David Bennewith & Joseph Churchward (NZ), Heman Chong (SG), Matthias Bitzer (DE), Isabel Nolan (IE), David Noonan (AU) and Pae White (US)
A dark and menacing exhibition, originally inspired by all things Gothic, King Rat presents a series of artworks by some of visual arts most original international voices. The gallery will transform in to a space filled with a sense of unease and discomfort, the stuff that nightmares are made of. A carpet made of thousands of black pieces of paper will create a striking landscape from which sculptures rise, paintings hover above, tapestries loom and text speak.
King Rat is an environment of art. Each artist and artwork inhabits their own universe of complications, with form and aesthetics resting easily beside history, context and imagination. Within the entanglement of art and nightmare, shadows form amidst a prevailing sense of unease. Beauty, intrigue and formal abstraction rest against an intangible performative presence, where the possibility of horror and violence enters the room through allusions to folklore, superstition, ghost-stories and the shifty appropriation of culture. Absent from the scene is that most blood-thirsty of characters – replaced instead by an entangled giant – the writhing, breathing King Rat*.
All was dark and silent, the black shadows thrown by the moonlight seeming full of a silent mystery of their own. Not a thing seemed to be stirring, but all to be grim and fixed as death or fate; so that a thin streak of white mist, that crept with almost imperceptible slowness across the grass towards the house, seemed to have a sentience and a vitality of its own.
The mist grew thicker and thicker and I could see now how it came in, for I could see it like smoke – or with the white energy of boiling water – pouring in, not through the window, but through the joinings of the door. It got thicker and thicker, till it seemed as if it became concentrated into a sort of pillar of cloud in the room, through the top of which I could see the light of the gas shining like a red eye.
– from Mina Harker’s Journal**
Here a black-as-night landscape (Heman Chong) is spread out across the floor, whose shifting papers rustle underfoot. Out of this stage climb plinths and sculptures – characters, models and abstract forms. The sculptures, wall paintings, tapestries and paintings are momentarily frozen in time and, as you glance away, continue their secret motion. Curling clouds of smoke drift along the wall (Pae White) and dead, destroyed sails catch the wind, while Fernando Pessoa and Alistair Crowley quietly commune (Matthias Bitzer). The semi-transparent, seemingly celluloid frames that have been trapped and layered on top of each other continue their flash-frame loops (David Noonan) while patterns and markings familiar to indigenous New Zealand Maori morph into a large ampersand (Joseph Churchwood & David Bennewith). The tapestry continues its happy animation, the balls fall (Isabel Nolan), and like the many-headed rat made famous by superstition and mythology, the artworks’ performances mess with each others’ meaning, autonomy and precariousness.
* There are very few recorded examples of ‘rat kings’ in the world, but it is an extraordinary yet natural phenomenon. When a litter of young rats are in the nest, their tails can occasionally become intertwined and ensnared in materials such as horse hair, twine or dried blood, trapping them in a mass formation of bodies growing amongst the interlocked throng of tails. Growing heavier over years, and reliant on feeding from parents, the King Rat is known to have crashed through a ceiling, indicating irrefutably the presence of witches in the home, or the harbinger of disease.
** Text excerpts are from Mina Harker’s Journal in Dracula by Bram Stoker. In this instance, the writing has been sampled from the Four Corners Books publication (‘Four Corners Familiars’) 2008, p. 343-5, illustrated by James Pyman. The first edition of Dracula was published by Archibald Constable and Company in 1897.
With thanks to the artists and lenders, Galerie Iris Kadel, Karlsruhe, 1301PE, Los Angeles, Kerlin Gallery, Dublin and HOTEL, London. Thanks also to the Goethe Institut Dublin for supporting King Rat
See our photos from the exhibition opening night here.
