The Zabludowicz Collection in Chalk Farm epitomises North London poise; calm, classy, understated. This young contemporary art space is housed in a 19th century Methodist chapel along the Prince of Wales Road. Grand Corinthian pillars guard a tall neoclassical portico holding the entrance to number 176 – its surprising contents hinted at by a construction-site sign on the street reading ART →. Inside, ornamented white walls, dark wooden benches and rounded stained-glass windows betray the former church interior. It was converted in 2007 to become a testing ground for artists and curators to create new work and site-specific exhibitions around the collection of prominent London art philanthropists Anita and Poju Zabludowicz.
The Zabludowicz’s growing collection has its roots in the early nineties, when Anita and Poju – she a Newcastle art historian, he a Finnish-born British business magnate – were inspired by MoMA’s High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture to start supporting up-and-coming British artists. Taking Charles Saatchi as their example, the Zabludowicz’s have long since joined the upper ranks of the British art world. Anita, who leads the couple’s philanthropic art endeavours, has supported the Tate, Serpentine, Hayward and Whitechapel galleries and has grown the couple’s own collection to include over 5,000 works by 500 artists, predominantly from Europe and North America. She believes in fostering the practices of young, unestablished artists – sometimes picking them up straight out of art school – and the old-school system of patronage that involves committing early, helping artists grow and supporting them ‘for as long as possible’.
This praiseworthy collecting strategy has impacted the careers of renowned artists like Keith Tyson, Ryan Gander, Gillian Wearing, Ed Atkins, Elizabeth Price and Isa Genzken, many of whom were beautifully brought together last year in the landmark exhibition Zabludowicz Collection: 20 years. Also included here was Andy Holden, who created some of his most ambitious work after receiving the Zabludowicz’ prestigious Annual Commission in 2013 (new work by Holden is set to go live on ARTUNER later this week). Besides offering artists large-scale opportunities at pivotal points in their career, the Zabludowicz also gives smaller commissions to a wide-range of junior artists, showing their creations through dynamic six-week rotations. The current resident is James Ireland, presenting oddly behaving industrial materials that remind me more than a little of the work recent Turner prize-nominee Michael Dean showed at South London Gallery recently.
Currently alongside Ireland’s small, quirky display, is the expansive group-exhibition Emotional Supply Chains, curated by permanent curator Paul Lukraft, who saw in the collection’s works created since 2000 a recurring concern with the construction of identity in the digital age. Made up of work by 17 international artists, including four new commissions, Emotional Supply Chains reveals the human, emotive aspects of digital technologies. Cleverly titled, it draws a parallel between the globally splintered nature of modern-day technological supply chains and, in Lukraft’s words, ‘our pluralistic identities as formed by shifting interactions with the images, objects and experiences that we are exposed to’.
The show opens with an installation impossible to ignore both for its sheer size and oddly prosaic contents. Simon Denny’s (New Zealand, 1982) installation The Personal Effects of Kim dotcom displays the brash taste of the dot-com-bubble millionaire and founder of content-sharing platform Megaupload through replicas of the possessions seized from him by the US government upon his indictment in 2012. Denny’s decontextualisation and appropriation of these objects – that are ‘his’ as much as the content Kim hosted on his website – addresses questions surrounding authenticity, appropriation, (virtual) ownership and the continued power of objects to root our identity in the physical world.
Following Denny’s work, much of the show feels profoundly poetic, with an overriding amount of video-based pieces conjuring contemplative visual narratives that vacillate between the romantically alluring, comically absurd and jarringly dystopic. David Raymond Conroy’s (1978, UK) commission constitutes a humourously self-conscious meta-investigation into the ethics and sincerity of his own art making while on his Zabludowicz residence in Las Vegas. A stunningly colourful video-piece by Korakrit Arunanondchai (Bangok, 1986) explores Eastern vs. Western identity through spiritual Buddhist iconography collaged with the unsettling effects of globalisation, commerce and cultural tourism. The Thailand native’s arresting visions sink into my mind just as I myself sink into the exceptionally comfy beanbags placed in front of the large plasma TV displaying the artwork. Another strong curatorial thread is the scrutiny of what it means to be a woman in the internet era, ranging from Aleksandra Domanović’s unsettling representations of female bodies violated by popular science-fiction technologies to Ann Hirsch’s personal accounts of her teenage experiences in mid-nineties chat rooms.
With its depth and complexity, it is difficult to keep sight of a prevailing sentiment for Emotional Supply Chains; hopeful or despondent, celebratory or lamenting, pleasant or sinister? Yet this heterogeneous instability adequately reflects the disparate ways in which we locate and present ourselves emotionally and ethically, both in the digital and physical worlds. If anything, the exhibition suggests that since the 2000s both art and technology have perpetually mirrored the emotional turmoil, moral doubt and personal conundrums that have, and likely always will, characterise our multifarious, volatile, fluid sense of self.
Emotional Supply Chains is on display until the 17th of July. James Ireland’s work can be seen until 12th of June, after which Victoria Adam takes over.
The Zabludowicz Collection is free of entry and open to the public Thursday through Sunday, 12pm-6pm.
176 Prince of Wales Road