by Dilpreet BhullarJul 20, 2022
What value does the world of myths hold for the people of the 21st century? If the artefacts from an age gone by, delicately sculpted out of materials like clay or terracotta in the hands of makers, are the manifestations of a sliver of time? The UK-based sculptor, Clementine Keith-Roach, with her creations revisit a fragment of time, which even if seems distant is a continuous reminder of the origin of life - through the mythological narratives. Bespeaking a belief and ritual, the sculptures hint towards the sense of belonging to the era of myths, reconstructing the past in the present.
The recently concluded exhibition, Mythemes, at the art gallery Ben Hunter in London saw a wide display of sculptures by Keith-Roach; to give an instance: the fragmented body parts including arms, hands, feet, torso, embracing the vessels. The sculptural art carries a mark of domesticity to subtly lead the conversation on boisterous labour and shared burden. The caryatids and sphinxes are not to be mistaken as the pantheon of the ancient gods and goddesses, which have determined the sacred thread of human life. The sculptures are delineated as a way to echo the events such as Lactating Madonna and the Deposition of Christ. Moreover, in the wall-mounted relief, the fragmented figure is held by a multiplicity of hands against a surface dotted with the remnants from her studio: the repurposed and reconfigured spolia finds space in this sculpture.
The British artist is aware of the restrictive nature of myths, the assemblages of part-objects in the hands of the sculptors are “mythemes” - the composite units of narrative – which tread the many paths of time and space to constantly refashion its meaning under the new light of the day. To add complexity to the conceptual thought of the artist, Christopher Page in the text accompanied by the art exhibition raises a pertinent question, “What if our own architectures of thought are themselves mythological worlds built from the fragments of the old?”
Mythemes followed the exhibition Labour at the same gallery. Interestingly, for both the exhibitions Keith-Roach found terracotta vessels that bear the mark of the user and carry a tinge of antiquity. The human limbs holding the vessels are carefully painted to reduce the difference that lays between the patina of old urns and the newly casted limbs. The coming together of the two periods – past and present – is recognition of the existence of the world before the current times.
Ben Hunter, the director of the gallery, in an interview with STIR, mentions, “Keith-Roach has a strong visual language which resonates through both exhibitions. Found terracotta vessels, casts of the artist's body and subtly painted trompe l'oeil surfaces are all hallmarks of her uncanny sculptural practice. In both Labours and Mythemes, the artist incorporates elements of relief alongside her vessels. With the latest exhibition, we see an expansion of Clementine's practice and the viewer encounters fragmentary bodies, which bear the weight of her vessels, supporting them like caryatids.”
The hands are the symbol of both acceptance and reciprocation. The labour that goes into accomplishing the moments of recognition and sharing involves hands. The clay art sculptures by Keith-Roach as part of the two exhibitions Labours and Mythemes carry a palpable representation of the hands. As a close eye cannot escape the presence of the hands in the works of Keith-Roach, Hunter acutely mentions, “The casts of hands are central to many of the sculptures and often appear supporting the vessels in Mythemes. Along with legs, breasts, feet and arms, these body casts are immaculately painted to echo the surface of the vessels, bringing them together as one. The sculptural forms and the process of painting suggest interesting relationships between the past and the present.”
The urgency to produce new often turns blind to the historicity of the object and its historical value. However, the works of Keith-Roach offer hope of a lineage that runs across the time-periods. Driven by individualism and competition, the 20th century was once seen as the end of human life. However, the survival of mankind despite the ecological disaster reaffirms the importance to keep the fragment of the past close by to compose the new mythological assemblage or as the exhibition by Keith-Roach suggests – ‘mythemes’ .