Nana Wolke16.11.22 - 28.01.23
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Through these gestures, Wolke reflects upon the potential and limits of representation, showing how objects and subjects often only present their surface while denying access to their interiority. In Wanda’s, the artist brings to the fore some of the fundamental components that our gaze projects onto the scenes we are trying to detect, capture and consume: desire, on one hand, and shame, on the other, as we reveal ourselves as predators in this desiring act. Here, the viewer is first and foremost a voyeur, and it is as if our gaze, charged with desire, was returned to us, charged with accusation.