El Anatsui has called Nigeria his home since the 1970s, lecturing in the art school and exhibiting globally. His most recent works do not stray far from his output from the previous decade and they inhibit gallery walls instead of floors. Essentially they are huge tapestries of recycled and collected metal scraps from drinking bottles.
The artist weaves these fragments together forming huge topographies like shanty towns surrounding and enveloping developing countries' megacities. There are neighbourhoods made with identical cuttings, folds and packaging, then hills and valleys, crevices and undulations depicting other human parasitic attachment to geographical forms. There is order and chaos, colour and hope - there is a referential and actual link to human consumption, waste and recycling; all of this material is a byproduct of commercial branding.
Copper wire is used to sew each bottleneck foil or flattened bottle top lid. The works are strong and resilient and in many cases have been created on such a vast scale as to cover building facades and entire gallery frontages, notably the Royal Academy just a couple of years ago. In the October Gallery the works are smaller, hung behind tables and chairs adding colour and texture to the indoor spaces.
All that glitters is not gold. El Anatsui makes glittering, shimmering wall works, and like medieval hangings there are stories to be read into these forms, maps and patterns; that they are more abstract only adds to the different levels of interpretation. Seeing these pieces is akin to flying into an airport with makeshift settlements encroaching on the fenced off land - they are more than the sum of their parts and yet examining each of those accumulative elements it is amazing based on the scale alone. Workmanship, patience and endurance - qualities not just of the work at hand but a nod to the hardships of the places and people alluded to.
“The amazing thing about working with these metallic ‘fabrics’ is that the poverty of the materials used in no way precludes the telling of rich and wonderful stories" El Anatsui
http://www.octobergallery.co.uk/exhibitions/ until April 2nd