Grace Wales Bonner: A Time For New Dreams @ Serpentine Sackler


Emoji summary: 👁 ⛓ 🌹

I am tired already dear reader. January has been (i think) the busiest month of me LIFE; i feel like i’ve been on a conveyor belt, producing & squeezing. I have only had small chunks where i’ve been able to paint my nails before bed, make sure to moisturise round the sides of my nose, spending weekday evenings at the gym j so I have an hour to reacquaint myself w my body, I take off my shoes and breathe deep at my desk before i start typing - again - again - again. I am glad to be working, i think it is nice & good to lose yourself to or within it all sometimes, nice to disappear beneath production, something cleansing in only focusing on the stuff spilling out of you.

I went to see Grace Wales Bonner’s show at the Serpentine Sackler late last saturday afternoon. I think I’d like to take a minute to kinda ask - why? like, why was this show here? What’s going on @ the Serpentine, specifically @ the Sackler, atm? There’s been a trot of rly q good shows with really good people over the past year & a bit: Arthur Jaffa, Sondra Perry, now Grace Wales Bonner. Who’s doing this? Who’s making these decisions? it’s a bit wild, honestly; half-jarring half-pleasant-surprise. But the politics of the institution hold me back alwayssss; not only the dodginess of the building being so visibly funded by the Sackler family (think big-pharma, prescription opioids), but the Serpentine as a whole is uncomfortably Monied for my liking. I guess i wanted to take a min to say that i like the artists they’re showing recently - rather than the institutional tone itself. But yes, whatever’s going on, more of that i guess? keep em coming bc i’m glad to see shows that are less slick & more pointy elbows, bad gut bubbles, spicedrum&cokeplease.

And of the show; this month, I vibrate through spaces; body like singing bowl // vessel chalice basin cup, i runneth over // dry leaf falling from branch to the ground. I am empty & full at the same time, and leaking leaking -sweating like a bathroom tile things just condense on me & slide off atm. This show matched this feeling - it was like entering perfect room temperature in this way - something that had been contained within my body, held back by the interior surface of my skin, burst out. There were only 2 works by Grace in the show - 2 shrines/altars/cabinets decked with books n tapes n bits accumulated. The rest was a ~curated selection~ of works by a medley of makers - artists, writers, musicians // in sculpture, installation, sound, live reading of text, meditation & ambience. I think where group shows can sometimes feel like a chaotic mixtape (badly blended, everyone speaking at once) and solo shows like a kind of egotism (too singular in their flavour) - this was a new balance i hadn’t felt before. It was even ground with the surface gently on a rolling boil. the same vague flavour, but never monotone, never singular. It was well curated, for sure; because it rested on a good personal level, maybe? Like maybe this was sincere and instinctive. a precarious stability, loose hair bobble.

And of the works, I don’t know how to navigate talking about them, like when you’re first learning a language and you have no clue what the foreign shapes are meant to feel like in your mouth. i haven’t yet got the right vocabulary to articulate what each word/work was bound by. I only have a proximal feeling : I remember i had my hair in a half bun on the top of my head, I was buying a t-shirt in a vintage shop in Angel. As the cashier handed me my change he looked me dead in the eye and said, “you look like baby Krishna” smiled and sighed. It was a weird interaction, but one I’ve clung to quite dearly. I think I am interested in the idea that I could even possibly look like little baby blue Krishna; that it is possible that gods have/had Bodies that could resemble us, that they know what it feels like to be contained by a flimsy skin. I think have always been uncomfortable with the idea of gods having bodies; I have still not completely processed the idea of Sai Baba, an Indian saint who has been reincarnated twice, and another reincarnation is yet to come. His followers eat sandalwood ash out of little clear plastic baggies, and they sprinkle it where they believe his spirit has stepped. They feel his interventions in their banal everyday lives, as they navigate cashing checks and picking up their kids from school, he is very much Present and i’ve always taken that as a sign of its falsehood rather than its accuracy. But i think i am just more comfortable with the idea of gods being abstract concepts, like philosophers or monarchs, distant and not to touch or be touched. I am describing this now, because i think this show embodied itself in a parallel way to Sai Baba, or the weird feeling of being told you look like baby Krishna. Something spiritual, distant, of the astral world and the planets and closer to the sun as it burns; brought into sharp stinging contact with the skin down the front - from the middle of your chest, where your ribs part/join, hard & down towards a soft belly.

I don’t think I’ll process it. Or if i do, i think it’ll take me a while. I just know i was affected or maybe moved. I haven’t ever really felt it before, except in these parallel experiences & approximations, guesstimates. Like how does a stinging feeling, the metallic hum in the smell of rosewater, embody itself in a material aesthetic? how do i even explain that without explaining about the time I saw someone stamping their feet in a front room in Neasden, possessed by a god of fury & rage? Why do i want to say, ‘corporeal… resonance…’ 5 times just to feel the shape of it in my mouth? How do i explain this gap & void being sealed over by a fleshy plug? How do i say sincerely that i had a memory of a spiritual experience in a gallery? I have been spilling over, already, but i left the gallery sweating. overwhelming and balanced - both, touched. this show was a body turned inside out.

A Time for New Dreams is on @ the Serpentine Sackler until 16th February. It has a pretty extensive live program, so deffo check n see what's on. For a full list of works & the artists as well as cute extras pls find the Serp's press release/handout linked here, bc it costs money n that's so rude 😭

a collection of flowers and framed images and shells and tableware all arranged in a shrine on the floor

a stem full of leaves in crispy purple colours, and a collection of beans or stones I cannot tell which

a framed photograph of a Black body with arms up over the head hiding the face and barely lit so that just the arms and the legs and the tops of the feet are visible against no light

a collections of speakers are stacked in a pile

on the floor there is a tiny tiny black and white photo of a black child in a suit jacket is propped up against a ball of brown clay and leaning against the wall