ORGAN THING: Painter Juliette Sturlèse and digital artist Marjan Moghaddam at East London’s Ankka Kultys Gallery, two rather contrasting art exhibitions…

Marjan Moghaddam

Marjan Moghaddam / Juliette Sturlèse – two Exhibitions at Ankka Kultys Gallery, East London (April 2023) – There’s two very (very) contrasting exhibitions happening right now at the always stimulating (and more often than not rewarding) Ankka Kultys Gallery, my natural inclination (or maybe my unashamed painterly bias) takes me straight to the big back space, the main part of the gallery, the heart of things and the canvases hanging on the clean white walls back there. Straight into the empty (save for the paintings themselves of course) gallery space (I find I’m trying to avoid the annoyance of opening nights more and more these days, opting instead for the peace and quiet and hopefully just me and the art rather than people cluttering up the space with their cheap wine and cheaper talk that almost always happens and happens way too loudly right there in front of the art we’ve all supposedly come to see). Straight for the big paintings, the work of French artist Juliette Sturlèse, a new name to me. Once again again there are TV type monitors set up in the front area of the gallery, there’s a couple of screens fixed up on the wall, there’s something very bright moving, something very sharp happening on both of them but, as much as whatever is happening tries to grab my attention first, it is the subtle colour, the emerald greens and the sky blues of Juliette Sturlèse’s paintings that call first.

Juliette Sturlèse

Paris-born Sturlèse, we’re told, is currently based between Berlin and Sheffield, she’s sharing gallery space with Iran-born digital artist Marjan Moghaddam, although it doesn’t really feel like they’re actually sharing the space, it doesn’t really feel as if there’s any kind of conversation happening between the work of the two of them, it doesn’t feel like they’ve been intentionally put together, it really doesn’t feel like something is being said here in terms of the two of them having shows at the same time in the same space although you can’t help but contemplate the evolving nature of art and the function of a gallery or a curator, way too obvious to point out the contrast of the old and the new. I rather like that these tw oshows are hapening in the same place at the same time.

Juliette Sturlèse, born in 1989, is, in these terms, a relatively old school artist. Sturlèse is a proper painter, her paint is subtle, a touch sensual, kind of subdued and at the same time bright, playful maybe? That bit of artificial turf that you don’t really notice as first, the light-hearted mention of a mouse. The paintings are subtle, not sure how much of the “freshly cut summertime grass” or the “wet soil underfoot” (that the gallery statement talks of) I’m actually sensing, not sure if her “deftly manipulated colour and light to channel subconscious sensory experience” is really working for me? I’m really wanting to connect, really trying to engage with what are essentially gentle paintings, trying to find something in the greens, the greys, the pale pinks and blues, in the abstract forms that are kind of hinting at something like landscape. I don’t know? I do like it, I think I like it?  I think I like these paintings. And I do like this space, I like the hang, the curation, the gallery and yes I would say Juliette Sturlèse’s paintings are more than worth your time, that the photos, neither ours here on this page or the gallery’s own (on their website), tell you little and do little her justice. It certainly is worth you going. I’m just not that excited, the work isn’t quite grabbing me personally, she isn’t quite igniting me. Yes, it does feel kind of nice in here surrounded by them, but nice is never really much in terms of art, nice isn’t really enough here is it? I am trying, I’m spinning around, and crossing the room, back and forth, I’m not sure if I’m really feeling that little mouse that was supposedly playfully running through the grass, not sure Juliette Sturlèse’s paintings are really doing that much for me? I’m not sure? i would say go though.

Juliette Sturlèse

On the two screens mounted on the wall in the front space of the gallery there’s the bright white light and the hot shiny digital art of Marjan Moghaddam. I’m still not sure about relatively small TV sized monitors, the kind of thing the average person would watch television at home on, I’m still not sure about relatively small TV sized monitors in an art gallery environment. Yeah, I know, it isn’t cool to question these things, you may well argue that doing so says more about me than it does about the art, the artist or the gallery. I still find standing in front of a digital monitor in an art gallery way too cold, I really really don’t find it in any way engaging. I could surely view the art at home? I could do it on my phone sitting on a train, I could do it pretty much anywhere. Yes sure, you do (thankfully) approach things a little differently in the formal atmosphere of an art gallery, but no, it was made on a screen, it was made on a monitor, on a computer, there isn’t anything physical, there’s no texture, there’s no direct contact, there’s no intimacy, no real one to one conversation, there’s always a screen between the artist and the viewer, a wall – never intimacy, no warmth. I desperately need the breath of paint, the dirt of wood, the flaws, the smells, I can sit in front of my computer screen and explore digital art in my own time and my own space, I just don’t need to be in a gallery (if it excites me I can share it, or share the link, I don’t need to stand in an art gallery). Yes, I know, this is not the party line, I know that to say this is not the cool thing, that art is now in the realm of Web 3 gatekeepers and this is the future and all that, I know my opinion is not on-trend, I know we’re all suppose to embrace all this brave (not so) new digital world, that even Nat has NFTs now for gawd sake! I know that I’m way out of step and that I really do need to get with the program and see how splendid the emperors new clothing really is, that saying this exposes me as a working artist totally utterly out of touch. I’m going to say it anyway, digital art n a standard size screen in a formal art gallery doesn’t excite me, it doesn’t move me, it doesn’t do anything to engage me, and yes as I said last time I was in this particular gallery for that excellent Sasha Styles exhibition a month or so back, I am a damn Luddite and I do love my loom and I still think four is three too many to be working and there needs to be a riot, pull down those screens and hang a great big oil painting (okay, that’s a little drastic but but but I surely don’t need to come out and be in a gallery, if this is Web 3 and the future we can access it all at home)

