with Wells Fray-Smith
‘I’m invested in opening up the concept of an in-between space where identity is fluid along with cultures, their languages and their genders.’
Listen to the full interview here:
My name is Alicia Reyes McNamara. As a Mexican Irish-American and culturally mixed person, I’m invested in opening up the concept of an in-between space where identity is fluid along with cultures, languages and genders. My practice examines the potential of how all things can transcend their own definition and acquire a new meaning or life. My work changed during lockdown. During this period I began a series that started as a place to put my anxieties, but quickly became an investigation of folklore and rituals around mass mourning and healing, in which beings and landscapes mutate and shape-shift, creating personal, imaginary forms of embodiment.
Your work has found expression in painting, drawing and floor pieces. What are you showing in The London Open 2022?
I’m showing mainly paintings and drawings that are inspired by my research on non-binary and gender variance present within Aztec and Mesoamerican culture. After much reading, I focused on Tlazolteotl, the deity of lust, sex-workers, midwives and filth. I was attracted to the idea of rituals that explored filth as something that is inherently generative, that moved past ideas of shame and focused on the growth and the life made through it.
Tlazolteotl is a figure that lies in the in-between. They’re the one that seduces you, but also cleanses you of any residual negative energy that clouds your spirit. They’re known to eat sins, and are often portrayed with the dirt of the filthy deeds left around the bottom of their mouth. This blackness around their mouth is said to be the genesis of life. The decay and rot of any misdeeds is digested and then released as a rich resource back to the earth.
This state of the in-between has been in different bodies of work for you. Forms of bodies undergoing transformation or shape-shifting in some way. How has this process of transformation been important to you? What has drawn you to it?
I think particularly with this body of work, the idea of something that is both sacred and filthy is a place that I find extremely curious, exciting and messy. And I think it’s something that is way more open in a way that others can relate to, that it’s not finite and completely grounded. It’s something that moves and shifts, as life does.
Works in the exhibition:
As They Gaze Back, 2022
Oil on canvas
90 x 115 cm
Belly in the Dirt, 2022
Oil on canvas
105 x 90 cm
Bloom III, 2022
Oil on canvas
50 x 40 cm
Oil on canvas
50 x 40 cm
Oil on canvas
50 x 40 cm
Fallen Light, 2022
Oil on canvas
Alicia Reyes McNamara (Chicago, IL, USA)
2016 MFA Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford
2006 BFA California College of the Arts, San Francisco
Selected exhibitions: Unfair Weather, Lychee One, London (2021); Desire and Anxiety, G/ART/EN, Como (2021); Antechamber, Quench Gallery, Margate (2021); A New Art World, Guts Gallery, London (2021); Conduit’s Call, Lismore Castle Arts, Lismore (solo) (2021); From Within, Niru Ratnam Gallery, London (solo) (2021); For The Many Not The Few, Guts Gallery, London (2021); Somewhere Else for a Little While, Eve Leibe Gallery, London (2020); all that they hold,
Barbican Arts Group Trust, London (solo) (2019); Es y No Es, Kioski Galeria, Santa Cruz (solo) (2018); Nowhere Else, South London Gallery, London (solo) (2017); Bloomberg New Contemporaries, ICA London (2016)
What makes London’s art scene so vibrant? What are the concerns of the next generation of artists? What insight does their work offer in challenging times?
This triennial exhibition showcases a cross-section of the most dynamic artistic talent from across the capital. Established in 1932, this much-celebrated open submission show features 46 London-based artists working across painting, sculpture, moving image, installation and performance.
Since the last London Open in 2018, the city has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, demonstrations demanding racial and climate justice, and widespread questioning of institutions and their structures.
The London Open 2022 traces the ways in which artists have witnessed and responded to these events with resilience and heart. In times of hardship and crisis, and when exhibitions were cancelled and moved online, these artists experimented with new sites of production and means of dissemination, from the kitchen table to the back garden.
The exhibition is loosely structured as a journey from the personal to the social, moving from individual to collective concerns, the cathartic to the poetic, the political and the environmental.
The artists were selected from over 2,600 entries by a panel of experts including collector Maria Bukhtoyarova, artist Shezad Dawood, curator and art historian Christine Eyene, gallerist Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja, with Whitechapel Gallery curators Emily Butler, lnês Costa and Wells Fray-Smith.
Gallery 1, Downstairs
The relationship between our bodies and the material world kickstarts the exhibition. Rafał Zajko‘s wall-based reliefs appear like hybrid beings, processing the gluten found in wheat and barley flour, leaving us unsure if this is for machine or human consumption.Likewise, Madeleine Pledge‘s stretched fabrics and ceramic boots imply absent bodies and their physical role in manufacturing.
Materiality and belief systems intersect in Candida Powell-Williams’ handmade objects. A unicorn and swing inspired by medieval tapestries are fenced off by a trellis, prompting questions about the divisions between what is mythical and real. Alicia Reyes McNamara‘s paintings feature non-binary, shapeshifting figures drawn from various mythologies, from Meso-America to Ancient Egypt, to consider alternative notions of time and embodiment.
Gallery 9, Upstairs
This gallery features works that delve into the impact of technology, algorithms and quantification on our lives. In his series The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free 2019, Ben Yau looks at the parallel rise of Neoliberalism and the CIA’s role in sabotaging the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, bringing together both economic data and declassified documents.
Set in a parallel present reminiscent of sci-fi films such as Blade Runner 2049, The Underlying by Ami Clarke considers the implicit role of capitalism in environmental disaster.
Meanwhile, Rory Cahill and George Mackness offer a walk through a dystopian, corrupted digital landscape of the future, with an immersive soundtrack. They consider: what does a digital wasteland look like, what happens there and what is its afterlife?
Gallery 8, Upstairs
The artworks in this gallery reflect on family, identity and community. Seema Khalique travelled to Bangladesh to photograph two communities of transgender people called hijras. In this behind-the-scenes series, she questions the prejudices they face, revealing the economic hardships they endure alongside the strong network of mentorship and care they create.
Pioneering photographer, curator and writer Sunil Gupta took photographs of his neighbourhood on Walworth Road during lockdown. This work celebrates the increased relevance of our localities during the pandemic, as well as reflecting on the processes involved in created photographic images.
On three vintage TV monitors, Hussina Raja‘s short narrative films look at the subject of migration to the UK from post-Partition India, tracing the continued experiences of displacement and exploring nuanced notions of identity.
The works in the last part of the show focus on our relationship to and impact on the environment. In Agrilogistics (2022), Gerard Ortin Castellvi films in an automated greenhouse, in which the growth of tomatoes, tulips and chrysanthemums is controlled by cameras and sensors, in order to question the future of food production.
Having spent lockdown excavating her back garden, Maria Roy Deulofeu meticulously records each layer of soil like an archaeologist, collecting artefacts and ecofacts, before assembling a kiln to fire hand-thrown urns with the different layers of clay. The process is recorded in a video shown alongside the objects. Finally, a flock of parakeets cast in lead are scattered on the ground in Patrick Goddard‘s Blue Sky Thinking (2019).The parakeet exemplifies a non-native species increasingly common in London parks and hints at a mass extinction event, highlighting mankind’s role in the impending climate disaster.
See the full list of works here.
An illustrated catalogue is available to purchase from the bookshop.
Artists have generously made limited editions to coincide with the exhibition to support the Gallery’s education programme.