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Tiona Nekkia McClodden, Bermondsey (2024)

Tiona Nekkia McClodden

14 February – 24 March 2024

Dates

14 February – 24 March 2024

Location

White Cube Bermondsey

144 – 152 Bermondsey Street
London SE1 3TQ

Through the suspended, speculative frameworks of A MERCY and DUMMY, McClodden interrogates the critical activation point bridging the conditions of witnessing and intuiting, mercy and subjugation, enlisting metaphorical devices to explore the endurances of being human.

A MERCY | DUMMY

Marking the artist’s inaugural solo show with the gallery, White Cube is pleased to present ‘A MERCY | DUMMY,’ an exhibition of sculpture, installation and painting by Tiona Nekkia McClodden. Spanning two discrete bodies of work, McClodden takes two pivotal works of literature as her starting point to explore notions of interiority, performativity and violence.

Borrowing its title from a 2008 novel by Toni Morrison, A MERCY is comprised of a series of hand-painted steel head gates – utilitarian devices used to restrain and direct livestock in preparation for inoculation or slaughter. Contemplating their dual capacity to soothe and facilitate brutality, McClodden draws parallels with Morrison’s novel, set in late 17th-century colonial America. In the narrative, a mother employs a brutal act of mercy, seeking to protect her daughter from the same violence that she herself endured. The head gates metaphorically embody the paradoxical nature of finding mercy within finite frameworks of violence.

The artist’s use of headgates as a medium originated from research conducted in preparation for her 2019 New York solo exhibition, ‘Hold on, let me take the safety off’, where McClodden installed a fully functional painted cattle chute in the centre of the gallery. The research behind the exhibition occurred alongside her process of receiving a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) when she arrived to this body of work in relation to Temple Grandin, an animal behaviourist and autism activist renowned for pioneering more humane practices for guiding and restraining livestock. For her 2023 solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel, McClodden exhibited a series of head gates and focused the show’s conceptual framework on the slight bend in the gate at the opening, which envelops and cradles the neck of the animal – assimilating this attribute similarly to Grandin, as a point of mercy. Suspending notions of capture and care, the head gates articulate the brutality of being alive, serving as a psychological landscape to which the artist can relate.  

Acquired from European and UK-based manufacturers in various states of use, the wall-mounted head gates exhibited in the North Gallery are structurally imposing, each weighing between 150 and 350 lbs. Their brutal form stands in marked contrast with the American utility McClodden has previously worked with, which the artist notes are more aesthetically refined and less robust. McClodden considers the works as paintings, foregrounding their uncompromising silhouettes of levers and chains through a process that involves first stripping the devices of their original paint via rounds of sandblasting, then hand-cleaning the surfaces with acetone and priming them with black metal wax, giving the head gates their first tonal shift. This process lightly hardens, providing a textured grip on which to paint. Following this, McClodden applies a finishing coat of matte paint, preserving the device’s brutal form while simultaneously revealing the austere minimalism of the object’s abstract contours – lines and planes that retain the imprint of its original utility, now bearing the mark of the artist’s hand. ‘This one-to-one engagement of hand painting the object allows me to have a relationship of the cartography of the object,’ the artist notes, ‘I remember each one and have the memory of the objects in my hands.’ The gallery for A MERCY hosts a soundscape featuring actress Noma Dumezweni.

Centred on McClodden’s extensive study of the ‘suspension of disbelief’ – a term first coined by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge to describe the willing concession of critical logic to accept implausible fictive scenarios – the second body of work, DUMMY, presents an immersive installation in the form of a one-act play that sits as an ‘arrested scene’, featuring a leather dummy voiced by actress Sophie Okonedo, as the core protagonist. 

DUMMY draws reference from The Blacks: A Clown Show, the 1958 play written by novelist and playwright Jean Genet. The installation takes cues from the playbook’s introductory paragraph, in which Genet proposes a scenario wherein a symbolic white figure must serve as the focal point of address. In the case that Black spectators are present, white masks are to be distributed. ‘And if the Blacks refuse the mask,’ Genet writes, ‘then let a dummy be used.’ McClodden flips this prompt on its head by making the dummy the main protagonist in her play.

