Nicole Wassall Unicorns Are Real – James Payne

Nicole Wassall,Fiumano Clase

Nicole Wassall’s latest exhibition, Unicorns are Real, asks us to reconcile logic and imagination. It is a cross-disciplined exploration of belief, myth, science, spirituality, superstition, environmental concerns, feminism, magic, and absurdity.

“Do you know, I always thought Unicorns were fabulous monsters, too!” said Alice, “I never saw one alive before!”

“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the Unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?”

Her works are, at times, as familiar as they are unknown. They are puzzles and conundrums that, at first glance, have their own logic but, on closer inspection, belong to another world entirely. Wassall is a modern-day surrealist and, like them, uses contradictory details to challenge our visual habits, asking us to re-examine our presumptions and create new ones.

The titular Unicorn of the show is an etching of a beast of some kind that Wassall tells us is an actual unicorn (with its own scientific name: Elasmotherium Sibiricum). This relates to the true story of the discovery on the Eurasian grasslands of ‘unicorn’ fossils (in reality, the Siberian unicorn was more like a modern-day rhino). It is this blurring of myths and reality that forms the basis of this show. Myths designed to make us look and look again.

Nicole Wassall,
Nicole Wassall, Pope Joan, Patron Saint of Feminists, 2023 (detail)

Another enduring myth that Wassall looks at is that of Pope Joan, “the only female pope” from the 9th century. Despite her medieval celebrity, most historians now dismiss Pope Joan as a myth, but Wassall sets out to convince us of her historicity by producing a surrealistic take on a religious icon: ‘Pope Joan, Patron Saint of Feminists’. Wassal’s Pope Joan floats over a gold-plated Rome, with a large hole where her reproductive organs would be (Joan was rumoured to have given birth during a papal procession). Her body acts as if it were a see-through portal.

Nicole Wassal, Mysterious Times
Nicole Wassal, Mysterious Times

‘Mysterious Times’, the most peculiar piece in the show, depicts a miniature world preserved under a Victorian specimen dome. A shrunken tableau of trees is created from coral, which is entwined by webs made from COVID-era human hair (the artist’s own). The delicate little Surrealistic landscape is traversed by a lonely golden snail. Curiouser and curiouser.

Unicorns are Real is a joyous ride overflowing with materials and ideas in a dreamlike imaginative world full of paradoxes, contradictions, and myths.

An effortlessly captivating exhibition.

Fiumano Clase, 40-41 Pall Mall, St. James’s, London SW1Y 5JG – 15 september – 20 october 2023, Tuesday – Friday 11am – 6pm and Saturday 12 noon – 4pm All other times by appointment

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