ORGAN THING | 26 June 2023

MY TRAVELS IN HYPERREALITY, Claudia Hart’s solo exhibition at presented simultaneously at ANNKA KULTYS PHYGITAL in London and EXPANDED.ART online was reviewed in Organ Thing by Sean Worrall, who describes the gallery as ‘one of the few remaining East London art spaces I feel I need to check out every single time a new show opens’.

ORGAN THING: Claudia Hart’s screens or digital paintings or sculptures or virtual reality at Annka Kultys Gallery, East London. The realities of art right here right now?

Claudia Hart at Annka Kultys Gallery, East London, June 2023 – I like the things that go on along the Hackney Road at the Annka Kultys Gallery, I like that the gallery (now hiding at the back of the small and already rather dated industrial estate behind the building where it once was) always offers a challenge in terms of the art is shows, a challenge in terms of the function of a gallery, in terms of how the white walls should be used, indeed in terms of where art is going. Do love the curation in here, I quite often find myself at odds with what I find but always in a positive way rather than a nothing-in-here-worth-bothering-with kind of way. The gallery is one of the few remaining East London art spaces I feel I need to check out every single time a new show opens – with quite a number of the new breed of art spaces over on this side of the town you hopefully go to a first few of what turn out to be mostly disappointing shows, and then inevitably you find yourself asking on a cold/hot/wet/dry Wednesday or Thursday night if you can really be bothered with going to yet another opening? There’s a new breed of gatekeepers running the galleries right now, a rather conservative (small c) rather aloof rather full-of-themselves set of art-school-fuelled middle class attitudes cluttering up East London art spaces right now. We’re really missing Fred Mann shows here in Hackney at the moment, the old school approach of The Approach can be a little hit and miss and there are East London galleries we won’t name but go to again again and never find anything worth covering on these fractured pages (so we simply don’t). I like Annka Kultys Gallery, we’ve encountered some excellent artists for the first time in exhibitions at the space, we’ve seen some excellent shows, got involved in some healthy debate, I’ve really enjoyed Sasha Stiles poetic takes on things, the painterly lushness of Kate Bickmore, Rachel de Joode, Garrett Prutner, Richie Culver, Bex Ilsley, Nicole Coson to name but a few, there’s been some great shows, especially the colour and the choice of materials of Marton Nemes and I tell you all this because I’m really not sure I got much out of this latest show at the gallery..

I’ve kind of got into the habit of not reading the Annka Kultys Gallery press releases or the show invites beyond noting the date now, I like to walk in to a space and react to what I see without any advanced information. I had accidentally seen an image with the information that came in about Claudia Hart’s new exhibition, just a photo on my computer screen, and, even though you never ever know what to expect, I was kind of (stupidly?) expecting, based on the photo, a big sculpture or installation in the the middle of the modest white cube of a gallery. I was expecting to walk around a substantial piece of three dimensional (dare I say traditional?) physical art, although why I got that idea in my head I really do not know?! We’re in an almost empty gallery, bare white walls, nothing on the floors, a screen up by the entry with one moving image on it (a digital painting so I’m told), and then in the main area, just one large digital screen propped up against the wall, propped up portrait style. I really was set up to get there early and walk around a nice big installation piece. Why? Why did I think that? In this gallery of all places, I mean it could easily have been a big piece, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t be,  but there was absolutely no reason to assume that would be the case and there was every chance it would be screens on walls again.

The reasonably big (TV sized) digital screen is the only thing in the main gallery area, there’s another piece on a large wall mounted screen by the entry, the screen in the main gallery has the aforementioned sculptural piece slowly revolving on it, we don’t need to walk around it, we just need to stand there, and does it matter if there really is or isn’t a three dimensional ten foot high version in existence in Claudia Hart’s studio somewhere, is it enough that it just exists on a screen? Does that matter? Do I need to know the answer to the question? Is the question even relevant? Does it matter if there’s a “real life” version? Is the screen real life? Does something exist if it only exists on a screen? Did the cat get the cream? Did the cream get the cat? This is the brave new world or something like that, an art world where, as Richard Kenton Webb said during another debate at a different gallery, painting is now a subversive action. Someone might (reasonably) say these are paintings, digital paintings, indeed Marjan Moghaddam had signed her digital paintings that were on show in the self same gallery (on the self same screens) a couple of months back, signed in a very traditional way, but you know what Richard means, the act of picking up a brush and painting on a canvas, it is almost subversive now

