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Installation view at the Whitechapel Gallery. Leonor Antunes: the frisson of the togetherness (C) Nick Ash

Leonor Antunes: the frisson of the togetherness

14 January 2018 Katie Da Cunha Lewin

In this commission for the Whitechapel Gallery, the Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes has filled the room with sculpture of varying materials in order to reimagine the space of the gallery.


Installation view at the Whitechapel Gallery. Leonor Antunes: the frisson of the togetherness (C) Nick Ash

The title of the exhibition comes from a comment made by Alison Smithson, one half of the famous Smithson pair who defined the theory of brutalist architecture.  The husband and wife team most famously created the Robin Hood garden estate, one of the most iconic buildings of utopian architecture. Alison Smithson’s comment about the ‘frisson of togetherness’ was about how young people identify with one another through style, feeling some pull towards others who look like them; in Antunes’ response, she explores what this ‘frisson’ might mean now, as we move through this enigmatic space.

Though the quote that titles the exhibition is taken from an architect, Antunes’ response is definitively eclectic, incorporating architecture, sculpture, craft and informed by spatial theory. Antunes has gained fame through her sculptures made with a variety of materials, incorporating objects, hangings and ropes into a complex geometry that rethinks the layout of the room. For Antunes, the context of her work is extremely important. She often creates her work in response to each room, meaning that they are in dialogue with their surroundings. She researches the history of the room and explores its dimensions; in the case of this space, she has used the skylight in order to light portions of the sculpture, lighting others with individually designed lights in others.

Though some of the designs of the sculpture may look like repetitions, Antunes has carefully crafted each part of sculptures differently, so that no two points are the same. This hidden uniqueness encourages viewers to peer closely at each part of the room as they move through it. Antunes describes – in a video on the Whitechapel website – how she wanted to break the symmetry of the room, not through making walls, but through sectioning off areas. In doing this, the work begins to feel like a collection of ideas, breaching the uniform space so that it becomes something new viewed from different perspectives.

Interestingly, Antunes often incorporates the work of other artists within her own. In the past, she has explored the work of artist and activist Ruth Asawa, architect Lina Bo Bardi and designer and architect Greta Magnusson-Grossman. In this exhibition, she has looked at the work of Mary Martin (1907–69, UK) and Lucia Nogueira (1950–98, Brazil) who both lived in London, though at slightly different periods. Martin was a sculptor who studied at Goldsmiths and the Royal College of London. Nogueria worked across many forms and in various media, including in video and sculpture. Here, Antunes responds to their work by replicating a drawing by Martin in cork and linoleum, and by including selected wire jewellery made by Nogeuria. The jewellery by Nogueria is particularly interesting, as each individual piece has been created through a single wire, bent into various shapes. In feeling this ‘frisson’ with other people, being ‘with’ other people means to traverse space and time, and in more diverse ways. Antunes encourages her audience to see important interrelationships that include intellectual and theoretical influence.

Though Antunes sculptures are enigmatic, by spending time exploring the room, and reexamining the space as you move through it, they actively alter what it means to be in the gallery space.
 
Leonor Antunes: the frisson of the togetherness is at the Whitechapel Gallery until 9 April. Free entry.
 
 
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