The name says it all. IRL (In Real Life), Timothy Taylor's summer exhibition, is an exploration on the blurred distinction between real and virtual experiences. The show is centred upon our longing for tangibility, after a year of life lived virtually.
"Pivoting online over the last 18 months has paradoxically encouraged us to be even more creative and really expand in terms of the artists and curators we've worked with," explains gallery director Tarka Russell, who has brought together an impressive roster of some of the art world's most exciting new stars.
Kesewa Aboah, Rebecca Ackroyd, Alma Berrow, Lily Bertrand-Webb, Will Brickel, Sahara Longe, Lydia Pettit, Jiab Prachakul, Alexis Ralaivao, Erin M. Riley, Antonia Showering and Honor Titus will be showcasing a wide spectrum of pieces, from paintings, sculptures and textile-based works, many of them meditations on the past year.
"My artistic process is fairly haphazard anyway, but I felt myself pulling away from work at the beginning of lockdown as my studio felt quite isolating, at a time when everything felt that way," says Kesewa Aboah, whose tapestry works are beautiful depictions of bodies and intricate abstractions. "But, I think as time went on, lockdown taught me to kind of relax into my art and realise I am still figuring out my language and figuring out the way that I work."
"I had one piece I started working on before lockdown and during the pandemic, it just took on a completely different meaning," she explains. The piece in question, I'm Off, became a poignant yearning for flight and travel once lockdown hit. "What excites me is that, now it is being shown, it doesn't really matter what my feelings are about it, or what I think it means. It will be defined by everyone else's interpretations."
For Thai-born Jiab Prachakul, a self-taught painter who recently had her first ever solo show, the pandemic proved fertile ground for artistic inspiration. One such piece, Postcard in Bangkok (pictured above), she describes as "a memory translated into a painted language".
"I painted it after a picture of my good friends at the first dinner they had in Bangkok after the first lockdown. I was in France and still in a heavy lockdown at the time. I held on to it for a year before getting to paint it, nearly tossing the idea of painting it, actually. Then when I read the description of the show I realised how this image is important to me," she explains. "I feel I existed in another extended reality by working on this painting, seeing my friends from afar, and knowing what it was like back in Thailand at that moment in time."
She will, once again, be experiencing this image from afar, unable to make the exhibition this summer. "I feel blessed," she says. "Nothing is as precious as sharing with others in person, but knowing my painting is there, already means a lot to me."
The physicality of the show, after so many months of virtual offerings, was a big draw for Antonia Showering. "I was part of an online group show with Timothy Taylor, curated by Katy Hessel, at the beginning of the first lockdown," she says. "To now be exhibiting a new, large painting in this physical group show feels very positive and symbolic of coming out of this pandemic on the other side, with better times ahead, hopefully."
Her large-scale painting depicts an almost nostalgic yearning for the connection of real-life gatherings, yet tinged with the double-edged sword of social interaction.
"The work explores an intimate, close moment, perhaps not reciprocated by both parties. It is about connection, the desire or perhaps even the expectation one has at a certain time in their lives to find it," Showering explains. "I think this feeling or sensation fits into the exhibition’s theme IRL. The idea of being held can be romanticised, compared to the gritty reality of how suffocating it can sometimes feel in real life, making you feel more lonely than being alone."
But, while many artists' work felt shifted and informed by the events of the past year, ceramics artist Alma Berrow's was borne from it.
"I started making ceramics for the first time in lockdown and from then have delved into endless uninterrupted days of making," she explains. "I strangely found myself more fearful as things started to open up, and how my process and workflow would stand up 'in real life'."
"For me, this is the first time my work is physically displayed in a space where people can come and see it in real life, not just on their screen," she says. "With the tablescape, The Tale of the Tarot, I hoped to create the secret dinner party we wish we all could have had; those lost and secret moments we shared behind closed doors or split screens. Realised and immortalised."
IRL (In Real Life) at Timothy Taylor runs until 21 August .
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