Nnena Kalu (b. 1966, Glasgow) lives and works in London. Recent exhibitions include: Nnena Kalu: Wrapping, Humber Street Gallery, Hull (2019); TUBE LINES, Tate Exchange, Tate Modern, London (2019); Spectrum Arts Prize, Saatchi Gallery, London (2018); Glasgow International, Project Ability, Glasgow (2018); Spring Syllabus, J Hammond Projects, London (2018); Watch This Space, Wandsworth Arts Fringe, London (2017); Radical Craft: Alternative Ways of Making, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (2017); Capharnaum, Theatre de Liege, Le Madmusee, Liege (2016); Studio Voltaire OPEN, Selected by Cory Arcangel and Hanne Mugaas, Studio Voltaire, London (2015); Dizziness of Freedom, Bermondsey Project, London (2014); The Trouble with Painting Today, Pump House Gallery, London (2014); Epiphanies! Secrets of Outsider Art, St Pancras Hospital, London (2014); Side by Side, Southbank Centre, London (2013); SV12 Member’s Show, Selected by Jenni Lomax and Mike Nelson, Studio Voltaire, London (2012).
Nnena Kalu works begin with collections of small, compact ‘cocoons’ of textiles, thread, and paper, which have been tightly packed in cellophane and tape. With an emphasis on colour and volume, spheres of material have been systematically bound together around a series of armatures constructed from timber and plastic tubing. These structures establish a foundation from which the artist has built energetic and complex installations.
Periods of live installation have come to form an established aspect of Kalu’s practice. Correspondingly, for this new commission Kalu will periodically work in situ at the gallery during the exhibition. Over time, Kalu will continue to add to the dense clusters and layers of her sculptures. Continuously in production, her works reflect the duration, rhythm and process of their making, transforming and accentuating the formal qualities of her everyday materials.
Kalu’s tactile acts expand a dialogue between performance and sculpture, movement and space, and her installations are an extension or expression of her physical actions. The sheer weight of reshaped matter –wrapped, woven, and layered– is a visual inscription of Kalu’s durational process. Her works are a potent materialisation of artistic labour, and centre an important relationship between the body and material form.
Vigorous and sprawling, Kalu’s installations disorganise delimitations of her works as objects, structures or landscapes. Her sculptures cover, extrude into and occupy space: they overwhelm freestanding and suspended structures to create their own, improbable architectures. However, if Kalu’s practice of gathering together materials places emphasis on the aggregative qualities of her work, the resulting sculptures – as traces of her methodologies – equally deconstruct material. Cylinders of translucent plastic and reams of black cassette tape are unspooled in order to bind and be re-bound. In this way, each solid form is in fact an immense unravelled line: a winding trail given substance and volume.
Presented in partnership with ActionSpace.
Supported by an Arts Council National Lottery Project Grant and The Elephant Trust.
With kind assistance from Cork Street Galleries.
30 Old Burlington Street, Mayfair, London W1S 3AR
ActionSpace is a London-based visual arts organisation that supports artists with learning disabilities and creates innovative projects for people with learning disabilities to engage with the visual arts. Their work with high profile cultural organisations has helped to establish a place for artists with learning disabilities in the contemporary arts sector. They aim to make a professional career in the arts a realistic option for artists with learning disabilities.
Nnena Kalu, 2020, Installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Studio Voltaire, London. Photo: Francis Ware.