Marking her first exhibition with Hauser & Wirth London with a body of new works, artist Lorna Simpson’s Unanswerable features new and recent paintings, photographic collages and sculpture. Continuing the artist’s pioneering approach to conceptual photography, which features powerful juxtapositions of text and staged images, often bringing into question the nature of representation, identity, gender, race and history, the show is a fitting reintroduction to Simpson’s work for a broader audience, and one that marks the continued impact and importance of her practice today.
While Simpson’s early work in photography continues to investigate the often complex languages and signs of race and gender, contemporary politics and history, and the overarching thematics of American identity and expression in the contemporary landscape, her work has expanded considerably, moving into realms of expressive painting and collage that blends her more historically familiar practices with new modes of abstraction and gesture. Here, for instance, themes of natural elements appear as a recurring metaphor, particularly that of ice and the cold of the natural environment. The artist has created a body of sculptural works as glistening ‘ice’ blocks made of glass and, in one instance, an oversized ‘snowball’ made of plaster, on top of which a small female figure perches precariously.
This fusion of materials and iconographies, between manufactured environmental elements and the female body, creates a mixture of unstoppable natural forces with that of modern social dynamics. Simpson alludes to “an unstoppable force that gathers momentum with the potential to slip out of control” in her description of these ice blocks, and her works, in conversation with her explorations elsewhere in the show, pulls in interpretations of both movement and stagnation, a dual metaphor that serves her interests in contemporary American dynamics well.
In further works, like 5 Properties (2018), Simpson examines the points of conflict and contrast between her selected sculptural elements, using the plinth display as a technique for a broader examination of the combinations and reflections of various imageries and their meanings. In the piece, a sculpted bronze head rests on top of copies of Ebony and Jet magazines and another block of glass ‘ice,’ again using the natural element as a way to both introduce the thematics of both freezing and expansion to broader historical elements, always grounded by the body and its referents.
For the body remains a central element in Simpson’s practice, particularly in the references to both expansion and contraction. Hers are figures constantly at the center of various interplays of force and freezing, and her focus in particular on the black body, and its place at the center of so much of American political struggle and upheaval, gives her pieces an additional urgency and importance. Diving into the interplay of nature and humanity, Simpson’s work seeks to uncover new ways of thinking through conflict, and perhaps ways of stepping outside the continuum of human history to solve its problems.
The show is on view through April 28th.
— D. Creahan
Lorna Simpson: Unanswerable [Exhibition Site]