‘Whenever humanity seems condemned to heaviness, I think I should fly like Perseus into a different space. I don't mean escaping into dreams or into the irrational. I mean that I have to change my approach, look at the world from a different perspective, with a different logic and with fresh methods of cognition and verification. The images of lightness that I seek should not fade away like dreams dissolved by the realities of the present and future...’
Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium: Lightness (1985)
In his essay-lecture on Lightness in Six Memos for the Next Millennium (1985), Italo Calvino described an auspicious image for the new millennium as that of ‘the sudden agile leap of the poet philosopher who raised himself above the weight of the world, showing that with all his gravity he has the secret of lightness.’ In this way he identifies the creative leap involved in reaching another level of perception and characterises it as a ‘search for lightness as a reaction to the weight of living.’
Parafin is delighted to announce a group exhibition that brings together five artists who also approach the world from this perspective. The works in this show have the attributions of Calvino’s Lightness. They are nimble, multi-dimensional and metaphorically negotiate concepts of weight, heaviness, reality and the cosmic. In each we are still reminded of our deep primordial relationship to the gravitational pull of the world.
Within Andrew Pierre Hart’s new paintings from his series, The Bass at the Bottom of the Garden (2022), there is a specificity of place. In this place, there is a sense of fluctuation, with shifting foregrounds and horizons. The backdrops in the paintings defy the limits of this world by suggesting an imaginary and unknown place and enticing the viewer to venture into it. The figures in this place have their eyes covered. Their gaze is negated. The viewer cannot read the emotions of these characters. Instead the viewer is asked to listen to the whole image and understand the world that the figures inhabit.
Drama is taking place here, on this imaginative operatic stage of history. In this place, stone has a primal relationship to the world, is witness to man and continues to tell the story. There is a recurring image of patination and acoustic levitation - stones are lifted and suspended by the healing power of sound. Speakers emanate sound waves. In Hart’s work, we are reminded that sound frequencies can potentially be harnessed by medical science. Through listening, there can be healing. The Thirst (2019), We to (2019), The Terrace (2019) and We (2019) have the atmosphere of an abstract, cross-modal sonic and visual space. Within this abstract space, there are ‘deep sites for unknown possibility.’ There is a healing sound resonating from their deep hues and they ask for the viewer to listen.
Tim Head’s drawings, The Furies (2021), evoke the creatures of Roman mythology that would seek out and punish the ‘doers of unavenged crimes’. For Dante, the descent to the centre of the world, where all the weight exists, is the essence of the Inferno and this is where the three Furies are found: in the underworld, in the sixth circle of hell. When they come into view, they are shrieking and threatening Dante. Virgil cautions Dante to divert his gaze away, placing his own hands over his eyes. Through light, minimal but sharp abstract linear form, Head’s drawings evoke furious sound waves, full of existential weight but they also convey the diastolic rhythm of the heartbeat, our ultimate centre of gravity.
Head’s earlier works, Gravitation (1979) and Earth's Gravity (1981), both predate Calvino’s lecture on Lightness and offer a complete contradiction of petrification. Here, the world is not perceived as a stable, solid place. The viewer’s relationship to the imagery is destabilised through his mirror system. Head created an equivalent and speculative space, where what we perceive to be true and know to be true is challenged. The combination of physical space, reflected space and projected space creates an ambiguous experience by activating a psychological dilemma. Tim Head asks us to question what we see. He also asks us to question sight as a singular sense with which to gain understanding of the world.
There is no levity without gravity. Andrea Heller’s new glass works from the series order-disorder transition (2021) give the illusion of lightness, like soap bubbles that could dissipate or pop any second but they are made from a heavy material with a molten foundation. The illusion around their material nature, or their solidity, is called into question. Having solidified from liquid glass, they will continue to be affected by the gravitational pull of the world and warp over time. Two colourful forms lean against each other, in such a way that we are asked to consider their co-dependent relationship. They are solid but there is something unstable and changeable about their inherent nature.
