A sphinx-scorpion hybrid lies trapped inside a white cube. With its tail pushed against one wall, with two arms struggling to escape from another, its cramped positioning illustrates the animal’s attempts to leave the barren wasteland it has been caged into. Spread out across the floor, it appears like it has accepted its fate, resting quietly within the gallery space. On display inside an exhibition titled Dark Air, this creature was planted there by Gray Wielebinski.
The first single-artist exhibition curated by Martin Mayorga and Vanessa Murrell of DATEAGLE ART, Gray’s show positions the platform as one that is equally gendered, as the artist is currently in transition. “The first solo show that we have curated is not from a male or female artist”, explains Murrell, “It is something more indefinable. Something balanced.” The combination of sphinx and scorpion is also significant as the sphinx is typically considered female, while the scorpion is associated with masculinity. In mythology, the sphinx was the guardian of the city of Thebes, sitting at the entrance of the city, not allowing anyone to enter unless they could answer her riddle. The only person to succeed in doing so was Oedipus, who subsequently became king of the city. Thus, the sphinx represents the transition between the old religion and the new, embodying the artist in transition themselves.
The scorpion side of the creature was inspired by the myth of Scorpio, whereby the scorpion defeats Orion and is immortalized in the sky as a constellation. And, like the sphinx, the scorpion has also appeared in mythology – in the tales of Agrabuamelu or Girtablilu – as “Scorpion Men” who guard the passage of the sun, thus positioning both sphinx and scorpion as gatekeepers or guardians. Yet, while normally the guardian is the person we meet before we see the real event, Gray’s guardian represents the main event itself. There are no hidden worlds, no secrets to learn and no riddles to answer. When we meet with this creature; the sight of it is the show itself.
With a skin made up of many different fabrics and textures, it is clear that the stuffed being is made up of multiple ideas and influences. At times leather, and others canvas, the animal’s skin includes denim, football shirts and even shoelaces. It is at times incredibly masculine – especially with the inclusion of sportswear and clothing associated with cowboys – as well as feminine too, with patches of pinks and a softness to the creature’s face. Essentially, the artist’s creation is cute but grotesque at the same time. And this strange yet endearing animal is gender neutral, with any overt reading of male or female impossible to find.
In an adjacent room to the creature trapped within the white cube, a number of scarves – like those worn to football matches – are hung up on the wall with the words “Dark Air” printed on them in blue and pink – two colours that repeat across the animal’s skin, balancing out the ratio between heavily stereotyped understandings of colour and of gender. Here the influence of sport on the work is most obvious. Sports always conclude in a final binary, win, lose or tie, there is always a definitive conclusion. But there is also ritual and spectatorship, fandom and experience too. Like religion, there are practices and large events that occur, bringing large groups of people together. Some of these practices can be referred to as “rites of passage”, something that the artist thought about when constructing their artwork, one which includes fabric from sportswear, thinking of the similarities between transitioning between genders and the rituals involved in sport and spectatorship.
But what about Dark Air? The show’s title suggests something sinister. And, while some may understand the creature as powerful, its larger than life fabric appearance makes it appear soft and cuddly. This dark air could be likened to a fog, something that conceals the path ahead. It is something that can be interpreted negatively, or even blamed for misfortune, but ultimately it has no agenda. That said, the darkness also suggests that something has been hidden. As gatekeepers, the sphinx and the scorpion literally conceal something from others. This hybrid-being is predominantly dark and, despite patches of white, pink and neutral tones sewn on its skin, the overwhelming colours are black and blue. While the animal isn’t hiding anything physically, it is nothing but air on the inside. Leaving me to surmise that Gray’s creature is a bestial representation of dark air itself.
Obviously not in its natural habitat, this animal is displaced within a white cube setting. The exhibition’s curation is minimal and the creature would probably be more at home in a desert or inside a cave, but the fact that the animal has been relocated by the curators is the whole point. Stuck in the middle of transitioning from one place to its final destination, this work asks its audience to think about the journeys we take, and the in-between-spaces we find ourselves in on the way. Touching on mythology, ritual and sport, Gray explores identity, gender and sexuality, interrupting coded imagery and allowing the viewer to recognise and deconstruct their own relationships to familiar images, objects and spaces.
Dark Air, curated by Martin Mayorga and Vanessa Murrell of DATEAGLE ART, is on view at SEAGER Gallery, Distillery Tower, 2 Mill Lane, London SE8 4HP, until 2 August 2019
This post was sponsored by DATEAGLE ART