with Wells Fray-Smith
‘I’m inspired by visual patterns, and the way that humans have tried to make sense of the world, with ideas like horoscopes, and the relationship between objects and belief that we have about them, and the actions we perform on or with them.’
Listen to full interview here:
I’m Candida and I work mostly with sculpture and performance to explore the unreliability of memory. And I do that often with fragmented storytelling. I’m inspired by visual patterns, and the way that humans have tried to make sense of the world, with ideas like horoscopes, and the relationship between objects and belief that we have about them, and the actions we perform on or with them. For example, rubbing a statue or hanging a horseshoe. I’m particularly interested in the female experience in relationship to these ideas.
What are you showing in The London Open 2022?
I’m showing a trellis work which has a floral motif, and a sculpture of a unicorn sitting on a swing. The work’s inspired by a long fascination I’ve had with medieval unicorn tapestries, and the transformation and endurance of the mythical creature. As a symbol, the unicorn traverses different cultures and times. For example, it’s present in Hindu, Chinese, Greek cultures, and Christian Middle Ages. According to Barbara Walker, who’s someone I refer to quite a lot, it started as a Babylonian and Egyptian animal, depicting the seasons. In the British Coat of Arms, it’s alongside a lion, and they’re said to represent the sun and the moon.
Your work is often rich with layers of symbolism that reveal overlapping, contradictory and sometimes complementary ideas about how objects or things have been used, venerated, or invested with meaning. How did this work originate, and can you speak about your research into the symbolism?
This specific work is inspired by The Unicorn Rests in a Garden (1495–1505), a medieval tapestry that’s in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In the Middle Ages, the unicorn became a metaphor for Christ, whilst a Pagan myth suggests that the wild beast can only be captured by a virgin. It’s symbolic of purity and chastity, and yet it also has this great phallic symbol, the horn, which Barbara Walker says is yearning to be placed in a maiden’s lap.
The tapestry was thought to be a wedding gift, and so the taming of the unicorn is perhaps a symbol of devotion. Or I see it perhaps more as control and dominance of marriage, and the loss of virginity, symbolising the belief that is a shift from childhood to adulthood. Nowadays the unicorn in pop culture is symbolic of magic, innocence and heteronormative femininity.
In my work, the swing is a symbol of happy childhood pursuits in the garden, and the unicorn sits conflicted, forlorn, lost, still, trapped in this kind of archaic, repressive, enclosed garden. The trellis I’m showing is, of course, a boundary: the enclosed garden. The enclosed garden was known as hortus conclusus in the Middle Ages, which was intended to suggest the purity of the Virgin Mary.
The wall and therefore my trellis imply impenetrability. The decorative piece that’s hanging on it is inspired by Baroque architectural decorations. It combines my ongoing interest in the hand motif as a kind of means of communication, guidance and fragmented bodies. In this case, it’s really trying to communicate and break away this garden fence, this boundary.
Watch Orbit Within the Echoes at Nocturnal Creatures, Whitechapel Gallery, July 2021 here:
Works in the exhibition:
Floral Gesture, 2022
160 x 110 x 20 cm
200 x 260 cm
Mixed media; cardboard and ceramics with wood, fabric and rope
140 x 50 x 45 cm
Candida Powell-Williams (1984, London, UK)
2011 MA Sculpture, Royal College of Art, London
2009 BA Fine Art, Slade School of Fine Art, University College London
Selected exhibitions: Tilt Shift: Shadows of the Seasoned Sun, Southwark Park Galleries, London (solo) (2022); Nocturnal Creatures, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2021); The Gates of Apophenia, Bosse & Baum, London (2019); Command Lines, Void Gallery, Londonderry (2019); Lessness, still quorum (performance), Serpentine Galleries, London (2018); Boredom and its Acid Touch, Frieze Live, London (2017); Tongue Town, Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo (2017); Cache, Art Night Associate Programme, London (2017); PIC performance festival, Melbourne (2016); Coade’s Elixir-an occupation, Hayward Gallery, London (2014)
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, 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.