Nomadic art gallery opts for a “nipple twist”
Following the successful opening of its first physical space in Leuven, Belgium, in October 2021, The Nomadic Art Gallery continues its exploration of the New Zealand contemporary art scene with its second on-site exhibition titled Nipple Twist.
From 3e December 2021 until 14e January 2022, the group presentation once again brings New Zealand artists into dialogue with their European peers, such as Oliver Cain (b.1996, UK) and Chloe Marsters (b.1989, Auckland) alongside Merijn Verhelst ( born in 1991, Louvain), Amat Gueye (born in 1995, Paris) and Layla Saâd (born in 1997, Liège) investigate the semantic and conceptual connotations behind this controversial body part.
(Top of page – Merijn Verhelst, Untitled 1 (2021) Acrylic on wooden construction (82 x 60 x 3.75 cm, courtesy of the gallery and the artist)
Recognizing the 2022 gallery’s digital exhibition program, dedicated exclusively to the contemporary New Zealand scene, the highly anticipated Ocean breeze, a showcase of lens-based artists Edith Amituanai, Sione Monu, Raymond Sagalopulutele and Taute Vai will open on the digital platform of the Nomadic Art Gallery on the 15the January 2022 – revisiting the 1994 cutting-edge exhibition Bottled Ocean which, for the first time, brought contemporary Pacific art to the international stage.
Nipple Twist can be seen as a two-part exhibition, where notions of gender and sexuality assume a sense of escape when they meet in the many forms and meanings behind the nipple. Spanning the four distinct spaces of the gallery, the five artists playfully embrace and revisit the multiple connotations of the silent body, both materially and in the shared imagination, calling into question cultural customs and societal conventions.
Moving on to matter, literally, understanding the nipple, Oliver Cain, an Anglo-New Zealand artist based in Auckland, sets the tone for the remainder of the exhibition. The physicality of his subverted ceramic sculptures reflects that of the subject at hand, as he appropriates and daringly transforms his form. Molded into a variety of shapes and sizes, the oddly frivolous nipples protrude from the apparent limits of their rectangular frames. Highlighting Cain’s curious post-pop art touch, the bright, contrasting colors of the 24 ceramic nipple-framed sculptures place the nipple center stage as a newly found irreverence replaces the initial sense of eroticism.
Auckland artist Chloe Marsters’ intricate drawings and engravings take Cain’s questioning further. Absorbing viewers in the organic and sensual embrace of her female figures, Marsters presents a soft yet seductive nudity, impressed by the flowing natural elements, stems and beetles, which constitute and cover their skin. Surrounded by spikes and leaves, the works acquire an added but untouchable materiality – subtly suggestive, both brazenly tempting and entirely fetishized.
Installed on the lower floor under an evocative red light, the sensual photographs of Liège artist Layla Saâd project the fetish onto the sanctified. The controversy shines through her work, both in the choice of her subjects, anonymous women encountered on the margins of society, and in her partial representation of their bodies. Powerless attracted by these forms, the spectator is forced to confront his own senseless projections: those of a society which dictates a repudiation of the body, to give it an attraction all the more powerful. In short, by representing it clearly, Cain, Marsters and Saâd jointly distort the meaning of the nipple, exposing it as a moving social construction.
Offering a conceptual reading of the term, the Leuven and Brussels artists Merijn Verhelst and Amat Gueye move from representation to interpretation of the term rooted in culture: their works are the twist of the nipple. Genital and scatological jokes fill Verhelst’s sculptural paintings, evoking an initial sense of worthlessness. As the multiple layers of the wooden works appear, smudges of black paint escape seemingly cheerful colors, entry points into the artist’s singular world, nods to a reality childhood and a secret imagination, emerging, visually distorting the audience’s initial response.
In the same vein, Gueye oscillates between methodology and chance. His deliberate choice of materials and random subjects comes to embody the volatile nature of contemporary culture. No distinct image sticks to his wooden canvases. Instead, blurry shapes mysteriously suggest remnants of a shared, almost lost visual language, barely noticeable clues to shared pop symbols, cartoons, and childhood memories. Faced with a vague meaning, the spectators cling to these references, left to wander on the border between the imaginary and the real.
By giving voice to its endless physical, cultural, historical and personal meanings, the exhibition removes the nipple from any defined definition, thereby disturbing viewers in their own nipple tour. Calling upon the volatility of these meanings, artists typically engage in contravention of conservatism and censorship, instead hailing a newly found sense of semantic and universal freedom.
Reflecting on their one-year in situ immersion in the under-represented New Zealand art scene by investing in a truck converted into a mobile gallery, the duo declares: finally frees them from these constructions. In doing so, whatever their origin, European or New Zealand, they correctly point to obsolete sociocultural norms, tinged with conservatism and censorship, which they deconstruct together.
For more information visit www.thenomadicartgallery.com
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