signs and symbols opens the first US solo exhibition of English artist/architect Sarah Entwistle

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signs and symbols opens the first US solo exhibition of English artist/architect Sarah Entwistle
Installation view.

NEW YORK, NY.- signs and symbols is presenting the first US solo exhibition of English artist/architect Sarah Entwistle. The exhibition, titled It may prove a mere accident that we met, or it may prove a necessity, is conceived by the artist as an autobiographical exploration from within the archive of her late grandfather and fellow architect, Clive Entwistle (b.1916 – d.1976, Manhattan), whom she never met. The installation responds to an image of a staged trade fair interior (c.1969) designed by Clive, and features a still life of objects ranging from marbled ink drawings on archival paper, a large handwoven tapestry, raw sheet steel wall lamps, a table and a white Persian cat.

In 2011, while teaching at the Architectural Association, Sarah Entwistle received the personal effects of her late grandfather, the material having re-emerged from a Manhattan storage room where it had been retained for over thirty years. Until then she had been largely unaware of this legacy, his narrative being mostly absent from her childhood. Containing rich and varied material, the archive details Clive’s ambitious yet ill-fated design practices and turbulent private life: intricate architectural models, furniture prototypes, drawings, writings and, perhaps the most outwardly striking and personally confronting part of the material, many photographic portraits of women and extensive correspondences with lovers. Indeed, her grandfather writes that his cardinal points were “Architecture, Spiritually, Intellect and Sex.”

Although a one-time collaborator of Le Corbusier and lead designer on the original scheme for Madison Square Gardens, almost none of Clive’s projects were ever realized. The plot and subplots of his life wind deep into Sarah’s own identity as an architect and woman, as she notes: “I perceived a transgenerational haunting, or perhaps a Hex, whether cast over us or self-inflicted.” Since then, she has treated the archive as a palimpsest —continuously transfiguring and re-scaling small details and arbitrary markings, traces from her grandfather’s thought process in motion (pencil sketches, scratches, blots of ink and paint, love letters, paint strokes etc.), into her own aesthetic abstractions.

Each iteration of this ongoing project attempts to simultaneously invoke and relegate her grandfather, reconfiguring his biography through her own. An early disciple of the mystic Gurdjieff, Clive instructed his own followers with the dictum 'clear the path for a direct transmission.' Using this as a personal directive, a core impulse has been the dismantling and dissolution of the archive and the inherited burden contained in the material. The ancient practice of ‘spolia’ or ‘rediviva saxa’ (reborn stones) — the appropriation of materials from earlier structures — informs this violation and claiming of the material. Entwistle notes, “each action from within the archive cleaves me further from the gravitational pull of my grandfather’s complex legacy, with its meta narrative of failure and erasure, towards a reemergence, where that which has been consigned to the past is re-embodied and re-imagined.”

Two folkloric symbols of the Harvest Moon and the Tarnhelm are represented by the repeated geometry of the circle, semi-circle and sphere. Both devices appear in hand written notes within the archive. The Tarnhelm, from Nordic myth, is a cap of invisibility that gives its wearer the power to shift in form and move through time, allowing both transformation and deception. In opposition to this, the Harvest Moon offers witnesses total illumination and exposure and hence a moment of reckoning. For Entwistle, these motifs together suggest a spatial and temporal liminality and the uneasy relationship between transformation and distortion.

This new body of work derives exclusively from Clive’s only realized project — the Transportation and Travel Pavilion for New York’s World Fair of 1964, which was designed with a vast domed roof replete with a trompe l’oeil lunar landscape. The central work of the exhibition, a large handwoven tapestry made in collaboration with Moroccan weaver Kebira Aglou, is developed out of an ongoing exchange of source material between the two women. Here, the act of weaving becomes a performative dialogue with the archive, as the artist and then the weaver interprets and translates the imagery, further abstracting it from the original. The tapestry comes to act as a backdrop and frame for a collection of seemingly quotidian objects, all sharing tonal and formal kinship with designs from her grandfather’s oeuvre.

Entwistle’s broader practice draws in ideas from transgenerational psychoanalysis, Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity and ideas developed by Claude Lévi-Strauss on the ‘bricolage-biography.’ Overarching this is the process of fabrication in its dual meaning: to construct, forge and make, but also to invent and fictionalize. Her practice engages fabrication processes such as hand weaving and handformed ceramics which inevitably result in slippage between intention and outcome. These singular, irreproducible prototypes allude to a quotidian functionality — carpet, vase, coffee table — yet these semblances of function are secondary to their sculptural expression and their textural and formal dialogue with the archive.

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