Curated by Borbála Soós and Stella Sideli, Tenderpixel’s current group exhibition is the sensual delight I had hoped for from a show entitled Tropical Hangover, but it is also intellectually provocative. Swallow, a short film by Turner Prize winning artist Laure Prouvost greets you upon entering the gallery. In an interview with Whitechapel Gallery, Prouvost rather ethereally explained that Swallow “aims to show the taste of the sun”; in it, shots of nymphs submerged in idyllic pools are punctuated with short, sharp intakes of breath. Prouvost’s meditation on pleasure – the film is dripping with erotic imagery – also has a surreal quality, with shots of a fish stealing the bathing women’s raspberries from the shore, and it’s fair to say so does Tropical Hangover more broadly.
Works by Salvatore Arancio are scattered throughout both the upper and lower gallery spaces. Employing a number of different media, Arancio’s sculptural ceramic pieces reference organic and fantastical shapes, and appear as if emerging from the depths of the brilliant blue floor of the gallery. Arancio’s practice explores the aesthetics of the relationship between science and nature, and he frequently draws inspiration from nineteenth century botanical and geological illustrations in his work. His short film, And These Crystals Are Just Like Globes of Light, which is shown on a retro box monitor which for many will evoke memories of a childhood television set, and comprises images of crystals and Arancio’s ceramic works amongst shifting psychedelic animations and amateur footage of a crystal lined cave. As the monitor is only slightly raised from floor level, I didn’t actually fully appreciate the film until I viewed it later at home on the artist’s Vimeo account; perhaps this was a fault of mine and the curators are encouraging the viewer to engage with the levels of the gallery and watch the work from a seated position on the blue painted floor.
Suzanne Treister’s prints, part of her HFT (High Frequency Trading) The Gardener body of work, occupy a wall in the basement gallery space. These are displayed almost as if they are a collection of certificates and use botanical prints to reference companies in the FT Global 500 Financial Index. Treister gives these works a detailed fictional narrative depicting the history of their creation by banker-turned-artist Hillel Fischer Traumberg (HFT). Printed in the accompanying press release for the exhibition, Treister explains,
“Hillel Fischer Traumberg (b. 1982 London), a high frequency algorithmic trader in the city of London, experienced a semi-hallucinogenic state one day whilst staring fixedly at the High Frequency Trading graph patterns illuminating the bank’s trading room walls. After several such experiences Traumberg got the idea of experimenting with psychoactive drugs”.
After serveral such experiences, we are told, Traumberg began to explore the ethno-pharmacology of plants from which these psychoactive substances were derived. Making use of Gematria, the Hebrew tradition assigning a numerical value to each letter of the alphabet, he calculated the numerological equivalents of the botanical names of these plants; and through cross-referencing these values with companies in the FT Global 500 Financial Index, he has eventually produced the prints displayed. The fictional narrative progresses to see Traumberg develop a fantasy of himself as a kind of techno-shaman who, assisted by a successful art dealer, goes on to sell his works back to his fellow bankers and some of the corporations featured in his art.
This complicated backstory, which has taken at least a handful of readings for me to fully comprehend, is “a kind of reversal of the order of things”, explains Treister. Rather than the expected scenario of a wealthy banker developing an interest in art collecting, HFT becomes a producer of art: an artist thrown to the outskirts of society. Through this body of work Suzanne Treister reflects on the idea that artists, both real and imagined, have tapped into divergent ways of both seeing and being. The feeling of such divergence from the norm is definitely felt wandering around the eclectic artworks of Tropical Hangover.
In another part of the exhibition, the chroma-key blue floor beautifully offsets Zuzanna Czebatul’s resin works referencing Monstera Deliciosa, a tropical plant native to the rainforests of Mexico often used as a reliant and indestructible houseplant. This modification to the gallery space, with the floor painted blue especially for the Tropical Hangover exhibition, allows a further element to unfold online. The floor of the gallery functions as a special effects screen for Rowena Harris’ film After Attenborough which can be viewed on Tenderpixel’s website. The work presents a digitised, post-produced, idea of nature through utilising images appropriated from the 90s BBC Two documentary The Private Life of Plants. Harris’ work intelligently explores the obstacle that artists who create three dimensional work face: a flat digital image is most often relied upon for the dissemination and reception of the artworks online.
Located on the famous Cecil Court, round the corner from Leicester Square station, there is no excuse for you not to take some time away from your office desk and explore the sweltering jungle inside Tenderpixel, which will be there until the 4th of March. This is an oasis, and an intriguing one, right in the heart of London.