Beyond the Pylon of the Pit – taken from the fifth chapter of Nightside of Eden (1977), one of 9 books in the Typhonian Trilogies (1972-2002) by Kenneth Grant, a widely proclaimed occultist – is Leeds-based artist Alfie Strong’s first solo exhibition in London. The exhibition at VITRINE, Bermondsey, includes a new series of 5 silk tapestries hung by and beside turquoise papier-mâché sculptures set over a floor covered with slate chippings. VITRINE’s unique space seems ideally suited for the realisation of the tapestries as its installations always seem to extend beyond the glass windows, with Strong’s works rich in visual elements that bleed into the world outside. Feeding the eye and mind with mythology, magic and folklore Strong presents VITRINE as a reductive tableau as each individual tapestry expounds a tale of speculation. His use of earthly materials in the space alongside the tapestries helps disperse the exhibition’s narrative between past, present and future.
The history of tapestries lies in storytelling. Strong’s foreboding of our species’ future combines these historical modes of address with the current, global issues of the Anthropocene – with all of its brute horror and inherent gloom – such as rising water levels, marginalia and oppression. This is told through a muted lens of colour and the mundane: ‘You could be a Vessel for my Shame’ (2018) depicts a well filling up with rain, which is then shown overflowing in ‘Can’t see ‘cause my eyes are Bubbling’ (2018); a beautiful, seemingly easy combination of past and future events through the use of a single object. ‘Choronzon, my Shadow’ (2018) displays a face with no mouth, trapped in front of a void of blackness. And ‘Lamia my Reflection’ (2018), two tapestries side by side hosting two faces made from different coloured fabric that extend onto each other’s space; “I imagined it as a kind of vision or reflection while peering into the surface of a lake” says Strong. The figures in his work are purposefully ambiguous in relation to their gender, race or species, which, in regard to his subject matter, is a smart, non-binary address towards a pluralised world.
Grant published his trilogy over a period of 30 years, consisting of nonfictional accounts of his experience with magic and the occult. Nightside of Eden is written in his ‘Draconian tradition’ that Strong reflects within his work. Grant talks about there being a ‘nightside’ to the tree of life, functioning as a ‘mirror image’ of its ‘dayside’. This other side contains ancient forms of knowledge, power and dark forces that are entering our world, threatening it with disruption. Strong draws this out, mediating on the spiritual and mystical possibility of this being the cause of our unbalanced world; the works are mirrors through which you can experience this story of unhinged paranoia.
Beyond the Pylon of the Pit, VITRINE, London.
12 January – 2 April 2018.
William Noel Clarke is an artist and curator living and working in London.