artists participate in ArtSway’s New Forest Pavilion  at the 54th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia 2011

The exhibition runs from 4 June – 26 June 2011 and features artists Gayle Chong Kwan and Hew Locke, who have recently worked with Iniva, alongside Dave Lewis, Mike Marshall, Christopher Orr and Sophy Rickett.

ArtSway’s New Forest Pavilion is an offiicial collateral event for the exhibition at this year’s Venice Bienniale and features a number of new commissions. Each artist explores ideas relating to nationhood, ecology and landscape as seen within a modern global context. It looks like an interesting exhibition to visit if you are lucky enough to be in Venice this month!

Gayle Chong Kwan’s installation for ArtSway’s exhibition, The Obsidian Isle, explores ideas of collective history, the senses and memory, national identity, landscape and tourism. Chong Kwan documents an island which houses the lost and destroyed places of her native Scotland, referencing the 18th century fictionalized epic of Ossian, as well as her Mauritian heritage, an island whose landscape is being theatricalised and consumed through the global tourist industry.

Chong Kwan works with photography, video, sound, installation, and performance and weaves together documentary and fantastical approaches to explore ideas of collective and individual memory, history and expanded notions of and frustration between the senses.

Chong Kwan worked with Iniva most recently in summer 2010, creating an installation ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ for our Whose Map is it? New Mapping by Artists exhibiton. Her audio installation included clips from people interviewed about dancing the Rumba and was accompanied by a map of the movement and origins of the dance across the world, as well as dance cards for the more adventurous visitors who fancied trying it out for themselves.

Watch a video of Gayle speaking about this installation on our YouTube channel, where you can also find a 3 part series of the artist talking at Rivington Place about her previous work and practice in general as well.

Also participating in ArtSway’s exhibition is Hew Locke. Locke’s recent commission for ArtSway -Starchitect- is an installation constructed from cut and painted plywood sheets, featuring sculptural objects which for La Biennale is condensed into one room, presented as a ‘treasury’, linking to the former colonial standing of Venice.

Globalisation and ‘Britishness’ are recurring themes in his work. Born in Scotland, Locke spent his early years in newly independent Guyana – a former British colony that was attempting to find its place in the international community. His work focuses on notions of loss of power and prestige, particularly in light of the recent economic downturn. 

Locke exhibited Kingdom of the Blind with Iniva at Rivington Place in 2008, where he combined formal and thematic elements of his practice to create his first ever ‘museum display’ – a fictional collection of the possessions of an imaginary ruler. The installation combined a carnivalesque frieze of monumental figures (reaching up to 14 ft tall) with an elaborate backdrop of wall drawings. Depicting this fictional leader’s rise to power, Locke’s figures acted out victorious moments in battle and resemble elaborate votive objects – composed of intricate combinations of fake leather handbags, miniature plastic animals, doll parts, sequins, chains and fake weaponry.

In this exhibition, Locke’s allusions to the language of contemporary dictatorships and war assume a powerful commentary on our national cultural institutions and their relationship to the modern constructs of history and society, cultural identity and national pride.