Yelena Popova. "Matter As Actor" Group Show

curated by Greg Hilty, Lisson Gallery, London.
3 May – 24 June 2023
27 Bell Street &
67 Lisson Street, London
Artists: Allora & Calzadilla, Dana Awartani, Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen, D Harding, Irmel Kamp, Syowia Kyambi, Richard Long, Otobong Nkanga, Yelena Popova, Lucy Raven, Zhan Wang, Feifei Zhou
Artists across eras and geographies have intuitively or consciously given form to material relationships in a unique way. The artwork is never a given and never an end point, but an emergence. Whether the artist aims to depict the material world or the world of the imagination, the work always lands between the two, characterised both by the precision of its presentness and the enigma of its status in the world. The art object is inevitably an instance of becoming, a contingent confluence of the multiple histories of matter.
On a broader human level, there’s a fundamental tension in our relation to the world which it’s usually easier to ignore in the interest of getting on. Rock, scissors, paper - what could be simpler? Yet the relational game in which these words representing things are invested with shifting power over each other - and the players of the game - signals the multi-dimensionally of our engagements with the world. Anthropologist Tim Ingold perhaps most concisely sums up these overlapping frameworks when he writes, ‘The properties of materials... are not attributes but histories.’
The worldview in which Matter (the whole of the material world) can be seen as Actor (an active force for change, without necessarily implying intent) has been well established for millennia, evidenced in religious and philosophical traditions framed by the relationality of all things. More mechanistic views which separate the human mind from the material world, seeing the latter as something inert to be tamed and used by the former, have held more sway in the age of Western influence over the past few centuries. But such assumptions, broadly challenged through disciplines as wide-ranging as anthropology and physics, seem inadequate to explain both our own sense of engagement with the world, and the world’s self-assertion in the face of humanity’s assumed monopoly on power. The artists in this exhibition come from many parts of the world and critically engage with the materials associated with their respective cultural inheritances. Their work speaks to the challenges as well as the insights of engaging with the material world across, as well as within, distinct cultural frameworks. In giving shape to the conceptual insights of multiple situated knowledge systems, the artists and artworks in the exhibition, spanning both of our London galleries but each given their individual space, attest to the pluralistic grounds of contemporary existence.