NICOLE WERMERS: GIVERS & TAKERS: Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery is pleased to present Givers & Takers, Nicole Wermers' third solo exhibition at the gallery and first solo show since the artist's recent presentation at Tramway, Glasgow, as a 2015 Turner Prize nominee. On view June 1 – July 15, 2016, the current gallery exhibition features three new series of floor and wall-based sculptures: Vertical Awnings, Givers & Takers, and Mood Boards, which continue Wermer’s exploration of how various materials produce and define urban space. Combining and reconfiguring familiar objects into new material forms, Wermers addresses the structures of ritualised social relations and the material objects through which these associations are communicated. These works transform, contain, and frame their environment, prompting a deeper consideration of how surface and design read as social and cultural indicators.
Populating the downstairs gallery, Wermers’ Vertical Awning series is comprised of "assisted readymades," rolled-up retractable awnings redesigned with custom fabrics and turned on their side. These floor-based works articulate how soft materials, particularly textiles, divide, appropriate, privatize, shade, domesticate and protect public space. Wermers addresses the use of textiles for these purposes as having equally to do with their material properties of being flexible and our perception of them as unthreatening. Although each awning could cover up to nine square meters at full extension, they are displayed with the material completely rolled up and compactly displayed as vertical, columnar shapes, recalling Wermers earlier Kusine series and referencing the Modernist legacy of Brancusi’s Endless Column. However, rather than dealing with space as an abstract concept, Vertical Awnings addresses space as a commodity that is constantly re-defined and allocated.
Accompanying these works is Wermers’ series of wall-based sculptures entitled Givers & Takers, which combines models of domestic stainless steel ventilation fans with hand dryers found in public restrooms. While the fans are readymade, the hand dryers are scaled up and inverted to underscore the balance between public and private space and their counteractive functions: one is designed to extract air from a room and the other to generate it. Void of any connection to electricity or ventilation circuit, their juxtaposition emphasizes their formal properties and how they relate to the noisy yet invisible functions, now obsolete. The two objects at once service and negate each other. Giving further consideration to the contradictions inherent in modern design, Wermers chooses kitchen fans constructed of thin, inexpensive materials made to look like sleek stainless steel, volumetric imitations of strength and solidity. Similarly, the hand dryers boast suggestively powerful names like Vortex, Excelerator, Air blade, further highlighting the aspirational aspects of modern design aesthetics.
Wermers’ Mood Board series consists of foldable baby changing stations (as found in public restrooms) filled with different types of terrazzo. These works expand on the artist’s play with objects, materials and structures involved in rendering notions of public space. Made from molded hard plastic in a typically light gray color, the peculiar design of these changing units forge practical surfaces in confined public areas to perform an intimate ritual. Design elements such as the materiality of the plastic surface, synthetic straps and the austere color palette are reminiscent of hospital equipment, communicating standardized hygiene and safety. In contrast, the terrazzo are material is popular for public flooring as its unruly pattern camouflages dirt and traces of heavy use.
In the early 20th century, terrazzo was improvised by Venetian construction workers who made the flooring material from an aggregate of easily sourced materials including marble chips left over from upscale building jobs. The combination of these disparate origins of design compare normative ideas of urban public space, characterized in the past by resourcefulness and chance, and in the present by over-regulation, safety issues and lack of space. Whereas the floor is categorically the most inferior in the hierarchy of space, Wermers elevates this unsophisticated surface to the plane of distinguished display.
Transforming a deliberate misuse of an object into an integral part of a new structure thereby implying new function is a recurring gesture in Wermes practice. Resisting the overdetermined functionality of objects and space, Wermers’ compositions highlight the degree to which we are conditioned to comply with our environments, providing the opportunity for renegotiation.
In addition to her recent presentation at Tramway, Glasgow as a Turner Prize nominee in 2015, select solo exhibitions include The London Shape, Stanley Picker Gallery, Kingston upon Thames, UK (2014); Manners, site-specific sculpture, Tate Britain, London, UK (2013); Hôtel Biron, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Germany (2011); Masse und Auflösung, Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, Colorado, USA; Earring, site-specific sculpture, Camden Arts Centre, London, UK (2006); Chemie, Secession, Vienna, Austria (2005). Upcoming, Nicole will be the subject of a solo exhibition at Kunstverein Hamburg, slated for early 2018. Forthcoming group exhibitions include Elevation 1049, curated by Olympia Scarry and Neville Wakefield, Gstaad (2017), and at Künstlerhaus Bremen (2016). Her work is currently on view in The Kids Want Communism, MoBY: Museums of Bat Yam, Tel Aviv through January 21, 2017. Wermers lives and works in London.
All installation images above: Photo by Jean Vong