A giant floating ear. A unicorn. A mathematical formula. Liam Gillick’s third solo exhibition with Alfonso Artiaco Gallery in Naples has the hazy feel of slipping in and out of a dream state—and that’s exactly the point.
The poetically titled show (“It should feel like unicorns are about to appear a.k.a. Half Awake Half Asleep”) features a series of new wall works by Gillick and takes its inspiration from the artist’s own 1997 book, Discussion Island/Big Conference Centre.
In the book, Gillick’s characters are described as existing in a half-conscious state, but it’s not as disorienting as it might seem: during moments between waking and sleeping, the characters experience the clearest perceptions of their personal and political surroundings and the abstract concepts that frame contemporary life.
Here, Gillick translates that literary sensibility into artworks that allude to both the scientific and the imaginary realms. A series of colorful abstract wall-based works make up the core of the show. These works reference the industrial shapes of vents and cooling fins that fill our built environment. Mathematical equations appear on the walls alongside these.
The equations, we are told, relate to the formation of spoken words or the mathematics of speech. Both the vent-like works and the mathematic equations seem to allude to the structures and systems of the contemporary world, which most people are barely aware of.
Meanwhile, surrealistic dream-like representations of solitary ears and mouths, based on comic book illustrations, appear here and there, as do three circular text works that appeal to a sense of chaos: “There should be no equilibrium.” “Some structures should disintegrate.” “Confrontation with past desires should be accepted.”
It’s difficult to put a finger on the logic of these works’ relationships to one another—which seems to be the point. Gillick is tossing up references that don’t quite adhere, allowing for—as in moments between waking and sleep—the sensible and the illogical to bleed into one another.
And in the gallery’s final room, the exhibition fulfills its title promise: a unicorn appears, or at least the medieval graphic of one. Still, the imaginary beast feels just out of grasp. The mythical unicorn is inverted, almost like a hallucination—or as, the gallery phrased it in a statement that captures the essence of the show: “existing like a visual afterimage.”
See more images from the show below.
“It should feel like unicorns are about to appear a.k.a. Half Awake Half Asleep” is on view at Alfonso Artiaco through October 24, 2020.
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