And now I’ve said all that there is something intriguing about Marjan Moghaddam’s art, there is something compelling, if it was up on YouTube or Tik-Tok (or the gallery’s own website) I would indeed have the time and space to be far more inclined towards it, to be far engaged. Marjan Moghaddam’s art is (strangely) compelling though; the bright (bright) colours, the movement, the cycle, the repeat – it is very compelling, it does demand you watch it all go round again (and again). I’m still feeling detached though, like I’m little more than an observer, a mere onlooker. It is demanding I watch the cycle just one more time though, I’d happily have this running on repeat at home for an hour or two, I kind of feel I’d revisit it many times in my own time in my own space, I just don’t need to be standing there in an actual gallery like I do with a physical piece of art.

Marjan Moghaddam

“Since 2016, the Iran-born digital artist Marjan Moghaddam has developed #Arthacks, a mixed-reality series expanding on the power and poetics of the glitch within the global art economy. Building on the artist’s decades-long practice that integrates world-building and digital embodiment, #Arthacks takes aim at the financial heart of the art world: its fairs. Devised in real time within the three-day framework of each fair, Moghaddam’s #Arthacks are made visible through augmented reality (AR) technologies. The technicoloured anthropomorphic beings disrupt the logics of the art world through their feminist and activist interventions”. 

Yeah, okay, I guess we can see that the pieces playing on the screens are indeed some kind of comment on art fairs, but who really cares that much about art fairs? There are so many thing to make art about, some many subjects to dance or around, who cares about art about made about bloody art fairs or indeed the cold-hearted global art economy? Who needs it? Especially in a gallery that feels, without being disrespectful to what has consistently been one of London’s more rewarding galleries of recent years, like it really is part of that global art economy? A gallery that is part of that art fair world rather than any alternative?  Yes there are the comments about Iran and what’s happening to the brave women in the one piece, references to what’s happening to ordinary people in that somewhat broken country right now, it is a little lost in all the visual noise of the unrealness of it all but that is powerful once you do see it, far more powerful than comment on the nature of art fairs surely?

Oh look, I don’t know, it says here (in the gallery statement on the show) that “from New York to Basel, Miami Beach to London, Moghaddam disrupts the economic and social operations of global art events with her augmented posthuman creations. Taken together, Moghaddam’s #Arthacks speak to the artist’s adept integration of glitch aesthetics, meme culture, and AR technologies to centre urgent political movements within the often depoliticised atmosphere of contemporary art fairs” – but then does she really? Disruption? Really? Did I miss all these global art events being disrupted? Pretty sure Frieze London conservatively happened as it always does, pretty sure Miami went on with no disruption, did I miss the reports of disruption to the global art economy? Hey, I liked the art, I stood and watched the cycle of all three pieces several times more that I would have expected myself to do but really? Disruption? As much as I liked the art, as much as I’d happily watch again on a screen here at home time and time again, disruption? Has she really disrupted anything?       

Marjan Moghaddam

I do like that she’s signed each piece as any artist would sign their paintings, a little thing but it might just be the most significant thing here, it might be the one thing that does connect the pieces to the physical gallery. Not sure if I’ve ever seen a piece of digital art signed in such a traditional way like that? It might be a little thing but it is worth mentioning and it might just be the biggest thing of all? Here’s a little more from the gallery statement –

“Presented in Annka Kultys Gallery’s phygital space, Moghaddam’s most recent series of #Arthacks—For Freedom Part I (2022), For Freedom II (2022), and The American Hush (2022)—are located within real and imagined art fairs. The artist borrows from footage of the fairs shared online as well as conjuring speculative art events with the popular text-to-image AI tool, Midjourney. Within these interventions, Moghaddam’s distorted and hallucinogenic 3D CG figures, which the artist refers to as Chronometric Sculptures, take over sales booths and blackjack tables, even utilising the polished concrete floors between gallery outposts as their own personal runway. Often set to remixes of the Persian protest song Baraye by Shervin Hajipour, Moghaddam’s #Arthacks bring the activist potential of art to the realm of mixed-reality”.

I don’t know, colour me cynical, wipe the smile off my face, I’ll try not to sneer at the idea of a “phygital space”, both shows were interesting, I would certainly say it was worth your time if you happen to be in East London. Neither show really did massive amounts for me personally, but then I’m not sure if 2023 has really offered up a gallery experience that has massively moved me or excited me in some really personal way yet? Sasha Styles has probably come closest who her beautiful paintings of digital code (digitla code of poetry), or maybe it was Tricia Gilman’s most recent work? Maybe tomorrow’s show will do it? Whatever tomorrow’s show is going be, not quite given up yet… (sw)

The Annka Kultys Gallery is at 472 Hackney Road, Unit 9, London, E2 9EQ. No longer up those stairs above that shop on the main street, you now need to go around the back through the red gates to the small industrial estate behind the shop space now, the gallery is to your left at the back in the dark of the far corner. Both the Marjan Moghaddam and the Juliette Sturlèse exhibitions are on until April 22nd 2023

As always, do click on an image to enlarge and see the whole thing or to run the slide show…

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