Man Bites Dog presents new ceramics and works on paper by London-based artist Paulina Michnowska. Drawing inspiration from everyday objects and situations, the exhibited works reveal the dark thoughts that pervade our banal existence. Depictions of a quiet Sunday a ernoon cohabit with disturbing scenes in which characters humorously chop their heads off and ght against big cats.
Paulina Michnowska (b. 1984, Poland) lives and works in London. She works foremost with ceramics and painting, exploring topics that range across autobiographical details, banalities of everyday life, historical folklore, the aesthetic of accident and injury. Her recent exhibitions include Away from the Inhabited Districts at Show Home, London (2016); Rough Music at CASS Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood (2015); Head to Head at Standpoint Gallery, London (2014). From March 2017, she will be a resident at the European Ceramic Work Centre (EKWC) in Oisterwijk, The Netherlands.
Man Bites Dog is produced in conjunction with ATTIC and takes place at both Canopy’s and ATTIC’s exhibition spaces in Brussels:
Man Bites Dog at ATTIC
Rue de la Régence 67, 1000 Brussels
Private view Thursday 26 January, 6-9pm
Exhibition open every Saturday, 2-6pm until 4 March 2017
Man Bites Dog at Canopy
Rue des étangs noirs 51, 1080 Brussels
Private view Saturday 28 January, 6-8pm
Exhibition open every Friday and Saturday, 2-6pm until 4 March 2017
‘They were fucking in the grass. Both half believed that they were no longer lying down but standing up and walking as they fucked; towards the end they began to run through tall wet grass. He had the further illusion that others were running towards him.’ (1)
A hot sticky English summer night. I’m crouched low behind a bush. In the near distance, down a country lane, I see a few men surrounding a parked car, headlights on. They are peering into the windows, shaking their fists. They are shaking their fists not in anger but in pleasure, not in the air but in their pants. I step out into the night, the gravel crunching under my step. I’m off to join them, to partake in this rendezvous of sorts. As I get closer I can see that the windows are covered with steam; perspiration, sweat. The other men pay me no attention, or very little. They are concentrating on something else, the car. As I peer through the moisture, the beads of sweat dripping down the windowpane, I see two bodies moving rhythmically. Up down, up down; on and on they go. As my eyes become accustomed to the light I gain focus. I see a man and a woman. She is bent over the backseat of the car and he is giving her a ‘good old rogering’: ‘warm leatherette’ (2). I suddenly realise what’s going on around me. These men peeping in on sweaty, writhing bodies through steamy car windows are the voyeurs and the two inside the car are the exhibitionists. Tonight they are out ‘dogging’. I no longer wish to partake is this sordid affair. I panic and make a run for it, back down the road, back through the trees and eventually back home.
What is ‘dogging’ you may be wondering? In England it means engaging in public sex, usually in car parks, country lanes or any designated ‘dogging hotspot’, while others watch, masturbate and generally have a good time. It’s like watching Internet porn except that you’re really there, either partaking in the action or just being a voyeur — but I suppose that even if you are just watching you are somehow explicitly involved in the scene, for without the voyeur there can be no exhibitionist. And what’s this got to do with dogs? Well, the name could refer to the act of two dogs “doing it” out in the open for everyone to see without a care in the world. Another explanation could be that it derives from ‘taking the dog for a walk’. Imagine a man going out with his dog on a nice summer evening and ‘accidently’ stumbling upon a couple having sex in the bushes. Instead of making haste from the scene, perhaps he chooses to stick around and spy on them from another equally conspicuous bush. But perhaps the couple having sex knows that he’s there watching, in fact that’s precisely what’s turning them on! You can be sure that the next time that man takes his dog for a walk, it will be near to those same bushes.
Although public sex and exhibitionism takes place in a lot of countries, dogging is a somewhat English phenomenon. For me it is synonymous with the car. ‘Dogging hotspots’ are often situated in out of the way places where the only means of getting there is by car. Growing up in a small town in the countryside meant that country lanes, woods, lay-bys and car parks out in the ‘sticks’ were often the sites of these sexual encounters. Sex would often occur inside the car (I could imagine in winter especially) or just close-by. Being of a similar age and also a country boy, I’m sure that Mathers has the same associations around dogging as me.
You may now be thinking, ‘what a bizarre subject to depict.’ But look at the history of painting, at all those Nymphs frolicking in Grecian landscapes and you soon realise that it’s not that weird after all. Beautiful Nymphs or nymphomaniac girls from down the road, what’s the difference? In fact, in most depictions of the idyllic, pastoral utopia, nudity is often prevalent. Usually the scene is one of an orgy with all sexes (including the classic half-man half-goat Pan) getting drunk, playing music and fondling one another. In his contemporary ‘adaptations’ however, Mathers never paints such scenes in their totality; there is never a group of men watching the action unfold. We are just given fragments, glimpses of possibilities. A lonely man atop of his car bonnet, stark bollock naked, just waiting happily for what might happen next. In choosing not to paint everything that one would normally encounter when out dogging, he inadvertently involves us, the viewer, into the scene. We now become the voyeurs looking in on the exhibitionists; we by proxy complete the scene.
