Julie Mehretu’s solo exhibition at White Cube Bermondsey, They departed for their own country another way (a 9x9x9 hauntology), debuts three new series of paintings consisting of nine works each. Presented alongside these works, in the 9x9x9 gallery Mehretu has paired her title track painting with a sculpture by visual artist Nairy Baghramian, in response to an ongoing dialogue between the two artists.
Marking Mehretu’s fifth exhibition with the gallery, the title of the show draws from the biblical verse Matthew 2:12, wherein God imparts a message to the Magi through a dream, cautioning them against the duplicity of King Herod, so that they return from paying homage to the infant Jesus as altered human beings. This age-old admonition finds poignant resonance in Mehretu’s new body of work, which continues her exploration of our discordant contemporaneity. Directing a focus towards enduring conflict, widespread displacement and the asymmetry of power, Mehretu takes as her subject images sourced from current affairs media, in particular the ongoing war in Ukraine and the events of the US Capitol insurrection of 6 January 2021.
A dialogue between Mehretu and Baghramian is introduced in the 9x9x9 gallery, where the artist’s large-scale painting, They departed for their own country another way (2023), is displayed alongside Baghramian’s abstract sculpture S’asseyant (2022). A three-part ‘slab’ of cast aluminium and silicon, S’asseyant’s weighty, unpolished forms rest prostrate upon the floor. In this decidedly lateral placement, the disarticulate body lays osseous, dimpled by pressures of casting and partly cushioned by a gummy wad of silicon. Baghramian’s work expresses a cogent, felt presence in the space, one perceived by Mehretu to be ‘the impression of a body that has gotten up and walked away, or detritus after a tragic event that caused the body to melt and leave behind a scarred impression on rough aluminium.’ In contrast to the gestural dynamism of Mehretu’s large-scale painting, the sculpture’s materiality – its irregularity of form and torpid gravitational pull – acts as a mooring in the space. In tandem, both the painting and sculpture share a vitality born out of erasure and fragmentation, compelling one another to embody their respective imperfection and the ‘liberation of the figure, or of representation itself.’
Occupying White Cube Bermondsey’s South Gallery II, the artist’s series of ‘classic’ paintings employ her distinctive process of digitally obscuring the original source images, rearticulating them through hyperactive layers of halftone dots, aeriform hazes of bright yellow or green and convulsive black marks that echo the symphonic dissonance of the original photographs. Locating the paintings in source material of geopolitical violence and the fraught preservations of nationhood, Mehretu’s compositions abrade these images through layers of process. In turn, the blunt influence of the original material recedes into a dismantled and centrifugal entropy, as though partially schematising the embodied impact and impulsive response of the event’s aftermath.
In the same space, a new group of ‘TRANSpaintings’ arranged ‘in the round’, are installed on aluminium frames and scaffolds. These sculptural support structures, created by Baghramian and one aspect of the artists’ active discourse, serve a multifaceted purpose; clamping and bracing the paintings to stand upright, they lend agency to the artwork’s presence within the space while their placement at differing heights compels a direct encounter with the viewer. Additionally, the use of translucent material creates lustrous, ethereal images that permit light to pass through the surface and movement in the space to activate it. Infiltrating the works’ nebulous forms, they become a synthesis of image, action and space that further complicates the viewer’s relationship to – and entanglement with – the abject image.
The show closes November 5th.
– C. Rhinehart
White Cube [Exhibition Site]