Andro Wekua

This review appeared in the Agenda section of Mousse:

Courtesy: Sprüth Magers, London. Photo: © Stephen White.

Andro Wekua is fond of mystifying titles and the one chosen for his début show at Sprüth Magers proves no exception. One can only speculate about the meaning of “SOME PHEASANTS IN SINGULARITY” and what relation, if any, it bears to the works presented in the two ground-floor rooms of the blue-chip gallery’s London outpost. The name does bear a family resemblance to “Pink Wave Hunter” (2010-12), Wekua’s series of architectural models of notable buildings – stripped down to their façades – in his hometown Sukhumi (in what has de facto become Abkhazia). Drawn from memory, they are akin to an exercise in lucid dreaming.

Like “Dreaming Dreaming” (2012) at Gladstone Gallery, which featured the effigy of a girl standing with her back to a makeshift gray wall blocking a passageway, “SOME PHEASANTS IN SINGULARITY” is built around two central, dramatic elements: an architectural intervention in the shape of a wall, whose exposed rough breeze blocks obstructing the elegant front window are the first thing one sees on approaching the gallery, and a life-size sculpture of a blonde girl in her early teens, which greets visitors as they step inside the exhibition space.

Sporting a sleeveless black top that bares her scrawny legs and a pair of shiny gray trainers, the lone figure at first appears to be hovering; her feet dangle inches above the floor, fitted with a carpet in a bright cotton-candy shade of pink. On closer inspection, her chin is resting atop a reflective glass ledge, which is suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the room in a way that vaguely recalls a playground swing.

As if the scene weren’t creepy enough, the pallid dummy of a girl – at once lifelike and lifeless with her closed lids, pursed lips and a face as drained of colour as her flaxen blond hair – is endowed with motion.

An unwieldy metallic prosthesis is strapped to her left arm, elongating her left hand and giving it a robotic appearance. And yet the movement is circumscribed to her other hand, unconstrained save for a white wristband. Calling to mind the chilling scene in Fritz Lang’s dystopian silent film classic Metropolis (1926) when Maria’s machine-human double springs to life, the girl mannequin lightly thrums her fingers against her right thigh. The mechanism behind the imperceptible motion is there for all to see: a small black box conspicuously laid out on the floor behind the dummy and connected to its back by a set of black wires. Which does not make it any less unsettling.

A miniature version of the girl sitting astride a wolf sculpture can be seen in the adjoining room, mounted on a white plinth. For all intents and purposes, it is the same girl, wearing the same outfit, with the same prosthetic left arm, only her limbs appear more feminine perhaps, as she rides the black wolf, mounting it as if it were a horse – the stuff that dreams or nightmares are made of.

Though her eyes are shut, just as those of her counterpart in the front room, the girl seems to be looking in the direction of the largest of the four medium-sized collages and paintings in a restricted palette of blue, red, pink (matching the carpet), black and white, displayed alongside the sculptures in both rooms. Poised between abstraction and figuration, all four represent female sitters, whose relation to the girl mannequin in the sculptural works is not obvious. Untitled (2014), a mixed-media collage on silkscreen, hints at portraiture in its vertical format, with the barest outline of a rounded chin (a roughly scrawled red arrow pointing to it), scarlet girlish lips, and dark wavy hair, nestled within glowing pink and blue colour planes.

It is all too tempting to look to the Berlin-based artist’s childhood in Georgia for clues to solving the riddle of his works. Some of his shows, “Pink Wave Hunter” chief among them, lend themselves to such readings more than others. In this instance, the gallery with its partly walled-in bay window restricting the view to the outside world evokes the prison house that Abkhazia has become for its own people. But the cell-like space with the isolated mannequin hovering in its midst – a variation on all the other blank figures, cast or sculpted, that people Wekua’s universe – can equally be seen as a head space and a potent symbol of the artist’s condition.

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