For Josephine Baker, making sculptures is like writing alternative physical stories to those with which we fabricate our world. The industrially-processed materials she uses are reconfigured and reimagined in the studio, into a questioning of the capitalistic trajectories that have produced them. Within a microclimate of exchanges, the elements that make up Baker’s practice allegorise events to each other: Depictions of landscape and natural phenomena are reclaimed from cooption into imperialist worldviews, raw materials become apparitions of their consumable realities, and narratives of labour and survival are unearthed from the urban terrains which surround us.
Josephine Baker (b. 1990, London, UK) completed her undergraduate studies at Central Saint Martins in London in 2012, and her postgraduate in 2017 from the Royal Academy Schools, London. Her recent exhibitions include: Outfallers, Nir Altman, Munich; Clear out the wounds closest to the sun, V.O Curations, London, 2021 (solo); Wallwerk, Nir Altman, Munich, 2021; Drawing Room Biennial, London, 2021; The Land Lies, ChertLüdde, Berlin, 2020 (solo); well, well, well…, Sundy, London, 2020; Islands, Kupfer, London, 2019 (solo). She was a 12-month resident award holder at British School at Rome 2017–18, and was shortlisted for the 2019 Mark Tanner Sculpture Award. Her work is currently included in Drawing attention: emerging British artists at the British Museum
What constitutes a landscape, as well as the limits – physical and mental, geographical and emotional – that define our relationship with it are recurring investigations in the work of Josephine Baker. For her first solo show at Nir Altman gallery, Outfallers, the artist presents a series of new sculptures and drawings, which resemble aspects of landscapes that are both distant and familiar. Baker digs into the tradition of the English garden – a landscaping style that presents an idealised view of nature – and into the processes of shaping and taming the natural world by re-assembling materials and meaning into sculpture.
At first glance, no groves of trees are in sight. In their place are a series of trellis-like sculptures made of steel reinforcement bars reaching out of concrete containers and connected by ventilation pipes. The porous soil of rolling lawns leaves spaces for the muted colours of building materials and cliffside debris. Cables grow like ivy, while security lights fill with water. The idyllic vision of a garden mutates into a logistical ecosystem – one which shows no image of human life but that nonetheless pullulates with it. For, even if humans are not pictured, each element traces back to their bodies and actions: from the materials commonly used in construction and communication industries, to the human-sized sculptures standing before us.
- Giulia Civardi
This is a show born of months of lockdown, during which the artist witnessed the relentless shapeshifting of London’s landscape made even more apparent by the deserted streets, while nature felt like a distant dream. Every element here seems like it has mutated from a building site, the natural world or the artist’s imagination into a constructed and fantasised landscape of sorts. At the core of this ecosystem is the desire to translate the fluid nature of language into sculpture – to turn poetry into materiality – and it does so by subverting the semiotic systems (linguistic and otherwise) by which we apprehend and understand the world. Baker mixes signifier and signified in tickling associations that have the effect of an agile metaphor: plywood hoarding is carved to delineate an alpine horizon line; its offcuts, turned into mountainous clouds (or are they nebulous mountains?), seem to shed small pieces of rubble collected in pockets below; the cement waves swirl and crash with barbed- wire splatter while steampunky hybrid creatures shaped into tools made out of rubber, carved wood and glass, roam loudly (can you hear the clinking and sawing sounds?); standing centre stage, the model-sized digger arm appears made out of chalk, one of the very materials it could be gathering and a most friable one at that. Titles citing a fictional construction site company, Mountain Security, meanwhile hint at the deliberate recuperation of nature’s symbolism and semantic to camouflage an industry predicated on its exploitation.
- Louise Darblay
The Land Lies is a newly conceived installation by Josephine Baker for BUNGALOW at ChertLüdde, on the occasion of Gallery Weekend Berlin.
Using readily-available building and landscaping materials, Baker composes physical metaphors for how the natural earth is represented in a capitalocentric world. Factory standardised and processed almost beyond recognition, Baker forms these materials into signifiers of the complex distancing of ‘nature’ from ‘culture’ in today’s markets and urban topographies. She relates this process directly to the conflation of natural and manmade catastrophe in its increasingly frequent manifestations across the globe. In invented languages of reconciliation, different materials and forms allegorise events to each other. They create microclimates of dependency and exchange, telling stories of labour and survival which unearth the histories of what (and where) their sources are, and the processes they have undergone.