Nana Wolke, Wanda’s at Nicoletti, Vyner Street, East London – Need to do a little bit of tidying up before the year ends, a touch of catching up before we put things to bed and start thinking about the art to be made and explored in 2023, although this show at the last gallery still standing down East London’s depleted Vyner Street does actually go one until the end of January so it could well be your first port of call in the new year.
Nana Wolke’s show did actually open on a filthy night back in November. Heavy rain, wind and a grim Thursday evening when very little beside the show at Nicoletti was happening in terms of art, any sane person would have just stayed in, but there is a feeling that these things should be supported, that effort, however foul it maybe out there, should be made. Gone are the days when any given East London Thursday would have offered a dozen or more openings, we need to support those still hanging on (or indeed those trying to inject new life into a dying East London art scene). Vyner Street is a sad place at the best of times, in weather like this the old street is just depressing. Thankfully there is a crowd for the opening night, unfortunately the weather is so awful that pretty much everyone who has made the effort is crammed inside the actual space, all gathered together in big coats, wet groups of people, most have long since forgotten about the art on the walls and are gathered in front of the very blue paintings making it almost impossible to actually see the much of the work on the walls. It looks interesting, large blue, mostly blue, large paintings, big bold paintings, they look exciting, or at least interesting, pushing past the gossiping groups is proving a tad impossible though, black looks and sharp elbows, good to see a packed gallery on such an awful night, looks like a second visit on a less crowded day is in order though, pushing through is proving a touch unpopular with the chattering crowd however politely it is done…
“Wanda’s is the first solo exhibition by London-based, Slovenian artist Nana Wolke at NıCOLETTı, London. Comprising a new group of paintings and a film installation, the exhibition derives from a study of the Westway Roundabout in North Kensington, London, where the artist invited taxi drivers, actors and performers to participate in a series of happenings staged in the adjacent car park and football pitch. The resulting artworks, weaving observed daily rituals and scripted fiction, zoom in on the effects that the experience of inhabiting transitory spaces (and observing the scheduled, rehearsed and gradually predictable activity within) have on conceptions of desire and time”.
There was no real sign of the installation on the opening night, or on the Saturday afternoon afterwards or indeed anytime since 9the show has pulled me back a number of times now), no real sign other than a series of intriguing computer screens that are turned to face the wall. Shame really, there’s a lot of culture connected to the Westway, that Clash graffiti, the high rise brutalism of it all, Grenfell of course. There’s been lots of music, art and history made under and around that elevated road, the killing jokes and the hawkwinds the blow underneath it – the people, the faces, the deals, the landlords, and yes the taxi drivers and their garages. The taxi garages, something that has always been a big part of Vyner Street of course. The paintings themselves reflect some of this, lots of this (hopefully we’ll catch the installation piece before the show ends, unless of course that was it? The screens facing the wall, was that it?).
The paintings are big, they’re bold, they’re blue, petrol blue? A cold blue? Ultramarine observations, film stills? “Working from footage and photographs taken during the aforementioned happenings, Wolke primed her new paintings with a mix of gesso and construction sand to create a granular surface that evokes the aspect of low-quality images taken with high ISO, which on photographs generates an impression of grain, also known as noise. The artist then worked through thin layers of oil paint, only using a limited number of hues, including ultramarine blue, yellow, magenta and Cadmium orange. Applied ‘straight out of the tube’, the intensity of these colours recalls the artificiality of digital imagery, as well as the saturated lighting of film sets”.
Oh the stories that could be told about times under the Westway, of people, gigs, junk stalls, riots. Yes, a transient place, transient spaces, people, ever evolving, moving on and there is that feeling instantly in Wolke’s paintings, in her big bold works, in her stylisation, in that blue, that ultramarine blue with the occasional flash of lemon yellow, a set of painted red nails. It doesn’t really say Westway, it could be anywhere in London where those old caves (those railway arches) are, where those cafes and taxi repair shops are, where people live and work in the reality of it all, and yes it is voyeuristic, these paintings are voyeuristic. Those red finger nails, the overweight men in what look like football shirts, certainly not players, waiting for something to kick off though? Rangers maybe? Old Chelsea heads? London calling to the imitation zone, Forget it, brother, you can go it alone. I like these pieces, this collection, I suspect thy really need to be seen as one body of work, one strong statement all together, the entire experience, all that blue, all that ultramarine (except for that one with the yellowy eye), I like this technique, I like how this all works, I like these film stills. I like this…
“Through this technique, Wolke’s works reflect upon the conflation between feelings of shame and desire when looking at these spaces of transition. Colliding linearity and circularity, fixed and moving images, the artworks on display also address these kinds of spaces in relation to the specific temporalities of painting and film, implementing successive procedures of assembling and editing to interrogate the alternative understandings of time they produce”.
