‘Contemporary Excavations is really an invitation to think about time in a larger sense, as a longer development, and not just contemporary practice in the present tense.’
Frith Street Gallery is delighted to present Contemporary Excavations, an exhibition featuring artists Gauri Gill, James Nelson, Daniel Silver and Rajesh Vangad, curated by Sandhini Poddar. Contemporary Excavations explores the mining of classical, modernist as well as Indigenous art histories and how these knowledge systems are appropriated, synthesised, and made new in the work of these artists.
Gauri Gill has a complex photographic practice containing several lines of pursuit. They are characterised by Gill’s interests in feminism, Buddhism, community, ecology, and education. Gill has had a long engagement with precarious communities including nomadic, tribal and small peasant groups in rural Rajasthan in India over the past two decades, as seen in her ongoing series, The Mark on the Wall. Beginning in early 2013, Fields of Sight is a collaboration with the renowned Adivasi artist, Rajesh Vangad, combining the contemporary language of photography with the ancient one of Warli drawing to co-create new narratives. The Warli define their relationship to existence through mother nature and farming and fishing are crucial to their livelihoods. Their ancient matriarchal art form, dating back millennia, was practiced solely by the women of the community until recently. Considered as a leading exponent of this art form, Vangad’s paintings showcase the tribe’s intimate and sensitive relationship to the land and to agricultural cycles, expressed through the harvesting of grains.
James Nelson’s sensitive oeuvre is marked by his daily practice of drawing. Using handmade Chinese and Japanese papers as an aesthetic and textural substrate, Nelson captures the ephemerality and complexity of nature in his monochromatic works in graphite, charcoal and pastels. He states, 'For me active looking triggers an empathic response.' Drawing inspiration from the tradition of Song dynasty landscape painting in China (960– 1279 A.D.), Nelson’s works on paper conjure ‘mental landscapes’, inviting viewers to embark on journeys, as they hover between abstraction and representation. For the artist, drawing is a rich, layered, and intimate process, 'where you try to experience the world as it was before things were given a name.'
Daniel Silver’s alchemical sculptures are repositories of the artist’s multifaceted interests in classical sculpture dating from the Graeco-Roman period, psychoanalytic theory, and Western modernism. His figurative works, which range in scale from the diminutive to the monumental, always seem in flux – creation and entropy are equally at play. His bodies come to exist in the world / Dasein and thereafter return to a proto-linguistic or proto-historic state. Silver’s new cluster of free-standing ceramic sculptures were made during lockdown at a time of solitude and introspection. Hand-moulded by the artist in terracotta and subsequently fired and freely coloured with oil paints, they appear as totems, pillars, or trees: the axis mundi.
New Delhi-based photographer Gauri Gill (b. 1970, Chandigarh, India) has exhibited widely both within India and internationally. Selected recent solo exhibitions of her work include, Notes from the Desert: Photographs by Gauri Gill, Freer-Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC (2016); Project 108: Gauri Gill, MoMA PS1, New York (2018), and Object/Set: Gauri Gill’s Acts of Appearance, Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio (2019). Selected recent group exhibitions include, documenta 14, Athens, Greece and Kassel, Germany (2017); May You Live In Interesting Times, 58th Venice Biennale, Italy (2019) and When All That Is Solid Melts into Air: Exploring the Intersection of the Folk and the Modern in Postcolonial India, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (2020). Gill’s work is in the collection of prominent institutions worldwide. Click here to watch Gauri Gill: On Seeing
James Nelson (b. 1966, Raleigh, North Carolina; lives and works in Brooklyn, New York) studied sculpture at California State University at Chico from 1985 to 1990 and has been drawing as a primary medium since moving to Brooklyn in 1990. Nelson has exhibited in group shows throughout the United States and has held solo exhibitions at Gallery Joe, Philadelphia (2008); McKenzie Fine Art, New York (2005, 2007, 2011, 2014, 2017 and 2020) and at The Humanities Initiative at New York University (2014). Additionally, Nelson had a solo museum installation of nearly 300 drawings at the Castellani Art Museum, Niagara University in 1995. Nelson’s work has recently been added to the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, USA.
Daniel Silver (b. 1972, London; lives and works in London) studied at the Slade School of Fine Art (1999) and The Royal College of Art (2001). Recent solo exhibitions include Dig, a commission by Artangel (2013); Rock Formations, Antikenmuseum, Basel for Art Basel Parcours (2015); Daniel Silver, The New Art Gallery, Walsall (2019), and Human Activity, London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE (2019). Recent group exhibitions include, A Statue is Present, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, London (2015), Mess, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel; Bumped Bodies, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London; Loss, Hydra School Projects, Greece (all 2018) and The Enigma of the Hour: 100 Years of Psychoanalytic Thought, Freud Museum, London (2019).
Rajesh Chaitya Vangad (b. 1975, Ganjad village in Dahanu, Maharashtra, India; lives and works in Dahanu) is one of India’s pre-eminent bearers of the Warli style of painting. He learnt this art form at a young age from his parents–particularly his mother, and later from Adivasi masters such as Jivya Soma Mashe (b. 1934, Dhamangaon village in Thane district, Maharashtra, India; died 2018, Kalambipada village in Dahanu, Maharashtra, India). Vangad has painted notable Warli murals at the National Crafts Museum & Hastkala Academy in New Delhi (2012), Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai (2013) and Terminal 2 at Mumbai International Airport (2013). His work has been exhibited across India as well as internationally in cities such as Adelaide, Barcelona, London, and Sakura, Japan.
Sandhini Poddar is a London-based art historian and consulting curator at the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, where she is responsible for research, acquisitions and commissions for the future museum.