Survey II is a touring group exhibition that brings ten early-career artists together, each of whom was nominated by a leading UK artist. The works are commissioned specifically for this exhibition. They respond to the world around us through a wide range of disciplines from photography and moving-image to large-scale sculpture and sound installation. Survey II is currently shown in g39, an artist-led gallery and creative community space in Cardiff.
Without claiming to be, the exhibition is a survey of ordinary, dear life. Mundane moments of daily life are made of words, signs, textures, sounds, encounters… that we don’t often notice as they occur, come and go. We rarely feel the breeze unless it is a humid, hot day. Then the breeze is an event, a celebration, never enough, immediately absent, always desired. Like the breeze, a damp bedsheet, a danger sign, the changes at the back of our body, scenes from a family holiday, handkerchiefs, wall ornaments in our grandparents’ house, plants on our balcony are rarely in the forefront of our attention. Without noticing we experiment every day by cooking, talking, working, brushing our teeth in a different direction, questioning where we come from and where we are going.
This exhibition brings together artists, who pay attention and make us stop to hear, see and think about the simplicity of life. And yet, identifying simplicity is a deep and laborious process. It is never simple.
You can feel the breeze in Tereza Červeňová’s photographs, titled With and For. She often uses an autobiographical lens. In this series of images, we see moments from a family holiday that took place in the summer of 2020 in Slovakia, where the artist was born. It is easily felt how cherished these moments are. How she looks at her surroundings and at her loved ones, captures their bodies and souls communicating, mingling with nature and with each other is fascinating. The images are attentive and part of a process of love. They are not only beautiful but also intimate and empathetic. One feels like thanking Červeňová for sharing such personal work with the masses. The exhibition also shows her first moving-image installation, which is blurry, silent and haunting as happy memories from something that has already departed.
Nicolaas van de Lande’s large sculpture reminds us of a bedroom that is under construction. The construction site is the room and perhaps analogous to its creator's own body. A velvety hairy door leans towards a small bed. The bed hosts fly on a wet, intestine-like, curvy object which lies upon it. Van de Lande says that he is driven by little discoveries in materials and that the materials have the answers in themselves. The installation, A Being Able to Change its Form, has an autobiographical reference to the one year that the artist lived in Croydon. It is a reflection on chemsex experiences he had within that year. Something deeply explorative. Having sex under chemical drug influence, he describes, was basic, primitive, and facilitated the overcrossing of borders, whilst opening up the possibilities of one’s body. The scene, van de Lande creates with daily and DIY objects, including paint cans, is strongly of the subconscious. He was nominated by Tai Shani, and I can so clearly see their works being exhibited together in such a great and uncanny harmony.
Cinzia Mutigli, a Cardiff-based artist, also a member of g39, was nominated by Sean Edwards. Her video, I’ve Danced at Parties, is installed on an intricately patterned wallpaper and stars the artist mumbling simple questions with existential importance. From time to time, she blends in the shapes and colours of the wallpaper. The artist reflects on the interchangeability of performance and everyday life. How rehearsals and repetitive movements prepare us for the act, and how the idea of preparedness creates or defeats any social anxiety... Mutigli’s performance is playful and fun, yet anxious and serious. It makes one question how much of daily life is constructed, rehearsed, performed and repeated. And, does it matter?
Rebecca Moss, creates awkward and uncomfortable situations in her three short videos. She plays with the ideas of self-mockery and absurdity and poses questions about the performativity involved in domestic gender roles. In Home Improvement, she sits as part of a kinetic machine made out of household objects, that pulls her mouth open towards the sides and makes her slowly smile. Moss manages to create an affective reaction, as this makes us also smile in a cringy way, not being sure if she is in pain or joy.
More artists who take part in the show generously and openly share their own experiences or perceptions of themselves in relation to others. Sadé Mica’s work, Parts, is a life-size depiction of the artist’s body and points at the Queer Black form in sculpture and the visual representation of marginalised people in the history of art. Katarzyna Perlak’s embroidered handkerchiefs, Bated Breaths, present proverbs or sayings relating to Britain and Poland. Saelia Aparicio’s Three dead astronauts are sculptural installations of human figures hosting some roots of plants in parts of their bodies.
The works that make Survey II have not been commissioned to work together. Artists were given full freedom to reflect on their current practices and experiences and make a work of art. It is supported by the national partnership led by Jerwood Arts and aims to provide a snapshot of current artistic approaches. Yet the exhibition has a harmonious narrative and there is a sense of communication and collaboration amongst the works. The personal, intimate and courageous nature of the works and the artists turns g39 into an open but safe space.
As the works were created within the last two years, it is impossible to ignore the impact of the pandemic. Červeňová says that she was emotional to see her work exhibited for the first time during the pandemic and that she felt like resurfacing as an artist. I do nowadays feel like resurfacing as an arts journalist and feel privileged to be able to see such outstanding new work and talk to artists, curators, other journalists and many more from the arts community. I extend this call to the audience also to resurface and visit Survey II in g39, Cardiff (until 11 September 2021), in Jerwood Arts in London (1 October – 13 December 2021) and Site Gallery in Sheffield (5 March – 15 May 2022).