So we’re in the almost empty white space (I got there unfashionably early, the press preview before the doors a properly open), there’s a screen in the main space, another mounted on the wall by the entry, there’s a headset, there’s people taking turns to wear the headset that allows for exploring more of Claudia Hart’s work and really, do I need to be in a gallery environment for any of this? I’m told it is all on line so did I need to take the a walk to the gallery tonight? Do I react differently in the formality of a while cube? Do I need it to be in (reverential) gallery conditions? Did the girl in the black dress with the headset on become some kind of performance piece? Am I being deliberately obtuse here? Doesn’t the cat always get the cream?

I do like the piece on the main screen, it is kind of captivating, it certainly helps that there’s nothing else on the walls fighting for attention, no other noise jumping off the walls (gallery walls can be very noisy things), it helps that this is considered important enough to have the whole gallery to itself and to be in a position to demand all the attention, but did I really need to make the (admittedly short) walk, couldn’t I have just gone to the computer in the corner of my studio? Is that a stupid question? Probably. I do like that as a somewhat traditional sculpture from a female artist it feels like something reclaimed in a rather positive way.

Oh look, I admit, I do mostly want to walk in to a gallery and find it alive with paint, with canvas, with brush work, it is these days almost a relief (a merciful relief?) to do so and yes, I am still dealing with these new-fangled power looms although I will say, not that this review is about me, that I got quite a bit of rather aggressive abuse a couple of weeks ago at a gallery show that my own paintings were part of where someone was objecting to my use of spray paint and telling me I was nothing but a vandal who didn’t deserve to be in a proper art gallery with “proper painters” – guess we all get it or maybe none of us do? And of course this review is about me, every review is a personal reaction – “context dear boy”. We all get it, all us artists, none of us are “proper” are we?.

I’m not sure about Claudia Hart’s naked woman on a swing piece,  a piece of digital animation – “In The Swing, A Rococo-styled 3D avatar of a woman – all blush-pink with rosy cheeks – swinging back and forth in the frame, bookended by a pair of trees that slowly shed their leaves. The vibe is melancholic and dilated…” And well, a Rococo-styled digital representation of a naked woman on a swing. Did the technology blindside the quest to see deeper? Or was it just not demanding anything deeper? Oh it isn’t you, it really is me.   

I do like the main piece in the main gallery though, and yes I probably should read the lengthy gallery statement properly, and right now I’m thinking more about why these pieces are in a gallery when I could have just looked at them on line on a website on a computer screen rather than a screen in a gallery. Once again the debate in my head is about digital art and galleries and NFTs and looking at screens when it really should be a debate about these two particular pieces of art that are in this particular show in this particular gallery. I should be musing on Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto and how it situated the then-burgeoning field of cybernetics into a posthuman, postgender politics and how it is a project of collaging excesses, advocating for an embodied ethos of both/and versus either/or, but I’m not (and I really did want to walk around a sculpture, an installation, I wanted to need to touch it, to eat it – it did look good enough to eat, and the gallery statement talks of “Hart’s multidimensional oeuvre, this push to transcend the binaries framing an Enlightenment-era understanding of the world” and I’m kind of thinking, nah, I don’t want to read any more of this and art should talk for itself, surely if it needs to come with an essay than as a piece of art it fails? Surely art is a language beyond words? And yes, maybe if it wasn’t just on a screen I’d want to engage a little more but then again who really cares what I think? Who needs these words? 

Do like the Annka Kultys gallery, yes it does sometimes brings out the worst in me. I do like that revolving image on the screen, it didn’t really excite me though, it didn’t really make me want to shout about it from the roof tops, not this time.  The thing about power looms is that they are too damn fast and too mechanical, they’re heartless, they lack the human fault, some say this is progress, that the old ways are dead or at least very tired and in need of a rest. I always look forward to the next Annka Kultys show.  (sw) 

The Annka Kultys Gallery is at 472 Hackney Road, Unit 9, London, E2 9EQ. No longer up those stairs above that shop on the main street, you now need to go around the back through the red gates to the small industrial estate behind the shop space, the gallery is to your left at the back in the far corner. The Claudia Hart exhibition in on until July 22nd

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