Is the Westway a ‘non-place’? I’ve always found it to be a very definite place, a strong place, a place full of life, full of character, full of characters, it was a place to people watch back in the early 90’s when we lived and worked over there, a great place to just sit and listen to people, to the tales of Tom Vague, the stories from the Hall Of The Mountain Grill, the sense of JG Ballard’s Crash, the encounters with Nik Turner on his roller skates, the slight wanting of a riot of our own, the punk rock squats hanging on, the constant drone of the traffic above you in places like the Subterania, Iain Sinclair’s cave network in full affect. An ever evolving place yes, must be a fifty year old place by now? The Westway has been there since the early 70’s, part of the fabric of the people and the place now, been there fifty years now, as have some of the inhabitants – the cafes and the social clubs were great places to just sit and listen to people in Ladbrook Grove.
Actually, as much as the Westway is very much a West London thing, this show really could just as easily be about East London’s Vyner Street (or Clare Street or…), it could be about the time spent sitting on that beautiful corner in that (now knocked down) gallery, the tales told by the 1950s shoe model who loved to come in and tell us how she knew the Twins and how lovely they were, of Rod Stewart who did the respraying in the taxi garage at the top of the road, Terry Two Vans doing his afternoon deals outside the pub, the fish guy on his pushbike, the stories from back when the fancy restaurant was a butchers and the blood really did run down the street, all the things that went on in that ‘non-place’
“Indeed, Wolke’s focus on the Westway flyover reflects her long-term interest in what French anthropologist Marc Augé called ‘non-places’: these spaces on the edge, both spatially as located on the outskirts of cities, and temporally as being active while most are asleep. Often joining together the edges of other spaces, non-places such as the Westway flyover are also reminiscent of the apparently infinite lineups of blocks built along highways in Ex-Yugoslavia, where Wolke grew up. These are places with which we are not expected to develop a relationship of our own, places whose identity fades under functionality. As Augé explains, the ‘non-places’ are aimed at serving the purposes of modernity, that is, facilitating the flux of people and the circulation of goods at the fastest pace and in the greatest quantity. As a result, these places threaten to drown our own identities into anonymity; we pass by but do not inhabit them”.
I do like this show, I do like the colour, or is it a lack of colour? The powerful use of colour, the portrayal of life, real life, real people, real situations all bathed in blue, I do like these people, or I;m curious about them, the taxi driver football hooligans, the red nails and the engagement ring…
“Wolke applies this logic of interface and threshold in both the composition and display of her works. In Wanda’s, the specificities of the ‘non-place’ are conveyed, for instance, through codified imagery that subsumes the identity of Wolke’s subjects under societal signs, such as branded items or pieces of clothing. The artist also focuses her attention on the transitory moments occurring before or after a situation, conceiving her paintings through close-ups and crop-outs that invite viewers to recompose what slipped out of the frame. This is made evident, for instance, in the fact that neither the main subject of the exhibition – the Westway Roundabout – nor its main character – Wanda – is fully revealed in Wolke’s paintings. It is only in the film that the flyover appears, alongside the shy yet charismatic leader Wanda. Titled after its main protagonist, the film unfolds as a narrative showing Wanda driving with her cohort to meet a crowd gathered like a religious assembly in front of the car park, in which a choreographed ritual ensues while taxi drivers engage in a sweaty football game on the pitch above. Presented on a screen turned against the wall, the film itself refuses to let us in and is, not unlike the paintings, being made accessible only through its contours”.
Oh look, there are many layers here; East, West, people, places, fragments, tales, takes, bites, glimpses, our gaze in the gallery, the artist’s gaze, this is a fine fine exhibition, something of substance, there’s depth here, there’s tales in these painting. There’s a lot more here than a first look reveals, than a first take gives away. You need to spend time with these paintings, you will need to go back, let the ultramarine blue swim around your head for a bit (and it will if you let it, do let it in, do take the time). Nana Wolke has something here, an understanding that goes way beyond West London or brutalist concrete or taxi drivers or ultramarine tubes of paint. (sw)
Nicoletti Contemporary. You find the gallery in the middle of the street, 12a Vyner Street, London, E2 9DG. The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, 11am – 6pm. Nana Wolke‘s Wanda’s runs until January 28th 2023.
Do as always click on an image to enlarge and run the slide show…