12.11 – 18.12.22
Open Saturday & Sunday, 12—5 p.m, and by appointment.
‘gilts, gifts’ brings together new sculptural work by Brianna Leatherbury with a selection of etchings by the late Italian artist Carol Rama.
In Degrowth (2022), Leatherbury has produced multiples of their piece 13.42 grams. Grief, eclipsed fresh (2021) from Insiders’ Grave, a body of work made from personal objects borrowed from shareholders. For the series, Leatherbury asked each person the same question: ‘What is an object that you wish to take with you to the grave?’ They took the possession, copper plated it, and returned it unscathed. The performative process of borrowing and the electrical process of plating function to question the relationship of value between the material and immaterial, the private and public.
Rama was born in 1918 in Turin, where she lived until her death in 2015. Her creative output spanned eight decades, with her early watercolours gaining international recognition in 1980 through the travelling group exhibition ‘The Other Half of the Avant-Garde, 1910–1940’, curated by Lea Vergine.
Rama first made a group of etchings in the 1940s, entitled Le Parche (The Parchae), under the shadow of Italian Fascism. In 1945, she exhibited watercolours at the Faber gallery in Turin that were deemed ‘obscene’ and censored, leading to her abandonment of figurative subjects and motifs. Rama was associated with various art movements, including Surrealism, Arte Concreta and Arte Povera, but was never truly absorbed into any. She continued to explore etching when she turned to more abstract modes in the 1950s but did not work intensively with this medium until the 1990s and 2000s, when she returned to the figurative subjects that had preoccupied her decades earlier.
The works on paper shown here derive from this period and span three series: Le malelingue, translated variously as ‘The Evil Tongues’ or ‘The Gossips’; Feticci (Fetishes); and Cadeaux (Gifts). The recurring motifs of high-heeled shoes, outstretched tongues and phantom limbs are corporeal and strange.
We were told by Alexandra Wetzel who, with Franco Masoero, kindly loaned Rama’s prints: ‘Carol had what she called “private obsessions”. She had to work many times on the same subject to be free of it.’
The probing question Leatherbury asked the shareholders meets the biographical essence of Rama’s work – her attachment to images and objects that had become untethered from their beholders. About this, Rama said, ‘They can help me invent an erotic, sentimental image, a private image, that is, but one that’s not all that closely connected with me.’ Similarly, she used architectural plans and schematic grounds both in her paintings and prints as a primary layer to enable the distance that she sought.
The heat sink, a structure created for the preservation of machines, serves as a framework for Degrowth. Cooling has long been a sci-fi approach to the aspirations of immortality. At this moment, hundreds of people are suspended in a sub-zero climate, maintained by the flow of liquid nitrogen. The heat generated from the mechanics of this suspension is dissipated into the surroundings through the aluminium fins of the heat sink. Here, the reproduced shareholder’s object – oriented as it is towards death – is upheld within the life-support efforts of this defunct machine.
As physical relics of an individual’s life, of their desires, guilts and wishes, the copper plates of Leatherbury’s sculptural works are incongruous, contemporary fossils. The repetition in creating the multiple leads to an acceleration of their decay, removing the preciousness that the plates have as unique imprints or shells. Value appears to have been lost or altered in their manufactured accumulation.
Brianna Leatherbury is an artist based in Amsterdam. They received their BFA from The Cooper Union in New York and later completed a Fulbright Student Research award in Moscow, where they held a residency at Gallery Elektrozavod. Recently, they participated in De Ateliers, Amsterdam, and developed a site-specific installation and film, Liquidation, at HUiU gallery in Pula.
Carol Rama (1918–2015) was a self-taught artist born in Turin, where she lived and worked in her apartment-studio. Although known and exhibited locally, her work received late international renown. In 2003, she was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale for her life’s work, which has been the subject of a series of devoted exhibitions and museum retrospectives in recent years.
Photo credit: Patrick Jameson, courtesy Cento.