The Chisenhale Gallery in London’s East End is far from Regent’s Park, where Frieze London is running until Sunday, and Mayfair, where many galleries have opened new shows this week. But it’s worth the trek there to catch a solo show by Los Angeles–based artist Nikita Gale before it closes this Sunday.
Accompanied by a just-published catalogue that includes a conversation between Gale and Barbara Kruger and an essay by Hilton Als, the show includes two of Gale’s most ambitious sculptures to date. They rise up from the floor almost all the way to the ceiling, nearly connecting with the rafters, where spotlights are mounted.
Done in hulking concrete, the sculptures resemble cones from certain angles. Upon closer inspection, however, they reveal themselves as interpretations of a spotlight and the beam of light it casts.
“How does something become audible or inaudible? How does something become visible and invisible? How does tension get created through all of this technology?” Gale asks in an interview with curator Amy Jones that is included in the exhibition pamphlet for the show. “All of those materials that influence attention are in plain sight, but they kind of become invisible through what they’re asking you to look at. When a spotlight is pointed at a figure on the stage, it’s telling you where to look.”
Throughout the space are several silver dog bowls filled with water, accompanied by two conical spotlights, as well as a sculpture made of knotted leashes that have been poured over with concrete and embedded with sprigs of lavender. There’s also a 10-meter tall gray curtain that greets you at the entrance. “The curtain obscures and reveals, the spotlights do the same thing,” the artist says.
At various points, two lights in the corner fill the light in space, sometimes yellow, sometimes blue, sometimes white, as a loud sound almost like that of a dog whistle interrupts the silence.
The exhibition takes its title, “IN A DREAM YOU CLIMB THE STAIRS,” from a passage in Toni Morrison’s 1977 novel Song of Solomon, a reimagining of Homer’s Odyssey. That scene is when we first meet the character of Circe, the only character whose name is unchanged by Morrison. “In a way it’s like she functions as this portal, this very direct link between these two stories,” Gale tells Jones.
Gale continues, “In the section of the novel where we meet Circe for the first time you almost feel as if you’ve entered into this other universe, where the logic that’s been applied to the rest of the novel is suddenly suspended. … It’s a nice entry point for contextualising the show; as you enter the space, you have this title in your mind, this sense of being out of place or out of sync in some way.”
Back at Frieze, Gale, in collaboration with Ian Malone, has partnered with BMW and several of its designers to create five custom guitars in unconventional shapes that are named after important women musicians like Big Mama Thornton. She’s been a prior reference point for Gale, who also currently has an exhibition up at her L.A. gallery Commonwealth & Council. The collaboration highlights the relationship between cars and sound, the latter being a primary concern in her practice.
“Investigating the politics of sound and its surrounding,” a wall text reads, “Nikita Gale’s practice enquires themes of invisibility and audibility, recasting the dynamic between performer and spectator. Within the work notions are subverted and destabilized.”