Tim Noble Sue Webster Nihilistic Optimistic New London Exhibition

Blain|Southern will present Nihilistic Optimistic, Tim Noble & Sue Webster’s first major solo exhibition in London since 2006, during Frieze week. Featuring six large-scale works, the show builds upon the artists’ sustained investigation into self-portraiture, further deconstructing the relationship between materiality and form which has been so intrinsic to their practice.

Constructed principally from discarded wood, the artists describe these sculptures as ‘street compositions’. Each work appears abstracted or even unfinished as the debris of the artists’ studio — gathered sawdust, wood shavings and tools — lie scattered around the sculptures. A sense of urban chaos is implicit within the construction of the surrounding gallery environment; this is not an isolated white cube space, but one which remains connected to the studio and the streets – to the source of these artworks.

“There was a kind of deliberate choice not to use such recognisable objects any more, and to start fracturing things up – splintering things. So the mind has to wander in a different way, like you’re giving and taking, and it’s as much about the gaps and holes in between.” Tim Noble

When illuminated, a number of the works cast shadow portraits upon the wall; the artists are represented both together and alone, as a unit and as individuals. In My Beautiful Mistake (2012), this light source is poignantly omitted, shifting the focus onto the tentative material composition of the sculpture itself, and its sense of impending destruction.

The exhibition’s dualistic title, Nihilistic Optimistic, responds to the oppositional forces present within these works, and indeed within the artists themselves; the show is at once constructive and destructive, hopeful and despairing. Light and shadow, form and absence, figuration and abstraction all inform one another and exist in a constant state of tension.

A catalogue accompanies the exhibition, featuring contributions by Gustav Metzger, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Jon Savage. In collaboration with The Vinyl Factory, Tim Noble & Sue Webster have also produced a limited edition artwork in the form of a 10-inch record.

Noble, Tim (born 1966: lives and works in London) and Webster, Sue (born 1967: lives and works in London)
Tim Noble and Sue Webster create sculptural artworks that challenge the eye by fusing opposites. What appears to be a nightmarish pile-up of road kill turns out to be a self-portrait of shadows projected onto the gallery wall; scrap metal metamorphoses into copulating rats; a heap of trash transforms into silhouettes of ‘Tim and Sue’ having a drink and smoke, apparently content with the work they have made and in which they take star billing. The sculptures consist of the material, tangible rejects of modern society in combination with ethereal light – they become visible through the combination of two total contraries.

The concept of these shadow sculptures is applied in reverse to their light sculptures: constructions out of computer sequenced light-bulbs that reference iconic pop culture by creating images reminiscent of cliché kitsch tattoos and the tinsel-town arcadia of working-class sea-side Britain.

The artists visually challenge the relationship between the spectacular, the serious, and the entertaining and echo concepts of perceptual psychology in their transformative art. What is considered low culture or a wasteful artifact reveals itself as an entirely different object against what the observer would expect and associate. Our social and economically conditioned information-processing short cuts, which we have learned to apply since childhood, become confused.

The play of shadow and light simultaneously recalls one of the oldest philosophical critiques: Plato’s Cave Allegory: that it is the artist’s responsibility to create objects that can transcend terrestrial life by giving us a glimpse of the metaphysical. Art can exceed the gloomy world in which we live and show us the beauty of what lies beyond – the magnificence of all those things that throw the lesser shadows onto the cave wall that make up our reality.

Notable is, of course, that Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s ‘originals’ are the literal and metaphorical trash of contemporary culture, and nothing like the divine beauty Plato talks about. It should come as no surprise then that the artist duo cite music – in particular Punk – as one of their great influences when it comes to making their art. Noble: “I think anything that’s a bit of a rocket up the arse, anything that kicks against the routine, against the mundane things that close down your mind, is a refreshing and good thing. Punk did that very successfully. It offered a direct and instant means of producing products or things.”

The artists combine form and anti-form to bring about the unexpected, developing new modes of portraiture and abstract art. Webster: our art is “your worst nightmare of what art can be.” However, there is a system behind the consistently confusing or contradictory aesthetic – between what Noble calls “consistently inconsistent”: it is a means to critique what Tim Noble and Sue Webster consider the toxic influences of our contemporary consumer culture and its narcissistic obsessions. The two artists seem like successful alchemists: they metaphorically turn base metal into gold, thereby creating anti-monuments to our every-day reality.

Tim Noble and Sue Webster met at Nottingham Polytechnic, where they both received their BFA in 1989. They began collaborating in 1996 and their work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions internationally.

In 2009, Tim Noble and Sue Webster were awarded Honorary Degrees of Doctor of Art at Nottingham Trent University in recognition of their contribution to contemporary British Art and their radical influence on younger generations of artists. In 2007, Tim Noble and Sue Webster were awarded the ARKEN Prize at Arken, Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen, and the show Polymorphous Perverse (Freud Museum, 2006) was nominated for the South Bank Prize.

Toxic Schizophrenia (Hyper Version) their first permanent public sculpture was unveiled at Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, May 2009. Previously the public art installation Electric Fountain, was exhibited at Rockefeller Plaza, New York, February 2008. In 2009 the Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery selected The Head of Isabella Blow for inclusion to its permanent collection.

Since their first solo show in London, British Rubbish in 1996, Tim Noble and Sue Webster have enjoyed international recognition with solo exhibitions at Rockefeller Plaza, New York, 2008, The Freud Museum, London, 2006, CAC Malaga, 2005, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2004, P.S.1/MoMA, New York, 2003, Milton Keynes Gallery, UK, 2002, Deste Foundation, Athens, 2000 and The Chisenhale Gallery, London, 1999. Their work was included in Statuephilia—Contemporary Sculptors at The British Museum, London in 2008–09 and in the exhibition Apocalypse—Beauty and Horror in Contemporary Art, at The Royal Academy, London, 2000.

Their work is in the permanent collections of the Arken Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen; Artis-François Pinault, France; Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens; The Goss-Michael Collection, Dallas; Honart Museum, Tehran, Iran; Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; National Portrait Gallery, London; The Olbricht Collection, Berlin; Project Space 176–The Zabludowicz Collection, London; Saatchi Collection, London; Samsung Museum, Seoul, Korea; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Publications available are Turning the Seventh Corner, published by Blain|Southern, London, 2011, with texts by David Adjaye and James Putnam. This comprehensively  documents the conception and realisation of the artists’ recent exhibition at Blain|Southern, Berlin, 2011; British Rubbish, an updated survey of the artists’ work from 1996 to 2010 with an essay by Jeffrey Deitch, and new texts by Michael Bracewell and Nick Cave, published October 2011 by Rizzoli, New York; Polymorphous Perverse, a documentation of works exhibited at the Freud Museum, London, providing a fascinating insight into Freud’s theories and how they relate to art practice with critical essays from the distinguished American art historian Linda Nochlin and James Putnam, published by Other Criteria, London, 2008; and Wasted Youth, a survey of the artists’ work from 1996 to 2006 with essays by Jeffrey Deitch and Sir Norman Rosenthal, published by Rizzoli, New York in 2006.

Tim Noble & Sue Webster
Nihilistic Optimistic

4 Hanover Square
London W1
10th October – 24th November 2012
Private View: Tuesday 9th October, 6-8pm

Visit Exhibition Here


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