As a ‘gallery day out’, the Saatchi is still one of my favourite art spaces to visit. Stepping out into South Kensington always feels like a different (and dare I say more expensive) world but the gallery itself seems to provide a peaceful, light resting place. Their current exhibit entitled Pangaea unites a melting pot of different artists from across Africa and South America. Incorporating a breadth of mediums, the work on show feels strong at face value as well as being rich in cultural content.
From gaging the response of others who’ve visited the exhibit, the most memorable work in the show would likely be the first you encounter. An installation by Colombian artist Rafael Gomezbarros meets your gaze as you approach the first doorway, its efficacy immediately evident. Unnerving or even sinister, it is only once you are fully within the space that you realise you are surrounded. From the huddles of dark shapes sprawling across all four white walls emerge a colony of giant ants, their bodies each comprised of two cast human skulls on closer inspection. For the artist, this work speaks on behalf of thousands of Colombian people displaced by the country’s conflict and the many anonymous and invisible people who forcibly become immigrants across the world.
I was intrigued by a collection of work by Jose Lerma further into the exhibition. His enormous canvases house a mixture of densely built-up pen and paint markings, each portraying a complex array of political and cultural references. The layers of marks allow the artist to reveal and conceal information, creating vague figures on each surface. But it was the objects outside of the canvas’ frame that interested me – the weight of the largest canvas was supported by a small keyboard under one of its bottom corners and by a guiro (a wooden percussion instrument from Latin-America) beneath the other. The overall presentation leaves the work open to sculptural interpretations in relation to the historic place of the canvas.
Freddy Alzate’s spherical brick sculpture brought to mind Gabriel Orozco’s Yielding Stone; a ball of plasticine that the artist rolled across the street. However instead of absorbing traces of its environment, Alzate’s object appears to have been produced by the architecture of the urban surroundings itself curling into an orb.
In one of the lower galleries, Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama creates an encounter that envelops the viewer. The room is hung wall to ceiling with coarse, dirtied coal sacks, sewn together to cover the space entirely. The material quiets the echoes that would otherwise bounce against the smoothness of the gallery walls, bringing an eerie stillness and sense of otherworldliness.
As I often find myself commenting about many of the exhibitions I’ve seen at the Saatchi, each work is respectfully given the breathing space it requires to command the viewer’s full attention. Pangaea is no exception to this; the curation seems sensitive to both the art work’s individual presence and the conversations created between different subject matter. A considered snapshot of contemporary art from Africa and South America and well worth a visit.
Pangaea runs until November 2nd (2014).