ORGAN THING: Two new shows at Hackney’s New Art Projects, Karen Finley’s way with words, Jonny Green’s powerful portrait play…

Karen Finley at new Art Projects, East London, Sept 2021

“Share and share alike” shouted the very colourfully dressed woman on Sheep Lane, I’m not sure who she was shouting at or if she had a point, maybe that was the point? Off to take in some more of the art East London’s galleries have to offer on the second Thursday of September, off to explore what’s left of the East’s art spaces. They are scattered far and wide now, you need to move fast to catch more than one or two openings these days, tonight’s adventure starts at Fred Mann’s New Art Projects and his first “proper” opening of what we’re told is the “new normal”, before a rush via the now deathly quiet Vyner Street (even the pub is closed tonight, well done Mr Ermacora, self-declared self-promoting “urbanist”, you really killed that thriving community, sad to see the once very special street like this) to Approach Road to catch tonight’s openings at the appropriately named Approach (already covered here). There’s two shows opening at New Art Projects tonight, Jonny Green’s latest works are the things drawing people to the gallery, but it really is the work of Karen Finley that pushes all the right buttons.

Must admit I know nothing about Karen Finley, the energy of her work is there for all to see though, her pieces are powerful, her book pages. the way her words form on those pages. Apparently Karen Finley (born 1956) is “an American performance artist, musician and poet. She has employed her performances, visual art works, recordings, and books to express her activism and to comment on social and political issues of our time. Her work has intellectually employed both nudity and profanity incorporating depictions of sexuality, abuse, and has represented her AIDS and HIV activism. She is currently professor at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University”. And it would appear I have seen her work before at this gallery, but not like this, in her own space with time to breathe, do like these pieces rather a lot. I like what she says, like what she hints at, the suggestions, mostly I like the way she says it, the way she paints it.

Karen Finlay at New Art Projects, Hackney, London E8, Sept 2021

The gallery statement tells it best, it would be easy to try and be a smartarse and reword the statement but hey, there’s far too much bluff if the art world, and the story behind how these pieces of art ended up on the gallery wall is worth repeating:

“Karen Finley and Fred Mann were introduced by Lyall Hakaria, when Finley took part in Punish the Streets, an exhibition he curated at New Art Projects that celebrated a decade of vFd in Dalston and highlighted the influences that flow between club culture, performance, art and fashion. The title ‘Punish the Streets’ referred to transgressive bodies and cultures that challenge societies norms.

During the recent series of lockdowns Karen Finley and Fred Mann have held online discussions. These talks have covered a series of topics, been wide-ranging and explored the places where they meet and often concur. Since the late 1980s there have been personal and cultural moments and events and movements to which they have both responded, and that have activated them both. In Finley’s’ case as an artist and in Mann’s’ case as a gallerist and curator. Both Mann and Finley also work as arts educators, and have found common ground and on-going connections across these disturbing and fluctuating contemporary times.

Their discussions have resulted in a series of projects between Karen Finley and Fred Mann at New Art Projects, the first of which is a September-October pop up project of her newest works on paper that debate the here and now. During the lockdown(s) while based in Provincetown, Finley has created a series of text-based works on paper that she has painted on found materials. Her words, observations, and tributes appear on historical printed pages that show everything from Alice in Wonderland to card tricks and flowers.

For this initial show, her works cover primary themes: War and Conflict, Covid, vaccines and pandemic illness, personal and global mental well being, healing, love and loss. In ‘War on Terror’ her painted writing covers pages from ‘stunts with cards’. In ‘The Overwhelmingness’ the pages of a floral calendar mark time. In a series of single sheet works on paper, the inner emotional turmoil of loss, and political despair is represented in works like ‘Toxic Unmaskulinity’, ‘Spiralling Out of Control’ and ‘Increasingly Anxious’.

Karen Finley observes “This work responds to the events and conditions of the world while navigating the pandemic. The emotional uprising, the fatigue and contemplation express the internal struggles, the absurdity and policy of a world in chaos. There is the war, climate change, and the mask politics.

Painting words and phrases with black ink on found images act as an exclamation as resistance. My words perform as graffiti, as protest by altering over the subtext of the underlying message. This alteration of messing up the information is inspired by the playwright Joe Orton who would remove books from the library and then scrawl messages on covers and pages. In my work at times the words bleed into the background, or the cursive design handwriting gives an emotional urgency and absurdity to the statements.”

I don’t know if I really see her words as performing as graffiti, I do like how her words performing though. There’s a touch of Julia Maddison about them, in the attitude, in the way they just hang there in the air of the gallery and hint at things, invite interpretation and it is about the way the pages are torn, the way Karen Finlay paints what she has to say, and as is almost always the case in here in this gallery, the way they talk to the work of Jonny Green that can be found in two of the gallery’s other rooms.

Jonny Green’s latest pieces have been jumping out from internet pages in the days leafing up to the opening, they don’t disappoint in the flesh – “New Art Projects are delighted to present our first solo show by Jonny Green. For his most recent series of paintings his starting point was news from a Polish friend in 2020 that the Polish government had started to introduce draconian laws that designated ‘LGBT-free zones’. He took three society portraits by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) of women depicted resplendent in their finery and painted them as men. Each painting was then given a Polish name with a specific meaning Leonek- (Strong as a Lion), Ondrey (Manly) and Gerek (Ruler with a spear)”.

Jonny Green at New Art Projects, Hackney, London E8, Sept 2021

“When making these paintings Jonny Green has used a combination of digital collage and artificial intelligence to re-gender these sitters. However, he has intentionally avoided satire and he has struggled to make his sitters sympathetic and avoid any sense that they may appear ridiculous or funny. The resulting pictures look right and natural and appear to exist as society portraits that co-exist with and within their age”

And they do work, they look and feel very very painterly, they feel right, they don’t feel funny, they very easily could have been seen as making fun or being funny, they are playful, they could be seen as politically playful, they are fine pieces, impressive pieces, they ask a lot about then and now, they ask questions about then and now. Actually they are fun, the whole show, both shows, both of the artists, they’re both saying lots but they are both kind of fun… (sw

New Art Projects is at 6d Sheep Lane, Hackney, London, E8 4QS.  Just by Broadway Market, not far from the Regents Canal and a stone’s throw from Beck Road. Both shows are on until 20th October. Actually the Kate Belton paintings from the previous show are still up as well – ORGAN THING: Adam Hennessey, Kate Belton, two very fine art shows at New Art Projects, Hackney, London…

Previous New Art Projects coverage

Do click on an image to enlarge or to run te fractured slide show….

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