White Cube is pleased to present ‘Raft’, an exhibition by Rachel Kneebone at Mason’s Yard, London. The porcelain sculptures and drawings featured in the show focus on themes of transformation and metamorphosis, and the material manifestation of these fluid physical and mental states.
Responding to Théodore Géricault's essential theme of the agony of physical existence, Kneebone probes the arc of human life: birth, growth, change and death. The title of the exhibition alludes to Géricault’s monumental painting The Raft of the Medusa (1818–19). A high point of French Romanticism, the painting depicts a moment of grave crisis with desperate bodies cast adrift following the wreck of a naval frigate. Kneebone’s reference to Gericault’s painting, however, goes beyond specific iconography and instead cuts across space and time, invoking contemporary concerns such as the perils of migration, the tragedy of displaced persons, but also hope in the face of despair.
Kneebone’s work is resolved through a process of creative exchange between herself and her material, between decisive acts of modelling and the elements of chance that are bound up in working with porcelain. ‘To disregard control of the material means setting things up to unfold as they will, rather than making things happen. This enables me to work beyond my limitations,’ she has commented.
In Kneebone’s sculptures, compositions emerge and dissolve into undulating masses of modelled clay. Recumbent limbs stretch out into the surrounding space in different directions, with vegetal forms interwoven and conjoined. In each, a single, smooth orb sits in contrast to these dense and intricate parts, as if anchoring the whole and forestalling collapse. While the sculptures are related through repetition of form and scale, marked compositional differences occur, these often being the outcome of the porcelain absorbing and integrating the variable tensions, splits and collapses acquired during the firing process.
Kneebone has chosen a deep blue colour for the gallery walls so that the sculptures, framed by this dark expanse, seem to be emerging from or sinking into the mud or seabed. In this way, the new work Quill (2021) appears fluid in its essence, an assemblage of elongated tendrils winding into a sculptural relief that extends and reaches outwards across the gallery wall.
In the ground floor gallery, a single large-scale sculpture, Shell (2020) hangs suspended from the ceiling. No longer bound to wall or plinth, it exemplifies the artist’s concerns with motion, weightlessness and transformation. An assemblage of cascading interwoven forms, delicate flower wreaths extend and writhe around its core, its spools of ribbon barely holding it together. Kneebone has commented that Shell ‘feels like a free form, or free-falling dissolve of form, almost like a vapour [...] an unfolding or an unravelling’.
As with all of her work, the forms of Shell exhibit a contradictory directionality, and in doing so, create a tension between its mass and its fractures and between light and shadow. Both rising and falling, Shell contains both ornate detail and areas of emptiness, so that the work is poised between its own internal resolution and potential dissolution.
Kneebone’s new series of drawings echo her process of making the sculptures, the building and removing of partial, connected and extended figurative lines. Raft I (2020) features a continuous wheel-like pattern of conjoined limbs, freely emerging as the artist rotates the paper while she draws. ‘It’s a shared way of looking, an active looking at and through things; line and shape and form and suggestion, hints or glimpses to follow, bring out or rub away. A movement to fuse things and create new form from a blurring or dissolve of boundaries,’ she has stated.
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