Echoes of Circumstance
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Echoes of Circumstance
El Anatsui, Lyne Lapointe and Garnett Puett
513 W 20th Street, New York, NY
January 11 – March 2, 2024
Jack Shainman Gallery is pleased to present Echoes of Circumstance, a group exhibition featuring work by El Anatsui, Lyne Lapointe, and Garnett Puett. Within Anatsui, Lapointe, and Puett’s art exists a cycle of metamorphosis through which local sources, ancestral practices, and biological phenomena are expressed through found objects, biomorphic compositions, and fractal patterns. Composing work that extends across continents, languages, and methods, this presentation considers the creative philosophy of material ecology. As explained by Neri Oxman, material ecology is an approach to design in which “Material is not considered a subordinate attribute of form, but rather its progenitor. Such is the story of form told from the point of view of matter, and it begins, naturally, with form’s predicament.” Considered within the framework of artistic practice, Anatsui, Lapointe, and Puett enumerate how natural methodology can synthesize structures of a built environment and vice versa.
Anatsui’s sculptures are composed with recycled aluminum—from bottle caps to cassava graters and printing plates—flattened into tiles that are stitched together with copper wire to form colossal and glimmering wall-based metal sculptures. Seemingly weightless, each gently swaying work is laden with the impacts of consumption, capitalism, and international trade on African society. Lapointe’s figurative and abstract ink-on-paper compositions capture the anima of the body, layering form with intricate and raw found materials from fossilized beehives, to shells, hemp, and mica. Excavating the perpetual transformation of the human vessel as it molds through shifts in identity, gender, and dysmorphia, her subjects absorb and transcend the societal traumas of racism, sexism, and segregation. Invoking his family’s multigenerational apiary tradition, Puett forges hammered steel sculptures that he treats with beeswax—introducing local honeybee colonies that build hives along the surfaces of the armature. Encouraging nature to take its course, he delicately melts portions of the honeycomb, emphasizing the simultaneous fragility and eternity contained in the architecture of honeycomb. As a species that has existed for millions of years, Puett understands bee colonies’ ingrained collaborative cohabitation and restorative pollination as a model for humanity’s conservation efforts in the face of climate collapse.
As with fractals that exist in nature—organisms like snowflakes whose particle mirrors its whole—each artist experiments with scaling and situating interdependent systems that for Anatsui are global, for Lapointe are corporeal, and for Puett are microcosmic. Attuned to their surrounding environments whether in Ghana, Nigeria, Quebec, New York, or Hawaii, they are able to identify potential and texture in circumstance. Ritually creating work with familiar materials reveals itself to be the control from which diverse and infinite artworks take shape. With practices rooted in the handwrought, analog, and grown, it is possible to hear the echo of nature’s patterns amidst the cacophony of the industrial world—to soften manufactured materials into organic forms. The frontier of the modern world necessitates reimagining the existing, and through these artists we consider the elemental units from which invention is formed.
El Anatsui (b. 1944 in Anyako, Ghana; lives and works in Nsukka, Nigeria and Tema, Ghana) transforms simple materials into complex assemblages that create a distinctive visual impact. Anatsui’s choice of these materials reflects his interest in reuse, transformation and an intrinsic desire to connect to his native continent of Africa while transcending the limitations of place. His style combines the world history of abstract art with his local aesthetic traditions. Much of his work interrogates the legacy of colonialism, drawing connections between consumption, waste and the environment, but at the core is his unique formal language that distinguishes his practice. Anatsui is particularly well-known for his large-scale sculptures composed of thousands of folded and crumpled pieces of metal sourced from local recycling stations and bound together with copper wire. His intricate works are both luminous and weighty, meticulously fabricated yet malleable. One of the conceptual underpinnings of much of the work is that the sculptures take different forms each time they are installed. In morphing to activate various spaces, they challenge long-held views of sculpture as something rigid and insistent, which opens up his work to exist on its own terms. In 2023, the Tate Modern commissioned Anatsui to create a sculpture for the museum’s Turbine Hall. The installation, Behind the Red Moon, will be on view through April 14, 2024.
Lyne Lapointe (born in 1957, Montreal, Quebec) is a multidisciplinary artist who has, for over four decades, been creating a robust and magical array of pictorial and mixed-media works that combine her interest in popular and historical sources—and her fascination with animal imagery and human figures—with the use of collage techniques and extraordinary craftsmanship. Lyne Lapointe studied history and visual arts at the University of Ottawa before returning to Montreal in the early 1980s. She soon made a name for herself as one of the most intriguing artists of her generation with her ground-breaking site projects created over a period of about fifteen years with critic and artist Martha Fleming. Studiolo, a retrospective and accompanying book covers this collaborative work, recognized as a chapter in the history of alternative art, feminist thought and community activism. In 1997, following a near-death accident, Lapointe moved to the country near Mansonville, Quebec, where she lives and works today. Lapointe’s work has been shown at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City; The New Museum, New York; the National Gallery of Canada and Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa; the Musée national des beaux-arts de Québec; and the Musée de Joliette. In 2002, a major mid-career survey exhibition of her solo production, The Blind Spot, was organized and toured by the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal with venues across Canada and abroad, at the Musée de la Rochelle in France.She has been the recipient of the prestigious Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award in 1997 and the Graff Prize in 1998.
Garnett Puett (b. 1959 in Haria, GA; lives and works in Kona, HI) is a contemporary sculptor and fourth-generation beekeeper, utilizing his bees, in part, as his artistic collaborators. This unique, reciprocal relationship results in what he calls his apisculptures—api is the Latin for bee—in which sculpture, performance and insect partnership coalesce. Puett conceived this original method of working during his graduate studies, when he discovered his interest in art working in conjunction with nature instead of against it. To create an apisculpture, Puett covers his specially designed structures—made out of welded steel armatures—in beeswax, imagining the eventual comb they will build, before providing sugar water and the essential queen bee for a colony. Puett employs as many as 90,000 honeybees per sculpture, which simultaneously live within and shape the structure for the duration of the sculpting process. While Puett cannot fully control the forms that the bees choose for their honeycombs, he does manipulate their work by melting and removing parts of the form. When Puett determines that the sculpture is finished, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to a month, he transplants the bees to an ordinary beehive and cleans the honey from the comb. If the wax sculptures are properly preserved, they can last for thousands of years, bearing the marks of the joint performance between nature and human creativity. Through these works, Puett also educates the public on the fascinating lives of bees and the crucial role they play in our environment.