Tauba Auerbach at the ICA

Filed in Reviews by on April 30, 2014

Tauba Auerbach: The New Ambidextrous Universe

ICA

16 April 2014 to 15 June 2014

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It is not often that visiting an exhibition provides the impetus to read a book about physics. For this alone I feel Tauba Auerbach should be commended.The New Ambidextrous Universe features an array of sculptures that, despite struggling to dominate the space provided, are all impeccably well made and visually intriguing. The contrasting colours and ordered compositions in Latch, Knit Stitch and Square Helix feel reminiscent of the diagrams in scientific textbooks while two sheets of wood – cut up and reordered – at a first glance seem to be distorted by water and give a natural balance to the rest of the obviously man made objects.

S Helix is of particular note – a glass spiral presented on a plinth covered in chameleon paint. Exhibited low to the ground the helix is always framed by the plinth (from the viewer’s point of view) – the chameleon paint shifting in tone and colour as the work is moved around. The success of this work comes from its simplicity – the decisions made in its construction and presentation have created something which, whilst obviously static, is dynamic and dependant on the viewer’s interaction.

Despite the sculptures’ success aesthetically, the viewer is left with little direction as to the meaning of it all. Why has Auerbach chosen these structures and processes to create work? Whilst visually appealing, there seems to be a lack of content – after looking at the object the viewer isn’t left with much to think about. The travesty here is that this needn’t be the case.

In the ICA’s words the exhibition uses ‘the scientific principles of symmetry and reflection as a means to hint at an alternate, mirror universe’.

It would be fair to say that, by themselves, the works do not do this. In fact it is hard to think of a way in which interlocking forms and spirals could allude to an alternate universe. The result of this is that the end of the above statement seems little more than vacuous art speak. It is strange that nowhere in the ICA’s introduction to the exhibition is a mention of Martin Gardner’s book The New Ambidextrous Universe – for the influence it has had on the exhibition is quite apparent. Perhaps they feel that selling his book in the ICA’s store is enough credit but ultimately a disservice has been done to the author whose writing has provided the conceptual basis for the whole exhibition – the answers as to why Auerbach is fascinated with these particular shapes and forms.

The book elegantly describes (in a very accessible way) the importance of symmetry and asymmetry in nature; from the left-handed DNA helix that is shared by all life on earth (and the acknowledgement that life elsewhere could be based upon a right-handed helix) to the various spins and asymmetries of fundamental particles – the building blocks of nature itself. The works gain a renewed vigour when viewed from this standpoint. What could have easily been perceived as a simple investigation into materials in fact has a direct relation to principles at the root of nature – their placement on pedestals now seeming all the more apt. These structures are important.

It is simply a shame that the viewer is not given a little more help to reach this realisation. This is not to say we should be spoon-fed, but that if additional clues were given (as well as proper credit to Martin Gardner) then the show would achieve its full potential.

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Peter Vance

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Peter Vance - a visual artist based in London - graduated from Camberwell College of Art in 2013 and is now trying to find his place in the real world. Wish him luck.

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