Both shows currently on at Hayward Gallery – Igshaan Adams’ “Kicking Dust” and Matthew Barney’s “Redoubt” – while very different, are both brilliant with their respective concepts and works. Whenever I visit exhibitions, I visit with two mindsets – one as an artist and avid artgoer, the other as the mother of an autistic son.
Barney’s work has appealed to me for years, particularly the sculptural, film, and drawing components, the focus on biology and mythology, and the use of such relatively unconventional mediums as a skateboard and petroleum jelly. Although this show represents a new direction for concentrating on ecology, metamorphosis, cosmology, conflict, transformation on landscapes, and incorporating metallurgy, we are still treated to a feature-length film and threads of mythology.
The fact that Barney’s film has no dialogue might prove alluring to autistic and neurodivergent audiences, particularly my non-verbal son. Rather than dialogue, Barney employs dance as a language, namely a movement practice known as contact improvisation which has roots in martial arts, sport, and play. The sounds emanating from characters moving through the deep snow and performing various tasks brought to mind certain ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) videos we’ve watched, and the ambient music was calming. The shiny, reflective quality of Barney’s 40 electroplate and copper engraving works in the show will entice my son, but may be too stimulating for those with sensory sensitivities.
While dance is present in Barney’s film, dance is present in Adams’ exhibition title and floating sculptures. “Kicking Dust” refers to a dance from the Northern Cape that the artist witnessed as a child. The imperfectly-formed, tumbleweed-like sculptures suspended from the ceiling resemble dust kicked up while dancing on earth. Adams utilises sculpture, installation, and weavings, including floor-based works and wall-based tapestries to address race, religion, sexuality, conflict, resistance, resilience, and collaboration. The show highlights how we as humans – and as visitors to the exhibition – move and create and follow pathways and invisible routes.
From the perspective of a parent to an autistic child, I found intriguing Adams’ reference to Sufism and its rejection of any preoccupation with the classification of things. Sufis believe that the heart can be trained to look at the world in a diverse way, and Adams’ works correspondingly depict a space where multiple realities and classifications can coexist. It’s difficult not to make a correlation to my own thoughts on labels, neurodiversity, and inclusion. I know my son will be awe-struck when he walks in this exhibition, particularly with the shadows cast on the floor and walls by the hanging sculptures. Although not permitted, he will likely want to walk on the floor-based works with his bare feet and tempted to touch the tapestries. Fortunately for him and similar visitors, courtesy of the artist, the Hayward Gallery has a sample of the materials used to create the artworks available to handle.
It’s evident that Hayward Gallery had incredible attention to detail in catering to an autistic and neurodivergent audience for the relaxed opening of this show. They offered a fantastic social story, reduced visitor numbers, provided a designated quiet space as well as optional spaces which are usually quiet, a map, an ability to leave the exhibition if overwhelmed and return at any time on the same day, and one thing I’ve never seen previously offered when films and videos are shown at exhibitions, but which likely impact visitors sensitive to sound and disturbing scenes: a breakdown of the time marks during the film when the six gunshot sounds occur, and the seven times when the dead animals are shown. Knowing this information in advance can make a world of difference.
I’m very grateful to Autism in Museums and Hayward Gallery for the chance to see two incredibly intriguing shows, both significant to contemporary art and contemporary society.
Review by Lisha
Matthew Barney: Redoubt and Igshaan Adams: Kicking Dust are on at the Hayward Gallery till 25th July 2021. For ticket information and opening times please see the website https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/venues/hayward-gallery