LondonIRL (In Real Life)
Timothy Taylor presents IRL (In Real Life), a group exhibition of paintings, sculptures and textile-based works.
The title of the exhibition draws from a phrase popularised on the Internet in the mid-1990s, which refers to the division in social relationships between life online and offline—the ‘real one’. Yet in the context of a pandemic that profoundly reduced human contact, cyberspace has come to dominate the ways we work, socialise and connect with the world, blurring the distinction between real and virtual experiences. IRL features work by 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.
IRL explores how notions of the social and sensory experience— sensuality, togetherness and physicality— have been transformed by life lived wholly through the prism of the screen. Through textured tapestries and richly surfaced paintings, ceramic sculptures and hand-painted canvas wall hangings, many of the works in IRL are characterised by heightened materiality, which feels imbued with desire for the physicality of real-world experience. Some of the artists pay homage to lost experiences: the bonds of touch, or the hedonistic pleasure of eating and drinking among friends and family; others focus on how profoundly Internet culture has reshaped our senses, transforming the way we experience social contact, and acting as a site of memory for real-world experience and physical connection.
In tapestry works by Kesewa Aboah (b. 1994), rough textile surfaces mirror the physical presence of the body depicted as subject. Aboah uses her own body as a tool, imprinting her form across the canvas before embroidering the resulting abstractions in expressive fields of colour. Quirky sculptures by Alma Berrow (b. 1992) depict overflowing ashtrays or elaborate plates of food, acting as physical talismans for lost moments of togetherness among friends.
Artists Alexis Ralaivao (b. 1991) and Will Brickel (b. 1994) express longing for touch and connection through painterly subject matter, mirroring the desires and frustrations of life spent under lockdown. Ralaivao’s dreamy lockdown portraits linger on closely cropped images of his partner’s body, framing moments of intimacy behind closed doors in soft and luminescent hues, while Brickel portrays young men in everyday scenes that summon the physicality of movement and touch. Warped and exaggerated into surreal proportions, subjects wrestle and contort their bodies in compositions flickering uneasily between fighting and foreplay.
Honor Titus and Antonia Showering (b. 1991) distil fleeting moments of connection in haunting figurative paintings saturated with retrospective nostalgia for time spent with friends and family. Created while quarantined in the countryside, photographer Lily Bertrand-Webb’s (b. 1988) diptych self-portrait depicts the artist and her partner nude among the marshes, reflecting on a return to nature and the vulnerability of human relationships.
While some works express nostalgia, others reflect the changing face of social norms. Erin M. Riley, Rebecca Ackroyd and Lydia Pettit focus on how contemporary sexuality and femininity have been remodelled by the Internet and social media, extending the female body into the virtual sphere in unexpected ways. Riley (b. 1985) negotiates the relationship between life online and off in woven tapestry works depicting anonymous women in alluring poses sourced from photographs found on social media. Ackroyd (b.1987) explores the uncanny in her gouache drawings: hypersexualised close-ups of female body parts mirror images that might be found on Instagram or Tumblr, oscillating between the eerie and the seductive. Pettit (b. 1991) confronts the viewer’s gaze in frank and realistic self-portraits of her own clothed and unclothed body, gesturing at once towards both bodily acceptance and incessant self-examination.
From pandemic restrictions to an increasing demand for more diverse representations of beauty, artists Jiab Prachakul (b. 1979) and Sahara Longe (b. 1994) reexamine artistic traditions in the context of the dramatic shifts in sociocultural norms we have collectively experienced over the past year. A multicultural group of contemporary urbanites crowd together in a richly coloured painting by Prachakul that probes the new norms of socialising and making contact, their expressions rendered obliquely anonymous by a series of identical black face masks. Longe reinterprets Eduard Manet’s controversial Olympia—itself a modern interpretation of Titian’s Venus of Urbino—in a colourful, near-abstract nude portrait. Replacing the archetypal pale nude of the original images is a dark-skinned woman who lounges sensually across a sofa, reminding the viewer of the conspicuous absence of black bodies in Western histories of the female nude.
Ideas of intimacy and transformation run through the exhibition, expressing at once our desire for lost connection and understanding that society has been irrevocably changed. Together, the works in IRL reflect on the changing concerns and priorities for real life in a post-pandemic society.
all images © the gallery and the artist(s)