Let me start by saying that this exhibition at Carriageworks is an utter feast for the eyes. Large scale artworks adorn the walls and floors of several huge open spaces. Repetitive colours and patterning fill the vision and only close-up can the full extent and monumental intricacies of the pieces be appreciated. I found the whole exhibition to be visually exciting whilst at the same time calming. How can that be?
Examining the artworks individually; the colour compositions and flow, the structures and forms, the material usage and the spectacular results was very visually stimulating. However, wandering quietly through the vast halls, gazing at these sculptures in this industrial type venue brings quite a feeling of peace. Contradictory it might seem, but that was my experience.
As the exhibition name suggests, the pieces have been constructed over many years and I wonder how many people were involved in putting together these millions of tiny components. I understand that some have been exhibited around the world, over quite a long time, but continue to evolve with new additions obviously increasing their size and complexity.
I thought of the objects as a link between my continent, Africa, and the rest of Europe. Objects such as these were introduced to Africa by Europeans when they came as traders. Alcohol was one of the commodities brought with them to exchange for goods. Eventually alcohol became one of the items used in the transatlantic slave trade. They made rum in the West Indies, took it to Liverpool, and then it made its way back to Africa. I thought the bottle caps had a strong reference to the history of Africa.
Blema, 2006. This wallhanging has the appearance of a thin golden shimmering cloth, badly pinned to the wall. In fact it is made up of thousands of bottle tops, each one pierced 4 times and attached to the next with an individual copper wire twist. A nail, or plug, has been pushed through the wall in strategic places to create this draped look.
In Drainpipe, 2010, we see larger components being put together, still using the same technique of individually wired pieces. These ‘pipes’ are not simply single layers, perhaps filled with something to keep their shape, they are rolled forms with multiple layers of tin-can ends – some very rusty. My mind cannot even begin to understand the weight each one must be.
Some of the area attached to the wall is fairly dense whilst other sections have had the aluminium strips folded so, once connected, they form a metal mesh or net. Once the piece reaches the floor it changes again to something much more robust and heavy.
So, so hard to get good photos of shiny metallic surfaces but you should be able to get an idea and, if this has piqued your interest, google El Anatsui and check out some of the images you find. There are some stunning pieces to view.