with Wells Fray-Smith
‘… in the midst of wanting to stand for something and wanting to say something that was close and dear to my heart, I think it was also about letting people have desires. We’re all, in one way or another, sexual beings. This is something that I don’t think necessarily should be excluded from telling stories about black bodies.’
Listen to full interview here:
My name is Peter Spanjer. The core of my work is always based on a question, and I think that question usually comes from either a space of self-discovery, or losing oneself, or turmoil or anything that I’m experiencing at the moment. My work feels biographical, in the sense of being about how I feel about a certain issue, topic or something that I’m currently interested in. It’s about standing still in the middle and feeling everything; allowing yourself to feel whatever it is that you are really, honestly, deep-down feeling. I try to be honest with my work.
What are you showing in The London Open 2022?
I am showing a film called Make Me Safe (2020). It’s a perfect example of me starting off with a question, and maybe the most vital part is the time that it was being made in. It was made in 2020, during the Black Lives Matter resurgence and lockdown. I think it was an overwhelming feeling for me. I make work and try to be as honest and vulnerable as I can be, but also, at the same time, I try to challenge what I’m feeling. This film, for example, deals particularly with the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
It was really important for me to share the sadness and anger that I was feeling. I also had unanswered questions that everyone was asking themselves at the same time. I wanted to reimagine how we may visualise footage or sound, relating to police brutality and relating to black life. It was important to create new images and reimagine the way that we share our bodies, and the way they are perceived by people, in terms of how we are usually represented in the media.
An element which I’ve been working with since quite early on are flowers and the imagery in flowers, because for me they represent and mirror so many things in life. As humans, I wouldn’t say we’re the same as flowers, but there are certain things that just really connect. And being in lockdown, we only had the park that we could go to and walk around in, so flowers really became part of my daily unwinding ritual. Adding that to the video gave it an element of rebirth, of coming out on the other side.
Alongside the flowers, there is also text in the film that solidified the message and really put across what I was trying to say, but in a way that didn’t seem to be necessarily angry. I think, for me, it’s important that people also find their own purpose within the work. Or their own point of view.
You’ve talked about the relationship between text and image, also about pictorialising violence enacted onto black bodies. There’s also a really strong through-line in all of your work about desire, sensuality and sexuality. And that comes into play in the second half of the film, where we do see a figure. I wondered if you could talk a little bit about that undercurrent of desire, as well?
One of the important things to me when I was creating in the midst of wanting to stand for something and wanting to say something that was close and dear to my heart was also about letting people have desires. We’re all, in one way or another, sexual beings. This is something that I don’t think necessarily should be excluded from telling stories about black bodies. Desire doesn’t have to be sexual, but just desire for something better, or desire for whatever it may be, but we all have them. So, I think that’s always a key part in my work.
Work in the exhibition:
Make Me Safe, 2020 Video
Peter Spanjer (1994, Bremen, Germany)
2020 MA Contemporary Art Practice: Moving Image, Royal College of Art, London
2015 BA Fashion Promotion, University of the Creative Arts, London
Selected exhibitions: In Order for it to Change, Screw Gallery, Leeds (solo) (2021); What do you desire, inter. pblc, Copenhagen (solo) (2021); TESTAMENT, Goldsmiths CCA, London (2021); Facing The Sun, Schloss Goerne, Germany (2021); The Tingle That You Feel On Your Tongue, Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, London (solo) (2020); TRANSMISSIONS, Season 3 (online), BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead (2020); Royal College of Art/Slade Graduation Show, Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, London (2020); London Grads Now, Saatchi Gallery, London (2020)
Watch Every Piece of You (2020) (password: redcherry)
Watch Water Blood-n-Bones (2019) (password: waterocean)
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.