With Heller’s works on paper, solidity is dissolved. Light, abstract forms exude a heavy and changeable atmosphere. Ink bleeds from one form into another. Volumes of colour are built up with a seemingly unstable base or centre of gravity. We are drawn into recognising tangible forms – a breast, a cellular like structure, or a block – yet these forms then yield into abstraction. Some of the works have an unsettling, swaying, ascending motion that evokes longing. But then, in others, we might be given the impression that the form may collapse, giving way to gravity. Each work seems to have an inherent individuality and they play out strategies of form that show a defiance against the principles that define them.
In 2015 Laurence Kavanagh revisited The Star and Shadow Cinema in Newcastle, a well-loved, ad-hoc creative space, only to discover it was being excavated. Amongst the dross Kavanagh found heavy hand-cut stones from Hadrian’s Wall, buried since the Roman era, and also a poster for ’Resounding Silents’, a 21st-century season of 1920s movies. The floor, ceiling and walls in this space had provided surfaces to project film. For Kavanagh's works: October (3.7.2015) (2015), October (24.7.2015) (2015), October (Star & Shadow) (2015), and October (Segue) (2015), he represented the space in absentia by taking graphite impressions of the projection screens and various surfaces that embedded memories, narrative echoes and residua. To carry the story forward, he salvaged readymade images from the films in the programme – a clip of a moon or an eclipse, a cave, broken glass, a blind in a window, the horizon and a sunset – their powerful evocations resonating with him. After reworking the images, he re-inserted them back into the screen aperture previously cut out of the embossed paper. In this way he navigated the relational space between what we make visually of the world and what the world actually is.
Kavanagh’s new work, Memory Map (condensation) (2022), relates to the October series as the embossed paper for this work holds a petrified impression, taken nearly seven years earlier. This time it is of the heavy mirror from behind the bar of the now-demolished cinema. With the visual tactility and resonance of this paper mirror, both the object and the image allow the reflection of a place that only physically exists in the work. This new image also exists as a memory map of a borderline space. The photorealistic rendering of this mirror is seemingly covered in very light, fine precipitation and almost gives way to abstraction. The condensation is a veil between the gaze and the reflected image, the illusion maintained by the relaxed gesture of a hand swiping across its surface.
In her work, Aimée Parrott questions the micro in relation to the macro and the evolving matter of life. In his memo on Lightness, Calvino reminds us of the philosophy of atomisation by Lucretius, in which ‘matter is made up of invisible particles. Emptiness is just as concrete as solid bodies’ and the ‘atomising of things extends also to the visible aspects of the world.’ Within Parrott’s series of new works, it is possible to imagine the swirling of ‘dust in a shaft of sunlight’ that Lucretius describes or, the minuscule shells ‘painting the lap of earth’ or, the threadlike ‘spiderwebs that wrap themselves around us without us noticing them as we walk along.’ On the surface of some of Parrott’s work, fine thread and hand-stitched appliqué play with the parameters of painting. The skin-like cotton canvases are a bodily and metaphoric site that holds the trace of a surgical gesture, time and thought. Traces of previous actions link her works, as a motif in one echoes in a web-like transition in another. They are interrelated and yet part of a greater whole.
The title, All at one point (2021), is a direct reference to Calvino’s short story about how all minutiae and matter used to exist in a single point within the evolution of creation. There are circular traces hinting at the trajectory of a planet in orbit that then shift in scale to evoke a diploid body cell or a reproducing organism. Thresholds are explored between earth and air, internal bodily sensations and the external world or, as in Meiosis (2021), the reflection on the surface of a body of water. There is no fixed perspective and a centre of gravity is evaded. With her work, Inner ear (2021), frottage-like footsteps on the work’s surface leave an impression of a leap into another space, causing a deliberate disorientation, the viewer’s gaze is diverted, evoking the dizzying swirl of weightless dance moves on a dusty floor.
The exhibition has been curated by Louisa Hunt, associate director at Parafin.
Andrew Pierre Hart studied at Chelsea College of Arts (2014-17) and Royal College of Art (2017-19). Exhibitions include ‘Mixing It Up: Painting Today’, Hayward Gallery, London (2021), ‘The Listening Sweet’, Tiwani Contemporary, London (2021), ‘Run the Box’, Guts Gallery, London (2020), ‘Collective Intimacies at Theaster Gates Black Image Corporation’, 180 The Strand, London (2019) and the Royal College of Art Graduate Show (2019). Awards include the Artangel ‘Thinking Time’ Award (2020) and Tiffany & Co. × Outset Studiomakers Prize (2019).
