The ultimate appearance may be very different, but there are very strong correspondences between the work of Vivian Suter and Athanasios Argianas, whose concurrent exhibitions opened at London's Camden Arts Centre last night.
First off, there’s the prominent presence of natural forms. In the case of Argianas these are crystalline and crustacean, most specifically in the bronze-cast mussel and oyster shells and the iridescent bismuth crystals which feature in his sculpture, video and sound installations. In Suter's case, the shapes and colours of her overgrown garden in Guatemala feed directly into vigorously executed paintings. Suspended unstretched from ceilings and piled on floors, these lushly coloured canvases transform Camden’s galleries into an immersive jungly maze. But—as an opening night in-conversation between the artists and Art Review’s editor-at-large Oliver Basciano also revealed—what they also have in common is that in each case the animal, as well as the vegetable and the mineral, plays an active and often unexpected role in shaping these distinct bodies of work.
There’s a clue in the title of Suter’s show, Tintin’s Sofa, with Tintin being one of the artist’s three Alsatian crossbreeds (the others are Bonzo and Nina). When her studio was devastated by a landslide during Hurricane Stan in 2005, Suter took the decision to work with the forces of nature. Fittingly, her canine companions often act as impromptu collaborators, leaving muddy paw prints across the surfaces of a number of the show's paintings that Suter deliberately leaves lying face upwards in her garden once she has finished working on them. Whether she decided to bring one specific work embellished with a spray of possum urine is not known.
Argianas’s cat Diamantis has also acted as an occasional creative assistant, with her recorded purr serving as the source of the constant "A" tone that drones throughout Pivoting Music (for cat purr waveform in A) and strings (2019), a new composition for the cello, violin and viola. The stray from the streets of Athens also features on the limited-edition record Octopus (2019), both in his purr and on the album's cover, curled up in a clam shell.
Earlier this year the helpful feline also extended her creative scope when she provided Argianas with the raw material for a sculpture, gifting him a pair of fish heads and an invoice from a nearby restaurant playfully shaped into a ball. These were then encased in epoxy resin to become Prism (Gatto) (2020), with a companion piece Prism (Urchin) preserving a shard of plastic, formerly used as a protective covering by a sea urchin, which the artist replaced with a more environmentally friendly piece of shell. Perhaps such benign and fruitful exchanges between nature and culture can offer a wider message of how we should be co-existing with the natural world.