To say that dogging is the ‘subject’ of these paintings could be in fact misleading. What Mathers paints are rather the fringes of this sub-culture: the trees, the parts of cars, the faces looking back at you from rear-view mirrors. Yes, there are some that are very explicit such as Car Parking and Casual Spots, but even here the male figure has disintegrated into a mere form no longer recognisable; actually could it be some kind of dog-man? Even his handling of material, the paint itself and his technique, seem to exist on the verge of collapsing; residing somewhere on the edge of illegibility and clarity. The sprayed, slick backgrounds are juxtaposed with thick, gluey paint that lends the works texture and ultimately confuses our ability to read them as flat images. It is the flatness that creates distance in the work and the impasto effect that brings it back to the forefront, into our reality. In this way the paintings reflect the culture of dogging itself; a group of people that exists on the margins of community and legality, precariously situated at the crossroads of what is deemed to be acceptable or not by society as a whole. Take Not Talking to Strangers but Watching Instead for instance; immediately we are drawn to this figure painted in thick oil paint, a smoking, spectacle wearing, big hat adorning, eccentric old man driving his car fast out of nowhere. But just look beyond to the smooth, seemingly abstract landscape that envelops him, turn your head and then you might begin to see the ordinary countryside scene: the parked car by the side of the cottage, the river slowly flowing along its path. Despite the colourful and playful rendering, there is something sinister to the scene: what is he driving away from, what has he left behind in his wake; and why has the scenery been upended like that?
Mathers’ paintings speak of stories that are to be unravelled by the viewer, and the exhibition as a whole holds an endless potential of narratives for us to imagine. Having begun life in London, the works presented at Canopy have been completed by the artist during his two-week residency in Brussels. Now the scene is set: the trees, the suggestive gazes and what resembles two concreate park picnic benches mangled together to form the shape of car; it’s all here, waiting for us to dream up our own fantasises.
(1) Berger, John. G. London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 1972. p. 205
(2) A reference to the song Warm Leatherette by The Normal (1978)
— Richard J. Butler
Simon Mathers (b. 1984, London) lives and works in London. Recent exhibitions include Human Condition at The former Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center, Los Angeles; Silleteros at Kinman Gallery, London; Rare Collisions of Purpose at Boetzelaer Nispen Gallery, Amsterdam (all 2016); The Funnies at MOT International, Brussels (2015).
In 1924, German art historian Aby Warburg, driven by the desire to capture the history of Western culture and thought, embarked on a monumental entreprise that would later take the form of a picture atlas. Consisting of cosmographic and art-historical images, his Mnemosyne Atlas aimed to unfold the evolution of signs and symbols recurring throughout the history of our civilisation. It became therefore a metaphoric encyclopaedia of both disappearance and re-emergence. Although largely informed by academic rigour, the Atlas was exclusively designed and arranged by Warburg himself according to his own intuitive logic. At his death in 1929, the sixty three panels that he had created were left unfinished, frozen in time for ever, never to be completed.
Warburg’s frame of thought forms the backdrop of Atlas of Forms and Colours, Tamara Van San’s first solo show in Brussels since 2008. Spanning eleven years of the artist’s career, the exhibition revolves around the notion of topography and draws attention to the recurrence of certain forms, colours, materials and textures within her work. It comprises twenty-nine sculptures, exclusively presented against the walls of the gallery, that come together to form a map of the artist’s visual language. If at first sight the hang may seem random, by taking a closer look one becomes aware that the works are arranged according to a system based on correlations between hues and shapes. Purple feeds into yellow feeds into green feeds into blue feeds into pink; whilst circles meet rectangles meet cylinders meet ellipsoids and other polygons… evoking all at once a cultural, natural and cosmic imagery that characterises Van San’s oeuvre.
An extensive cartography of Van San’s practice, yet not an exhaustive one, Atlas of Forms and Colours acknowledges the impossibility of ever fixing an absolute topography. The result is purely visual, like an endless constellation that remains open to many interpretations. Distancing itself from any academic discourse, the exhibition aims to animate the viewer’s memory and imagination by offering potential associations ready to be unravelled, investigated and reinvented.
Entitled The Occupants, the inaugural exhibition of Canopy brings together eight artists who all share their studios in the gallery’s building at Rue des Etangs Noirs, 51. Rather than merging their practices under one theme, the show puts emphasis on their geographical and temporal proximity; most of the works exhibited having been made over the course of their very first month of cohabitation within the building. If at first sight these artists seem to have very little in common, the exhibition suggests certain threads of connection between their practices without hesitating to highlight points of contrast.
Consisting of various shades of white paint chips that the artist removed from found wooden door frames, Liddle’s Fleck Paintings make reference to the domestic and find resonance in Mouchez’s room-sized fountain. Filled with water infused with black beans, the self-polluting vessels together with Liddle’s paintings stress concerns related to contamination, the decorative and the kitsch.
In the work of Caillard and Bourthoumieux, there is to be found traces of the body. Cast from a child’s chair, Caillard’s plaster sculptures evoke a ghostly presence that further explores her concerns with loose anthropomorphic representations. Bourthoumieux’s white linen bedsheet resting over a cold metal structure evokes both the scale of a human body and the memory of a train journey between Belgrade and Budapest, manifesting as a minimalist intervention loaded with personal sentiments.
Placed directly in the corner, Eynon’s self-portrait insists on the physical presence of the artist. With his eyes closed and presented as a mirror refection, his drawn self responds to the visceral materiality of Butler’s painting whose composition reveals human hairs, blanket debris and dust. Bearing the language of abstraction whilst investigating the potential of accidental figuration, Pink Venusseats awkwardly somewhere between the pictorial and the surface.
No less textural, Ginet’s tiny thick painting inhabits the gallery space as a 3D object and plays on the illusion of a sci-fi landscape. It resonates with Mahéo’s ‘vertical seas’, a series of photographic montages simultaneously composed of an aerial view and a subjective view in which the artist introduces an impossible perspective devoid of horizon and therefore rebuilds the sea as a wall.
Making visible the artistic activities taking place within the confines of the gallery’s building, The Occupantsis also the beginning of an adventure. For Canopy, the adventure starts here and now, and in excellent company.