Bennewith, David (1977, New Zealand) is a graphic designer based in Amsterdam. Since 2008 he has produced and published non-commissioned work under the moniker Colophon. Colophon explores aspects of typography including the examination, rehearsal and writing of typo-graphic design subjects. Recent projects include Joseph Churchward, 2009; and Public Arena, a collaborative publication with Bik Van der Pol, 2009. David Bennewith regularly teaches typography and editorial design at ArtEZ Institute of the Arts, Arnhem, and has taught and given lectures and/or workshops at various institutions including the Royal College of Art, London; ELAM School of Fine Arts, Auckland; Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam; and Sint Lucas, Antwerp.
Bitzer, Matthias (1975, Germany) is a multidisciplinary artist working in painting, sculpture, wall drawings and installations. He lives and works in Berlin. Matthias’ most recent work creates an experiential space of history and identity. At the crux of his art practice is an investigation into the contrasting formal and thematic concerns of abstract and figurative representation. Recent exhibitions included Eckpunkt, Kunstverein Hannover, 2010; Kunstsammlung Gera, winner of the Otto Dix Prize, 2010; and Art Basel Miami Beach, USA, 2008. He is represented by the Galerie Iris Kadel, Karlsruhe; Francesca Minini, Milan; and Almine Rech, Paris.
Chong, Heman (1977, Malaysia, raised in Singapore) is an artist, curator and writer based in New York and Singapore. His art practice involves an investigation into the philosophies, reason and methods of individuals and communities imagining the future. Charged with a conceptual drive, this research is adapted into objects, images, installations, situations or texts. Recent exhibitions included Calendars (2020-2097), Vitamin Creative Space, Beijing, 2010; Christmas in July, Yvon Lambert, New York, 2010; and Manifesta 8, Murcia, Spain, 2010. Heman Chong was one of the eight authors of PHILIP, Project Press 2007. He represented Singapore in the 50th Venice Biennale, 2003, and is represented by Vitamin Creative Space, Beijing/Guangzhou.
Churchward, Joseph (1933, Samoa) is a prolific, New Zealand based graphic designer. He studied art at Wellington Technical College, New Zealand. In 1962 he started his freelance practice Advertising Art Studio’s. This grew into Churchward International Typefaces which became, at one point, New Zealand’s largest typesetting firm. To date, Joseph Churchward has handcrafted over 600 unique typefaces which have subsequently been distributed world-wide. He was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for his typographic services during the 2010 Queen’s Birthday Honours, New Zealand. Additionally, in 2008 the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, held a retrospective exhibition of his art work.
Nolan, Isabel (1974, Ireland) is an artist living and working in Dublin. Her narrative-based art practice includes paintings, texts and sculptures which explore the implacable desire to understand both our inner lives and surrounding world. Recent exhibitions include on a perilous margin, Kerlin Gallery, Dublin, 2009; Trance in Inaction, ARTSPACE, New Zealand, 2008; The Paradise #29, Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, 2008. Her work was part of a group exhibition at the 2005 Venice Biennale and is held in several museum collections, including the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Hugh Lane Gallery. In 2011 she will have a major solo exhibition at Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne. She is represented by the Kerlin Gallery, Dublin.
Noonan, David (1969, Australia) lives and works in London. His art practice brings together an eclectic array of found imagery including archival photographs, film stills, books and magazines. The resulting sculptures, paintings, collages, screen prints and films fuse myth and realism by creating fictional histories and imaginary landscapes. His work is currently in the 17th Biennale of Sydney. Recent exhibitions have also included the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, 2010; the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, 2010; and the Tate Triennial, 2009. He is represented by Hotel, London, Foxy Productions, New York, David Kordansky Gallery, LA and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.
White, Pae (1963, USA) is an artist living and working in Los Angeles. Her art practice encourages the viewer to re-assess and explore familiar encounters and everyday objects. Pae White’s meticulous detail and intricate craftsmanship in her experiential smoke tapestries and cascading mobiles investigate the tension between immateriality and physicality of the most unlikely objects. Recent exhibitions included Smoke Knows, 1301PE, Los Angeles, 2009; Point, Counterpoint, Cloud, Xavier Hufkens gallery, Brussels, 2009; and Pae White, greengrassi, London, 2007. She was included in the Whitney Biennial, New York, 2010, and is represented by 1301PE, Los Angeles.
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