The year is 2001, and the world is shrouded in distrust and antipathy. The catastrophic events of 9/11 demonstrated the susceptibility of perceived superpower nations, generating political tension worldwide and culminating in unnecessary conflict and dissention, affecting millions globally. These tears in the civic fabric resulted in a state of extreme vulnerability. However, if we look to other examples in recent history, we see that this sense of unease and anxiety existed previously, although perhaps less writ large, hidden in marginal communities and in the depths of our psyches. By presenting artworks predating 2001, In the Shadow of Forward Motion poses a question: Do these works act to forebode this rupture and the resulting sense of vulnerability, or do they reveal it as universal to the human experience?
The artists included all delve, in some way, into the underpinnings of vulnerability: exposure, discomfort and precarity. Through her skinnings of buildings and objects, Heidi Bucher addresses these issues at the closest and most habitual level - the corporeal. Trying to understand the complex relationship between space, objects, her body and memories, she created visceral poetic sculptures of latex and rubber - both fragile and fleeting, and at the same time palpably physiological and tangible.
Jake & Dinos Chapmans Hell Hole (1999) and Two Faced Cunt (1996) tackle war, horror and the visceral on a more shocking register. Through their distorted and ridiculous lenses, these works jolt the viewer to confront the nagging fears that relate to death, sexuality and commodification, challenging what is socially acceptable, and threatening chaos.
Harold Offehs short video works flout social conventions and codes of behaviour, leaving the viewer uneasy. The piece Smile (2001) may last less than three minutes, but Offehs extended eye contact with the camera and borderline grimace makes it feel far longer; the image disrupting the meaning of the song.
Arguably, the notion of vulnerability of the self is a timeless and universal feature, existing in many forms, across the social spectrum. One could be made vulnerable on an internal, emotional level; on a physical level, through a threat to the body; on a societal level, impacted by prejudice and discrimination; or on a broader political scale, through the effects of economic recession, war or civil unrest. Although often perceived as an individual condition, across these definitions, it is collectively experienced and shared. As Judith Butler argues in her lecture Rethinking Vulnerability and Resistance (delivered in 2014), vulnerability, understood as a deliberate exposure to power, is a part of the very meaning of political resistance as an embodied enactment. The works in this exhibition welcome this alternative reading of vulnerability, embracing the idea that, rather than a weakness to be hidden, it could serve as a tool of empowerment.
In the Shadow of Forward Motion is curated by students from MA Culture, Criticism and Curation at Central St Martins; MA Curating and Collections at Chelsea College of Art; and MA Film Programming and Curating at Birkbeck. Combining a cross section of international curatorial perspectives, the participating curators are: Nicole Atkinson, Yingying Chen, Dmitry Frolov, Marco Galvan, Lucija utej, and Shalini Anne Rajasegaran.
Produced collaboratively over a period of three months, the exhibition has been chosen from a wide selection of pre-2001 collection works, bringing together some of the most significant and unexpected artists in the collection. It will be the first time many of the works, including those by Heidi Bucher, Mat Collishaw and Michal Rovner, have been shown in London. The exhibition will be accompanied by a screening of films by Harun Farocki and Christian von Borries on Saturday 23 February, 5pm at Zabludowicz Collection