Andrew Pierre Hart is represented by Tiwani Contemporary.
Tim Head (b.1946) is a British artist. He lives and works in London, UK.
Tim Head studied with Richard Hamilton and Ian Stephenson at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1965-69) and then with Barry Flanagan at St Martin’s in London (1969-70). In 1968 he spent time in New York working as assistant to Claes Oldenburg and met leading figures in the Conceptual Art movement, including Robert Smithson and Sol Lewitt. Head first came to prominence in the early 1970s with a series of ground-breaking installations at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (1972), the Whitechapel Art Gallery (1974) and participation in important group shows including the 8th Paris Biennale, Musee D'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1973), ‘Arte Inglese Oggi’, Palazzo Reale, Milan (1976) and Documenta 6, Kassel (1977). Head represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennial in 1980. Recent solo exhibitions include ‘Black Light’, The Garment Factory, Glasgow (2018), ‘Beautiful Weapons’, Parafin, London (2017), ‘Fictions’, Parafin, London (2014), Modern Art Oxford (2013) and Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge (2010). Recent important group exhibitions include ‘Pioneers of Pop’, Hatton Gallery, Newcastle (2017), ‘Post Pop: East Meets West’, Saatchi Gallery, London (2014), ‘Between Spaces’, Centro de Arte Moderna, Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon (2012), ‘The Indiscipline of Painting’, Tate St Ives, (2011) and ‘Signs of a Struggle: Photography in the Wake of Post Modernism’, V&A, London (2011). Head’s work is in important international collections including Tate, London, Arts Council Collection, London, British Museum, London, Leeds Art Gallery and the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Andrea Heller (b.1975) is a Swiss artist. She lives and works in Biel, Switzerland.
Andrea Heller studied at HfbK, Hamburg (1998-2001) and zhdk, Zurich (2001-03). Exhibitions include Kunsthaus Centre d’art Pasquart, Biel (2019), ‘Gathering the Elements’, L’ar(t)chitecture, Kilchberg / Zurich and Lokal-Int, Biel (2017) and ‘Paradoxie des Haufens’, Museum Franz Gertsch, Burgdorf (2015). Group exhibitions include ‘Quiet Bliss’, Kunstraum Medici, Solothurn and ‘Gaze-tracking’, Galerie Bernhard Bischoff und Partner, Bern (2018). Heller was awarded the Prix Maud Mottier, Biel (2019).
Laurence Kavanagh (b.1973) is a British artist. He lives and works in London, UK.
Laurence Kavanagh studied at University of Newcastle Upon Tyne (1994-98). Exhibitions include ‘Laurence Kavanagh: Segue’, Oriel MOSTYN, Wales (2017), ‘March’, Marlborough Contemporary, London (2016), Gallery North and Hatton Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (2016), ‘May’, Marlborough Contemporary, London (2014), Temple Bar, Dublin (2012) and Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2009). Residencies include research fellowship based at Baltic 39, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (2015), Victoria and Albert Museum (2010), Irish Museum of Modern Art (2009). Awards include the Warwick Stafford Research Fellowship (2014/2015) and the MOSTYN Open prize (2011).
Aimée Parrott (b.1987) is a British artist. She lives and works in Brighton, UK.
Aimée Parrott studied at University College Falmouth (2006-09) and the Royal Academy, London (2011-14). Exhibitions include ‘Aimée Parrott’, Mackintosh Lane, London (2022) and ‘Blood, Sea’, Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London (2018). Group exhibitions include ‘Charlie Billingham and Aimée Parrott’, Sid Motion, London (2021), ‘Gaia’s Kidney’, Broadway Gallery, Letchworth Garden City (2020), Hastings Contemporary, Hastings (2020), ‘Platform Y’, curated by Kate Bryan, Platform Foundation, London (2019) and ‘Implicit Touch’, Stadtgalerie Villa Dessauer, Bamburg, Germany (2017).