Undercurrents is the second solo exhibition at Ben Hunter by London-based Filipino artist Nicole Coson. The exhibition comprises a new series of paintings and an installation which engage with diaspora, temporality and becoming. For Coson, who left Manila to pursue her fine art studies at Central Saint Martins and The Royal College of Art, this new body of work articulates a sense of exploration and globalisation, reflective of her own desire to establish a sense of belonging from within her migratory experience.
A series of large-scale works on linen are central to the exhibition. Through an intricate process devised by Coson combining conventional print-making techniques, her own body, and strategies of indexical mark-making, she translates the modularity of industrial grade food crates, used for the transportation and storge of food in and around East London, onto large sheets of delicate handwoven linen. This process results in monochrome sequences of tightly stacked rectangular forms; gestural swathes of paint delineate the groves and ridges of the subject. The impressed images reveal the crates’ visual indexes of stark geometric shapes, invoking the Bauhaus architectural tradition that sought to reconcile materiality, design and utility to address cultural and societal shifts. Yet there is a poetic elegance at play too. Wide, sweeping brushstrokes are legible beneath a grid-like structure which, in turn, slips in to a vast, organic pattern.
Upon contemplating the crates’ original purpose as vessels for food, Coson references Ursula Le Guin’s 1986 landmark text, ‘The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction’. Le Guin argues for communal cultivation by privileging the carrier bags in which objects are held and brought to homes, ‘home being another… kind of pouch… a container for people’. That these crates signify the movement of produce to London, reflects the artist’s interest in the journey sustenance (and culture) takes through complex networks of global export and import. Coson asserts that she has always sought to create – or perhaps return – home through food.
Take as an example Untitled, a series of 12 suspended lines in which aluminium-cast Aklan oyster shells are threaded between interlocking metal loops. In Aklan, a Visayan province in the Philippines, these molluscs are cultivated on seaside farms using a hanging method that similarly affixes strings of multiple oysters to grids of bamboo that then dangle beneath the oceanic surface; as they age, the traces of aquatic and temporal difference in the undercurrent are captured and revealed by the rings in their shells. Here, Coson pays homage to Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s Light String series of hanging lightbulbs. The cast shells similarly invoke the passage of time, observing the influence of external changes around the oyster that in turn transform the object.
Within Coson’s practice is a fixation with seriality that seems to allude to Deleuzian repetition – a concept that involves a state of constant becoming informed by difference: each repeated element within her paintings and installations reveals slight idiosyncrasies derived from the process of their creation. Though in previous bodies of work Coson employed a process of mechanical reproduction with her etching press, this new series of paintings relies on Coson’s physical gestures that are left in painterly traces on the linen. By introducing her corporeality into these works, Coson provokes further ontological queries that, considered against Le Guin’s Carrier Bag theory, become preoccupied with home building, sharing and togetherness, wherever one might be. As Le Guin writes, to use carrier bags is to be human, ‘Fully, freely, gladly’. - Marv Recinto