Gallery Games Exhibition at Debut Contemporary

Now that the London 2012 Olympics have come to an end, there is a place in town in which you can still experience the magnitude and thrill of this quadrennial event. Debut Contemporary, a contemporary art gallery based in Notting Hill, is currently holding the exhibition Gallery Games, a themed show presenting works inspired by victorious characters, cultural celebrations, sporting events and the social impact of the 2012 Olympic Games. Without any kind of restriction, the Debut Artists were encouraged to create artworks related to this theme, and the result is a variety of media, sizes, shapes and colours that perfectly represents the heterogeneity of both the Games and the talented artists.

The curator of the show Eva Kubíčková Piña Rodrigues, in collaboration with former Tate Modern public programmes curator Sara Raza, divided the works into four main subjects: competition/collaboration, Olympic circles, symbols, and the event. Every week, on the upper floor of the gallery, the visitors can admire one of these motifs, whereas downstairs they can take a look at a selection of the rest of the collection.

A view of the exhibition. From left to right: Ben Levy, Maura Zonta, Thomas Dowdeswell, Yuliya B. Stephanel, Anna Maria Amato, Sam Shendi

Some of the artists have emphasised the social issues raised by the arrival of the Olympics in London. Amy Cameron used her collection of foreign coins in her work to represent the cost of hosting the Games, and also that of making a living as an athlete, which can be rather onerous.Damilola Odosute had also something to say about the Olympic budget and the legacy that this event will leave to the country, conveying his thoughts on the canvas in a forceful way.

Gillian Holding’s Veiled Victory 2012, through translucent layers of paint finished with a highly reflective surface, challenges us to move around the painting in order to see it without the glare of the light or our own reflection. The work is the result of a patriotic summer for the UK that has left the artist with a sense of dissonance.

Works including those of Caroline Magerl, Dannielle Hodson, Rebecca Molloy, and Junko O’ Neill tell us about the space, whether it is physical or mental. Caroline Magerl, in a Poetic Narrative, used drypoint on copper plates to represent the roofs on the top of which the Ministry of Defence has placed some missiles batteries as part of the Olympic defence system, besides including the typical London rain and the fireworks of the celebrations. Rebecca Molloy’s interest for the surroundings of the Olympic site and the effect on the local community led her to create a series of small paintings centred on the idea of the space under construction. Not many people know that the Olympic stadium has been made of recycled materials such as guns used for committing crimes, and this is one of the facts that inspired Dannielle Hodson’s Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum (Latin for ‘If you want peace, first you must prepare for war’). It is a series of illustrations about winning or losing, success and failure, peace and fight.In this exhibition there is also another concept of space-time called Ma, which is not well known in the Western culture. To better understand this idea, you should take a look at Junko O’ Neill’s works. In the Japanese tradition, empty spaces have a positive connotation, and this is why she painted a fictitious Olympian facing the empty space of the stadium, the swimming pool and the racetrack. The viewer can experience the space and moment as if he was the person in the painting.

Junko O’ Neill

For the first time in the Olympic history, each of the 214 participating countries had at least one woman in their team, and this is an important step forward for the equality of the sexes. A woman is the subject of the photograph of Anne Vinogradoff, whose ideal world is a place where the masculine and feminine complementary characteristics are in equilibrium. Also the portrait painter Heloise Toopdecided to include a woman in her work, her friend Veronica, a dancer who performed at the opening and closing ceremonies.

Heloise Toop

The protagonist of Toni Gallagher’s pictures is a West Ham die-hard fan. She captured him on a Lomo camera while he was supporting his team at the stadium.

In the space there are also three-dimensional works that make the exhibition even more complete and engaging. A group of playful and fun sculptures by the artist Sam Shendi mimic some of the athletic positions. A Surrealist Piece, designed by Aida Emelyanova, consists of three heads (one is painted in gold, one in silver, and one in bronze in reference to the Olympic medals)  representing the mental states. Maura Zonta realized a free composition of five wooden globes on wooden stands. Each sphere is painted in one of the colours of the Olympic rings, and the surface is divided into golden rectangles that trace out imaginary meridians and parallels. Superstitious people should take a look atLucy Cheung’s lucky running vest, an amulet for athletes covered in individually folded gold running figures.

Sculpture by Sam Shendi; “Team” by Anu Samaruutel; “Achievement Surrounds You Now, Forever and Not in a blink of an Eye” by David Charles Williams

A very colourful painting by Elizabeth JamesColour in Motion, represents the mix of cultures of the different countries competing in the 2012 Olympics, as well as the passion and will to succeed that drives us all. Thomas Dowdeswell has democratically employed pigments covering the entire spectrum of the Olympic colours in his dynamic paintings. There is also another reference to the multi-national nature of the games in Emily Kirby’s composition, which aims to explore the creative movement of athletes in conjunction with the struggle and tension of the competition.

“Colour in Motion” by Elizabeth James

Fascinated by the historical roots, cultural mythology and religious significance of the Olympics,Caroline Kha brings all these elements together in her hand-made collages that refer to the religious origins of the Games and to the current perception of them as a unifying event. Anu Samaruutel’sTeam reminds us that we are all unique and a ‘number one’, but at the same time we perform our best when we collaborate with other people as a team. Chinese artist Qing Qi tried to answer the question “Can traditional Chinese painting, as a time-honoured and profound discipline of art, become contemporary?”. To find the answer, she painted a British updated version of the Chinese artworkLadies in Spring by ZhangXuan. On her canvas, instead of the original ancient Chinese royal family, we find Queen Elizabeth II with her husband The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Camilla.

Caroline Kha

Whether you enjoyed the Olympic spirit or thought that it was an unnecessary waste of money, you will find an artwork in accordance with your idea. You can see the exhibition at the 82 of Westbourne Grove, London W2, until the 9th September. An oversize book about the show will be published post-event and launched during a special Frieze event at Debut Contemporary.

Gabria Lupone



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