The Old Library, West Dean CollegeFree
Renee So will be artist-in-residence at West Dean College from April-May 2019, leading to a solo exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion in September. Responding to an invitation to mark the Bauhaus centenary, So will create a new series of works that explore the Design School's gesamtkunstwerk ethos - a 'total work of art' uniting art and craft, demonstrating how traditional crafts continue to influence contemporary practice, just as they did in the Bauhaus a century ago.
The exhibition at DLWP will elucidate lesser-known Bauhaus histories, notably the past undertones of artforms such as weaving as 'women's work', in recognition of Bauhaus women who have been overlooked. By highlighting the role of female Bauhaus artists, So's exhibition will readdress gender-imbalances of the early 20th Century and engage with art historical debates about the agency of female artists.
Renee So's practice is materials-based and merges a wide range of cultural references across many time periods. Her ceramics borrow from primitive Asian, Middle Eastern, pre-Columbian and African pottery, Assyrian art, Ancient Greek/Roman portrait busts and 'Bellarmines' (a 17th Century genre of German stoneware jugs featuring the head of a bearded man). Meanwhile, the tapestries borrow from the design graphics of playing card royals and cartoon illustration, and are self-made on a 1980's domestic knitting machine.
The motif of the bearded man with a reversible double head appears regularly in my work. The head is literally two-faced, alluding to the characteristics of duality within us all, while the beard is an ancient symbol of power and strength. This imaginary figure, hailing from a non-specific time/culture is an amalgam of the references listed above. The figure reflects So's personal observations of historical and pan-cultural male identity in art and society, whom So uses to explore projections of authority and power with gentle caricature.
More recently, the props of masculine self- grandeur, the status-giving objects such as beards, knee-high boots, cocktail glasses, canes, pipes and women (as trophies) become the artwork themselves.
Renee So is represented by Kate MacGarry Gallery.
This talk is organised in collaboration with the De La Warr Pavilion, and hosted by the full-time Fine Art programmes at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation.