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Review of Katie Heck: TIP-TOE-ECHO at Sadie Coles

It's been a while since I've seen a show that would flabbergast me - since I felt that an exhibition was THE exhibition. Compared to the exhibitions in Paris and Berlin that Instagram so desperately wants me to see, recent months have shown a scarcity of impactful shows in London. The city is growing dull; it lacks the bizarre, the innovative, and the dynamic. Everything appears monotonous and unchanged.

But a few days ago, a friend of mine showed me a photo of a snail from Katie Heck's solo show at Sadie Cole's, and I knew I had to see it. Running from one meeting to another, I managed to arrive merely ten minutes before closing, and I must say I felt it was worth running at breakneck speed.

Repeatedly, Sadie Coles proves how simple ideas can dramatically alter a vast, white cube gallery space. Almost all the shows they host, even those featuring pretty boring works, become immersive experiences. They strategically use colour and position walls to partially obscure elements, heightening viewer anticipation and frustration. Constructing structures within the gallery or suspending artworks at varied heights, such as in the current paintings of moons with faces, creates a sense of being observed from above.

I love it when a site is becoming specific for art. The constructed structure resembled the stage design for Kate's paintings, which referred to historical paintings. Their theatricality, vivid colours alongside the gentle brushwork and exposed figures swept me into another world. The layout's deliberate limitations, preventing closer examination of the bronze and wood-carved apples reminiscent of a reimagined Adam and Eve painting, tempted me even more. Upon reaching the far end of the exhibition, the positioning of a temporary wall in relation to the final artwork, coupled with my position as a viewer, created a unique interaction with space and perspective. I felt like I was standing where I was supposed to stand. It was a strangely physical experience.

Furthermore, another element that was distinctly evident in this exhibition was intentionality, not just in its curation but also in the artistic execution. Heck's paintings incorporated sculptural elements that enriched the narratives depicted. Rather than confining a self-portrait to the canvas, a wooden library structure defined the space around her. A wooden frame with knots added a touch of realism to the still life, and in one of the paintings, fabric appeared to spill out from the canvas, drawn by the intent gaze of the figure portrayed. His eyes were full of nostalgia and perhaps a flicker of hope, as if he might escape through that opening and never return.

White carved snails were attached to several frames as if they climbed there when no one was looking. But there was also the largest snail near the entrance. Its human-like, smiling face with its distinctly non-human bulging eyes made me feel uncomfortable. It was exposed on a one-meter-high plinth—too high for me to dominate it like ordinary snails, yet not eye-level to foster a sense of equality. The placement of artworks in this exhibition profoundly influenced my experience, manipulating my spatial perception and leaving me uneasy, unsure of how to navigate the power dynamics between us.

I left the show knowing I will come back.


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