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Review of the Everyday Monuments at Saatchi Gallery

When I came to the show, I didn't understand the purpose of it. I didn't understand why I should care about what Catriona Robertson, Jacob Talkowski and Alaric Hammond are making art about. The exhibition text said: Each [artist] uses everyday materials in innovative ways – re-utilising and revitalising materials that would otherwise be taken for granted, ignored, or discarded." These days, every fifth artist does that. However, the longer I thought about the title, the clearer it became: Saatchi had no clue what was actually happening in this exhibition.

Guess the name of the tendency in art I'm describing here:

It is an artistic and architectural approach that eschews traditional notions of monuments as grand, celebratory, and imposing structures designed to command respect and admiration in public spaces. Instead, it fundamentally challenges the presence of authoritative social forces and the conventional attitudes they foster among spectators. This movement is known for its inclination to engage, question, and surprise visitors, rather than demanding sobriety and reverence. Its works often embody abstract meanings, leaving much to the interpretation of the viewer, who must rely on their own perceptions, common understandings, and any supplementary information provided on-site to grasp the full scope of the work.

The aesthetic choices in these works emphasize horizontality over verticality, symbolising a grounding in reality rather than an ascension towards idealisation. This can manifest in design elements that are sunken, off-axis, dispersed, or fragmented, challenging the traditional, unified compositions found in conventional monuments at a singular location.

You're right! It's ANTI-monumentalism or counter-monumentalism! Doesn't it sound very similar to how Robertson's and Talkowki's works look and what they represent? I asked each artist to tell me more about their practices and the works they prepared for this exhibition. Reflecting on Hammond's response, it's evident that his artwork also embodies an anti-monumentalist perspective even though his flat work is hung on walls. The artist emphasises his lack of control and surrenders to the whims of his materials, stating,"[I] repeat the same actions over and over again, and each time the outcome is different. Content etched into the plates generally come from found or discarded objects, graphic advertising, camera phone snapshots, shop windows, overheard conversations, songs, occasional text messages and more recently AI generated typography and images." He said he finds it liberating, and it is in stark contrast to the principles of monumentalism, where the materials and the message they convey are meticulously controlled to commemorate specific figures or events. Hammond's methodology underscores a deliberate deviation from this norm, placing the unpredictability and autonomy of materials at the forefront of his artistic expression.

Compared to Alaric's works, Jakob Talkowski's seem controlled, at least in their structure - the work has a beginning and an end, and one can easily count containers. Talkowski opts for a singular material in his constructions, a conscious choice that serves as a nod to working-class identity. Yet, beneath this structured exterior lies a narrative of impermanence. Talkowski shared insights into the temporary communities that come to life through the assembly of his work, a process in which he most often invited working-class circles to participate. Lately, this collaboration has expanded to include assistance from those occupying lower-tier positions within the venues of his displays, underscoring a broader, inclusive dialogue on labour and artistic creation.

Catriona Robertson's approach to her artwork for the "Everyday Monuments" exhibition at SAATCHI Gallery embodies a nuanced balance of intention and serendipity, illustrating a semi-controlled creative process. Inspired by the concept of rhythm in history and mechanical reproduction, Robertson reflects on the loss of 'aura' in replicated materials, mirroring nature's imperfect evolutionary cycle in her sculptures. Her process involves reassembling large-scale worm-like structures that appear to grow out of or into the walls and floor. Each iteration reveals a new surface, indicating a controlled yet flexible manipulation of materials and form. The physical preparation and reconstruction of her pieces, especially the integration of twisted and corrugated scrap metal structures, underscore her hands-on approach to creating art that evolves with each exhibition. Robertson's work, while meticulously planned, embraces the unpredictability of material behaviour and installation environments, allowing for a dynamic interaction between her sculptures, the gallery space, and the audience.

The exhibition text states that the artists used "base materials and infused them with power, meaning and significance." However, I am not sure whether they want to predict the coming doomsday caused by our uncontrolled consumerism or console ourselves that after this cataclysm, we can build a new world again. The show "Everyday Monuments" gently initiates a conversation about the role of art in addressing ecological, social, and political issues. Using everyday materials to create beautiful objects that encourage viewers to reconsider their interaction with the world around them is a poignant reminder of art's potential to inspire change. But exhibiting these works at Saatchi, a space known for its posh identity within London's art scene, was like pointing a finger at them. Saatchi is not "every day". It is a chapel where everyone wants to have their own pew because of its prestige. 

The exhibition text was the thing that put me off. It was bland and didn't highlight the urgency of the matter artists were addressing. I didn't feel their power. It was as if someone took only a quick look at these works and didn't consider their broader relevance in contemporary art. The show would benefit from a broader contextualisation.


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