EDINBURGH — Usually a windowless white cube, for Céline Condorelli’s After Work the first gallery in Talbot Rice’s large exhibition space has been flooded with natural light.
The light — from skylights in the double-height ceiling and large windows on two sides of the room — is necessary, in part, to nourish a group of plants Condorelli has grown in the space, part of a new installation from her Zanzibar series (2018–ongoing). Striped sunshades, faux rocks, and a raised bed of raked gravel set the scene for a carefully nurtured garden. Pink metal sculptures serve as frames for climbing plants, which, making the most of the newly abundant light, will grow and transform the space over the course of the exhibition.
Drawing on the philosophies of Brazilian modernist architect Lina Bo Bardi, Condorelli has created a garden-as-exhibition, challenging viewers to consider plants as both living entities and intrinsic elements of the artwork. She emphasizes the point by including Plant Studies (2018), a series of prints exploring the colonial histories of tropical plants and noting their uncredited inclusion as decorative features in exhibitions of contemporary art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Condorelli is interested in the hidden labor and apparatuses of exhibition making. She draws attention to the elements that are absent from written critical and art historical accounts, yet contribute to the viewer’s experience of the artwork, from the architecture of the exhibition space to the potted plants or furniture within the gallery, to the work of technicians before and during a show.
For example, the artist designed a watering can with an extra long spout, which the gallery staff uses to care for the plants. Rather than stashing it away, Condorelli places it at the gallery entrance, designating it an artwork titled “Structure for Watering at a Distance” (2022). Similarly, her architectural interventions in the space are labeled as an artwork, “Alterations to Existing Conditions” (2022); the materials list consists of “uncovered gallery windows, gallery office door wedge, and credited labor for exhibition.”
Labor, and its relationship with leisure, are at the heart of After Work. The show takes its name from the artist’s 2022 film and installation, made in collaboration with artist/filmmaker Ben Rivers and poet Jay Bernard. This piece presents footage from the physical process of building a children’s playground Condorelli designed for a council estate in south London, shedding light on the work that goes into producing places for play.
Here, as elsewhere in the show, the artist plays with the notion that all leisure is facilitated by acts of labor. Her Cotton/Rubber (2017) series was the result of a lengthy collaboration with the Pirelli tire factory in Turin, Italy. The collection of C-type prints, presenting annotated photographs of scraps, objects, and archival materials the artist found during her work at the factory, hints at the vital role of labor unions in implementing legally protected periods of leisure (i.e., the safeguarding of regular working hours and the conceptual creation of the weekend). Elsewhere, a vinyl wall work made up of sports court markings bears the dates in which women were first allowed to play particular sports in public, revealing the parameters and limitations of play for different social groups.
The exhibition’s second half, in Talbot Rice’s 19th-century neoclassical gallery, shifts in subject matter and tone, with the newly commissioned installation Thinking Through Skin (2021-22). Responding to the space, formerly a natural history museum, the immersive installation takes as its starting point the world of cephalopods and early scientific investigations into color.
Condorelli imagines the future of color and image production, considering how our modes of seeing and reproducing images and environments might develop. She is interested in how cephalopods — whose neurological makeup is radically different from ours — perceive color through their skin. The animals react to physical and psychological cues to change their appearance and become part of their surroundings. Through the installation, the artist invites viewers to reconsider the body’s vital role in perception, challenging the primacy of the visual and the privileging of representation over phenomenological experience.
Thinking Through Skin is accompanied by a specially commissioned soundscape by Hannah Catherine Jones, as well as fabrics, walls, and moving curtains designed by Condorelli. These three elements, titled “Aural Studies,” are both artworks in their own right and substrates and backdrops to display works by other artists, including Grace Ndiritu, Isa Genzken, and Ben Rivers. The unusual decision to share authorship means that the installation takes some unpacking and the significance of individual elements at times feels opaque. Overall, however, the show is a powerful meditation on how we see — and how we might see differently.
Céline Condorelli: After Work continues at Talbot Rice Gallery (The University of Edinburgh, Old College, South Bridge, Edinburgh, Scotland) through October 22. The exhibition was curated by Talbot Rice Gallery Director Tessa Giblin.