Embodied in this exhibition as a 1930-era leather ‘grappling dummy’ – a specific variety modelled on the human image and intended solely for absorbing impact – McClodden challenges the stage by inviting the audience to step directly on it, disrupting a forced perspective to explore an alternative means for identifying with the aesthetic object. ‘After sitting with this dummy in my studio’, the artist reflects, ‘I started to think about where the dummy’s voice or agency would lie and if it had an interiority […] an inner critic’. Figured as the recipient of traumatic impact, which is retained deep within the psyche, the dummy is regarded by McClodden as an extension of her inner self, who likewise examines the profound projective relationship that individuals impart onto objects, personified here in the grappling dummy, which assumes the imaginary role of an adversary upon which to enact acts of violence.

In the 9x9x9 gallery, three leather dummies perform the same monologue, utilising three different states of being: Melancholic Restraint, Wounded Rage and Defiant Pride. McClodden’s dummies – vintage leather models made between 1930–50 that the artist repaired, hand-dyed and shined – engage in a dialogue with a series of leather hide paintings. These paintings draw on the silhouette of the masks originally featured in the Paris (1959) and New York (1961) presentations of Genet’s play. In the creation of the paintings, the artist utilised white greasepaint in the colour of ‘CLOWN WHITE’, the same paint applied in theatre to project the whiteness of an actor’s skin on a stage. The greasepaint on the leather exhibits the same bright retention, enhanced by the addition of baby powder, resulting in a clay-like texture that corresponds with the photographic image. Incorporating subtle alterations, McClodden creates a modification of the original masks to reaffirm their historical reference to African masks.

Through the suspended, speculative frameworks of A MERCY and DUMMY, McClodden interrogates the critical activation point bridging the conditions of witnessing and intuiting, mercy and subjugation, enlisting metaphorical devices to explore the endurances of being human.

Tiona Nekkia McClodden (b.1981, Blytheville, Arkansas) spent her formative years throughout the American South. Trained as a filmmaker, McClodden worked largely within the punk and club scene in Atlanta before moving to Philadelphia in 2006 and expanding her practice to include painting, sculpture, photography and installation.

Recent solo exhibitions include Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland (2023); Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland (2023); The Shed, New York (2022); 52 Walker, New York (2022); The Triple Deities, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (2021); and Company Gallery, New York (2019). Selected group exhibitions include Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York (2023–24); El Museo del Barrio in New York (2022–23), touring to Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona (2023) and Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, Florida (2023–24); ICA Los Angeles, California (2022); Prospect 5, New Orleans, Louisiana (2021–22); Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania (2021); New Museum, New York (2021); Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2019); and the Whitney Biennial, New York (2019). Other presentations of her work have been on view at MOCA, Los Angeles, California (2017); MCA Chicago, Illinois (2017); and MoMA PS1, New York (2016). In recent years, McClodden has won prestigious grants and fellowships, including the Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant (2022), Princeton Arts Fellowship (2021–23); the Bucksbaum Award, Whitney Museum of American Art (2019); Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts (2019); the Louis Comfort Tiffany Award (2017); and the Pew Fellowship (2016), while running Conceptual Fade, a project gallery and library she founded in 2020 that hosts micro-exhibitions and publications centred on Black art and conceptual practice. McClodden’s film works have been included at the Kansai Queer Film Festival in Osaka and Kyoto, Japan (2014) and the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (2009), among an array of international film festivals and film programmes. Her writing has been featured on the Triple Canopy platform, in Artforum, Cultured Magazine, ART21 Magazine and many other publications.

Work by McClodden is in the permanent collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland; MoMA, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; and Rennie Museum, Vancouver, Canada.

Installation Views

Featured Works

Tiona Nekkia McClodden

A MERCY VII, 2024

Tiona Nekkia McClodden

A MERCY XI, 2024

Tiona Nekkia McClodden

A MERCY VI, 2024

Tiona Nekkia McClodden

The Court I. TRICKSTER, 2024

Tiona Nekkia McClodden

The Court III. SULK, 2024

Tiona Nekkia McClodden

DUMMY [MELANCHOLIC RESTRAINT], 2024

Tiona Nekkia McClodden

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