Emii Alrai, Tutelaries, installation view. Image courtesy VITRINE, photography by Jonathon Bassett.

Objects whose presence alludes to protection; sculptures attached to a materiality that presents an alien temporality; an installation that could be read as an illegible script from the past. This is Tutelaries, an exhibition by Leeds-based British-Iraqi artist Emii Alrai, curated by William Noel Clarke, currently on show at VITRINE, London.

The exhibition consists of an assemblage of various sculptures, occupying the glass-fronted gallery whose white walls have been covered with pale textured, painted cardboard that suggest a landscape associated with sand. The works that stand between the glass and the wall are reminiscent of past ruins: vases, historic relics, tombs and artefacts that have become intangible objects.

Alrai seems to mediate the inherent differences between the installation and its audience, creating a spiritual presence that expands the limits of two separate spaces. The transitory character within the public square where the gallery is located, and of VITRINE itself. The gallery space, which is viewable 24/7, enables each viewer to perceive a moment of contemplation that breaks the boundaries of the everyday life of the city it is a part of. By creating an instance of a distant temporality, a new layer of meaning within the work is made apparent. The installation operates as a breaking point between separate realities, where the temporal boundaries of the cohabitation of a public square becomes blurred.

Tutelary means protector or guardian and is a concept related to a sacred location. Therefore it is not a coincidence that this exhibition alludes to sacredness. However, the objects within the space are mere vestiges of real relics. This suggests ideas around the politics of displacement and how we perceive history through not only decontextualised objects, but through the windows that separate us from their presence; a being-there and witnessing.

Through simple materials such as cardboard, plaster and clay, Alrai reconstructs the essence of ancient tutelary objects, but when doing so, they become replicas. The concept of a tutelary is then reconfigured, revealing the instability of these objects as they now stand as a fiction. Reality and fiction expose their fragility through the objects’ displacement as they refer to their original protection but distance themselves from the real tutelary object. I can only think now of narration and how it implies a distance. A distance with sacredness. A distance of objects that hold an important presence that is now unreadable. The distance of culture.

Angélica Fajardo is an art historian, artist and independent curator from Bogotá, Colombia. She currently lives and works in London.

Tutelaries, VITRINE, London.

10 July – 15 September 2019.

There will be a Finissage at Kino Bermondsey, hosted by VITRINE, on Sunday 15 September where the artist will be in conversation with writer and journalist James Harkin as well as a screening of short films.

Published 22.08.2019 by James Schofield in Reviews

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