Raphael Hefti & Agnieszka Polska @ Nottingham Contemporary

Last night, The Nottingham Contemporary opened exhibitions by two exciting, emerging, international artists. The galleries were filled, for a late night viewing, with the works of Raphael Hefti and Agnieszka Polska, and an intrigued and inspired audience.

The atmosphere was electric as I walked into Hefti’s self-titled exhibition, weaving my way between a forest of rainbow-tarnished metal rods, reaching from floor to ceiling. The sculptural instillation, ‘Various Threaded Poles of Determinate Length Potentially Determining their Determinacy’,  set the tone for the rest of the exhibit: metallic, iridescent, reflective, and neon.

His works feel to me as if it they are teetering on the edge of eruption.

Most interesting about Hefti’s work is his relationship with (and unique treatment of) different materials. As he chatted animatedly amongst the audience, he explained the process of manipulation inflicted upon the metals, aluminium, zinc and copper, for a series of sculptures, ‘Into Deep’. His enthusiasm was tangible. By heating and cooling the metal at varying rates, Hefti had disrupted  their dormant natures and forced them to open up, revealing their micro-crystalline structure. He had given energy to his medium, bringing the inanimate to life before capturing and preserving the moment. The materials, pushed to their limits and then frozen,  remain full of potential. For this reason his works feel to me as if it they are teetering on the edge of eruption – an exciting prospect.

Similarly, his handling of photography in ‘Lycopdium‘, my favourite piece from the exhibition, captures incredible dynamics. By exposing and agitating photographic paper with  flammable moss spores (Lycopodium) which combust when set alight, Hefti creates an image of motion and explosion. The resultant patterns recall mountain ranges, cloud formations and the galaxy. Startlingly beautiful, the glossy fuchsia photograms hang large and illuminating in Gallery 4.What I enjoyed most about Hefti’s technicolour, other-worldly sculpture and photography was its clear sense of playfulness; his experimentation feeling like the workings of a scientist or magician. His innovative use and even invention of different materials left me moving from gallery to gallery wondering what  would emerge next from his magic workshop.

Allow yourself to be swept along and completely immersed.

Meanwhile, behind a black curtain, Agnieszka Polska’s film ‘I am the Mouth II‘, played as part of the polish artist’s very first solo exhibition in Britain. Reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Not I’, the piece uses Polska’s signature style of simple computerised animation. A pair of red lips half-submerged in lapping waves of water speak in a blurred and slow monotone. The effect was somewhat hypnotic and yet at times the sporadic movement of the lips was a little startling. The effect was mesmerising and, as with most contemporary film installation, there were a few sceptical audience members.

Enter Gallery 2, a space scattered with screens, with an open mind. In these films Polska plays with the laws of physics and blurs and disorientates sound to replicate dream and memory.  Although, for the most part, it is difficult to gauge a clear definitive meaning or narrative from them, each viewing feels like a new and unique experience for the senses. Allow yourself to be swept along and completely immersed. Polska’s surreal use of text, image, sound and, particularly, texture, creates a sensuality that I found at once magnetic and repellent. Further on in the show, and arguably less abstract, is the film ‘Future Days’, in which the artist explores ideas of history, focusing on that of Eastern European Art. Interestingly, a live performance of this piece, by the artist and her co-writer Sebastian Cichocki, will take place on 21st October.

Both exhibitions run until 5th January and are free, offering a fantastic opportunity to engage with international contemporary art in a local and exciting venue.  Don’t miss out on the experience.

Emilia Eyre


Picture by Agnieszka Polska, I Am the Mouth, (film still) 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Zak, Branicka, Berlin.

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