Vauxhall’s Gasworks opened yesterday after a significant redevelopment in excess of £2m. Half came from the Arts Council and the rest from an array of different sources, including famously some of its alumni and Turner Prize winners and nominees. The freehold is now their’s —something allowing for the gallery to have a permanent home and a key limitation in how the enterprise used to be run. In gaining full ownership of the property the frontage has been greatly smartened up and seemingly expanded and the spaces inside have been remodelled and significantly improved.
To reopen the gallery South African Kemang Wa Lehulere has been selected to exhibit in his first solo UK show. As exemplified in the recent Saatchi show, Pangaea 2, the artist uses relatively cheap and easily available materials like many of his SA peers but what he saves in production he makes up for in theory; complex juxtapositions abound. Wa Lehulere incorporates commentary on the 1913 Natives Land Act that ultimately lead to the abomination that was apartheid with a forgotten piece by an American playwright and giant sized postage stamps from expired countries whose very existence has been refashioned by time.
It’s the last of these which make for the most visually arresting, the blackboards have been built up on the wall and chipped away in situ leaving a dusting of tiny chips nestling on the floor. Apart from the physicality of the pieces you begin to better sense their place in context to the whole of the exhibition. Old suitcases and mass-produced china dogs, some lined up standing erect, other already smashed on the polished concrete lie around the two rooms with living grass cultivated from an exiled journalist’s grave… there’s a lot to navigate.
Though children today are taught on screens it isn’t hard to think back to a time when blackboards were used more commonly to put a concept across or teach a lesson. The impermanence of these surfaces, the ease with which the content can be wiped clean is all the more evident in many of Wa Lehulere’s works. Texts have been redacted, deleted in their entirety and one board just presents a zig-zagging line of chalk dust. It leaves you wanting more. As does the show itself, it’s a strong debut and we can look forward to a larger exhibition as his star grows.
Once Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery opens in the area in a couple of weeks time it will be a case of being able to hit two birds with one stone and reestablishes Vauxhall as a premier arts destination.
http://www.gasworks.org.uk/exhibitions/kemang-wa-lehulere/ until November 8th