What I love about art is its ability to cross boundaries. Art is able to close the chasm between art in its physical form, and its audience; a canvas or painting comes to life through the eyes of its beholder and a dialogue is provoked as the observer interprets, and listens to the art which speaks to them in its own unique way.
Exoskeleton East, the latest exhibition photographed by Ram Shergill and curated by Daen Palma Huse, is interested in the concept of boundaries, in particular the boundary between human and animal. To quote Shergill himself, the exhibition: ‘is a celebration of becoming ‘other’ through the performance and continuous transformation of the ‘self’.’ This is evident through the artwork on display at The Old Bank Vault, in which animal and human fuse to create a new hybrid creation which resists classification, and where the boundaries between the two become blurred. There is something primitive about the exhibition, as visitors become witnesses to nudity, models posing with animals such as elephants, and bodies decorated with feathers so beautifully that it looks as if it is their natural skin. The exhibition can also be described as revolutionary, for the type of materials used. In one picture ropes are used to resemble bones (this is what I took from the photo anyway) around a model’s torso whose eyes and face are concealed by a bird-like mask. Here, I feel as if the boundaries between reality and the metaphorical are transcended as the ribcage is transformed into a birdcage of sorts. For me, this encapsulates the playful nature of the photographs which challenge audiences to really think outside the realms of normality.
Other photos are revolutionary for the futuristic and space-like vibes they exude, this is especially true of the artwork featuring Paloma Faith, and also of a model photographed in a desert whose sand evokes the surface of Mars. Paloma is transformed into a bionic woman of sorts; one striking photo sees Paloma staring skyward as transparent inflatable spikes erupt from her bodice, creating the illusion of her waiting to be zapped up to space! Alternatively, the reflective nature of the materials used make it appear as if Paloma, like a star (pardon the pun on her celebrity status) is exuding the light herself. The photograph is truly blinding in its beauty. Moreover, the exhibition can be described as ‘revolutionary’ in terms of the techniques used. Certain artworks are printed on mirrors which allow visitors to see the art, as well as their own reflection, and also for the artwork to interact with the conditions of the room it is placed in.
This trifold genius can be recognised in the amount of thought and planning behind every work in the exhibition. On Thursday the 9th of August I had the pleasure of attending a Panel Discussion at The Old Bank Vault, hosted by contemporary arts specialist Maggie Kuzan and featuring Ram Shergill, Daen Palma Huse, and former Alexander McQueen stylist and Fashion Editor of The Face magazine, Seta Niland. The talk focused on the exhibition itself, the inspiration behind the works, and notions of gender and identity. An exoskeleton can be defined as the external covering of the body in some invertebrate animals. The exhibition runs with this concept, exploring how clothing can also be regarded as a type of skin, or covering that serves a purpose. For example, clothing can be used for decoration, it can be used to construct and modify our identity, and also as a form of protection or armour.
The talk also explored the performative nature of clothing, how it enables humans to act out different facets of their identities, and to combine different facets in a multi-layering of fluid identities. Also how clothing can relate to the choreography of the self, for example by reflecting how we feel on the inside, or concealing how we feel on the inside. Clothing can enable us to reinvent ourselves every day, giving humans the ability to cross boundaries. Poignantly, the talk also explained how certain artworks were meant to be a re-appropriation and celebration of culture, thus proving how the exhibition crossed the boundary of art to incorporate more political and philosophical aspects. This was evident in one artwork where a model’s body is covered in feathers symbolic of birds indigenous to South America. This artwork is a celebration for the way it ‘sings’: in one sense the model, as a human, is singing from the inside – her voice box, but in the other sense, her body is also singing from the outside due to the feathers which belong to birds that also sing.
I would like to end this article here with the notion of singing, as I will certainly be singing the praises of this exhibition and the work of Ram Shergill for a very long time. I encourage you to visit The Old Bank Vault by the 15thof August as this is when the exhibition ends. If you cannot make it in time, then follow Shergill on his social media accounts and keep an eye out for his upcoming exhibitions and projects.