Imagine the glittering surface of a private swimming pool in Los Angeles in July. The pool is yours and you are alone, nobody is here to bother you. As you begin to get into the water, you see an oasis inhabited with tropical birds and exotic flora. Out of curiosity you get out of the pool to take a closer look at these enchanting creatures, walking through a monochrome passage in order to reach your destination: Arthill Gallery.
This year’s summer exhibition at Arthill Gallery brings together Sun Ju Lee, Shaoyan Li and Cyrus Mahboubian to transport the viewer from East to West, and back again, during the summer heat. The West Kensington gallery, which also has a presence in China, is principally concerned with creating an artistic discourse between cultures. In this group show, the featured artists of British, Chinese and Korean birth are united in their ability to create an atmosphere of quietness through installation, painting and photography.
The swimming pool I mentioned in the opening belongs to Cyrus Mahboubian. The glistening blue liquid that fills it is the only element of colour amongst his work on show, which comprises photographic prints, unique Polaroids and one video work. The Encounters series, 2017, consists of black and white Polaroids of fallen branches in barren lakes, isolated cliffs and close-up renditions of ferns and leaves. There is not a single hint of human presence in any of the photographs, and perhaps this is what makes the works so mesmerizing. Where were they taken? When and why? Mahboubian’s images evoke a sense of untouched nature in their elegantly simple composition. His approach is incredibly contemplative, and reflects a deep understanding and respect for analogue photography. The film on which his photographs are taken is no longer made, making it both precious and expensive. Where digital technology allows us to take dozens of photographs a minute, Mahboubian allows the feeling or moment to dictate when he creates his images. Looking to escape the distractions of social media and technology, he often goes out without his phone to make his work, resulting in artwork that is rid of the hectic distractions that is ever present in our day to day lives.
Mahboubian’s display plays with large and small. The Encounters Polaroids are the size of a tea coaster, whilst his two other photographic works Swimming Pool, West Hollywood, 2014 and Joshua Tree, 2017 are probably ten times the size. The larger images, both taken in the United States, are striking, transporting the Californian summer heat into the London gallery. Mahboubian’s most hypnotic work is Elegy, 2017. The film, that was recorded in Ireland, begins with blackness. With the incorporation of light we see white waves gently crashing against black rocks in the Irish fog before the seascape scene is once again encapsulated in darkness. All of this is played in complete silence, adding to the intensity of the piece. After a week in Ireland, exploring the coastline, he selected a specific location on his last evening as he was preparing to leave the island, when the fog arrived by chance. The subject seems milder still in its mode of display, projected onto a white wall, which softens the film.
The cool blue of Mahboubian’s swimming pool can also be found in Shaoyan Li’s depictions of paradise. Running through four canvases vibrant clusters of purple-tinged birds and butterflies can be found camouflaged against lush blue vegetation. The winged creatures are painted against bare white backgrounds allowing their intense shades of indigo and violet to capture the viewer’s attention. In his first show outside China, Li describes the images he paints on his canvases as ‘non existing scenery.’ Two of the works, which are displayed in the round, are titled Paradise in the mountain, 2017. The paintings show the blue patches grow from a wide expanse at the bottom of the canvas, to narrower peaks that don’t quite reach the top edge, mirroring the shape of a mountain form. Of the four works, After the rain, 2017, is the stand out piece, as the background to the birds and flowers of paradise is a deep blue as opposed to the crisp white in the rest of the paintings. Like Mahboubian’s swimming pool, the creatures look as though they have been placed in front of a wide expanse of water. The liquid background looks as though it is the source that provides light to the bestial foreground, which seems to glow in front of the twinkling ocean behind it.
Somewhere in between Li’s bird infested paradise and the monochrome fauna and flora of Mahboubian’s Polaroids; Sun Ju Lee presents us with four conceptual pathways. The mixed media works, all entitled Assembly Passage, 2016, explore the way we recognise the significance of place. By layering drawings, paint, digital prints and wire on top of each other, Lee creates multifaceted structures that reflect how public spaces communicate a variety of occurrences in the way that they interact with a variety of people and situations. The visual manifestation of Lee’s crossings and interactions result in a sort of black and white camouflage, showing how individual happenings at the same place can appear to merge into one when looked at from a distance. The different shades of grey and black almost evoke a jumbled up zebra crossing, signaling the layering of different junctions.
Arthill’s summer exhibition takes you on a journey, but doesn’t tell you where you’re going and who has taken the same route before you. The trip transports you through landscapes that are unpopulated, except for a few exotic birds and through paths covered in footprints, whose owners you can’t quite make out, before ending with a deep blue swimming pool, beckoning you to get in, have a dip, and take in the visual surroundings.
Summer Group Show is on display at Arthill Gallery until 3 September