24 Oct 2019 - 24 Nov 2019
“If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awoke − Aye! and what then?”
–– Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Elysian visions of a plentiful, prosperous and fulfilling afterlife have beguiled and fascinated the collective imagination for millennia. Numerous holy texts, including the Christian New Testament and the Jewish Septuagint refer to paradeisos, a Grecized version of the Persian term “pairi-daeza,” referring to a walled garden. The Qu’ran, the holy book of Islam, contains numerous descriptions of sublime garden oases, brimming with fruits, fragrant flowers and, most importantly, water. Islamic Paradise Gardens were historically constructed, as long ago as 4000 B.C., as physical counterparts to this future utopia to be enjoyed in life, traditionally in arid, inhospitable lands where water, the source of all life, is scarce. These historic, magnificent enclosed gardens were intended to manifest “heaven on earth,” and significant sites can still be visited today.
Presuming the bounty of paradise is something some may attempt to build – but many only hope to attain after life – what follows is the inherent problem of human greed and the resources we think we will find there. Is human compulsion toward extravagance intrinsic to our nature? Is attainment enough? A philosophical distinction between attainment and obtainment emerges as paramount. Even in paradise, can we control our impulses toward temptation? This paradoxical balance of chaos and overindulgence within a context of beauty and plenty is at the core of London-based artist Yulia Iosilzon’s debut solo exhibition in New York.
Iosilzon’s paintings embark on an exploration of the occasionally dubious, uneven terrain of memory and imagination, relationships and nature. Joyful and dreamlike idylls belie sinister whispers from the past. Playful birds dart amongst rich foliage where figures play hide and seek, or faces appear in shrubbery or in a spout of water from a shower, alluding to a childhood memory of what uncertain and mysterious things reside just out of sight: what could be hiding in those pipes? We traverse a place resplendent with luscious blooms. Draping fronds and divine birds delight in bright, sweeping colors that are both saturated and candy-like – yet in the same way – hint at a sickly feeling, like when one has eaten too much cake.
Vivid pinks, oranges, greens, and yellows paired with contrasting charcoal grey and more diffused versions of those hues turn the focus to the materiality of the works. Iosilzon’s choice of delicate synthetic silk as well as sturdy cotton canvas for the surfaces expands on the dialogue of presence and absence, visibility and opaqueness. Her brushstrokes are fast and deliberate, augmented in carefully selected places with glittery silicone or ceramic. Figures are mysteriously revealed or concealed by foliage, water, or other forms. Faces appear in places one might not expect, reflecting the human inclination to anthropomorphize, as well as the tricks that memory and imagination can play on us. An oscillation occurs between being in control and being controlled: the removal of flowers to be placed in a vase as opposed to enjoying them in their native habitat, the difference between one piece of cake or two.
We might consider our world’s expansive rainforests offering a view of paradise on earth in the form of complex ecosystems and perfectly harmonious chaos, yet are increasingly threatened by human interference and destruction. As we are faced with the frightening prospect that earth’s inherent balance, the trays of its metaphorical scale, will tip irreversibly in the direction of political and economic – rather than environmental – interests, we now know we have been consuming too much.
Like Adam and Eve tasting the forbidden fruit and consequently being expelled from the Garden of Eden, it perhaps follows that while it may seem utopian, not everything in paradise is necessarily free from consequence.
Yulia Iosilzon (b. 1992, Moscow) spent her formative years in Tel Aviv and currently lives and works in London, UK. She holds an MA in Painting from the Royal College of Art in London, and a BA in Fine Art from Slade School of Fine Art in London. Recent exhibitions include Bloomberg New Contemporaries, Leeds Art Gallery in Leeds and South London Gallery in London, Wolves by the Road at Assembly House in Leeds, Something Else at Triumph Gallery in Moscow, The Origin of Who at Kvatdrat 16 Gallery in Copenhagen, and Varieties of Disturbance at Shelf Gallery in London. Written press about her work has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar Russia, Afterview Art Review, AucArt, a Renli Su collaborative project, and Young Space. She is the recipient of the Bloomberg New Contemporaries Prize and the Audrey Wykeham Prize, and has been shortlisted for the Hix Award.
Guest Curator Kate Mothes is the founder and curator of Young Space, an independent, itinerant, online-offline contemporary art platform emphasizing early career and emerging artists. She received a Masters in Art History, Theory and Display from Edinburgh College of Art at the University of Edinburgh, and a Bachelors in Art History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Selected recent exhibitions include Wolves by the Road at Assembly House, Leeds, UK; Crocodile Tears during Greenpoint Open Studios, Brooklyn, NY; and Run Straight Through at Torrance Art Museum, Torrance, CA. She recently was curator-in-residence at AucArt LAB, London, UK, in March 2019, and at PADA Studios in Lisbon, Portugal, in April 2019. Recent press includes SLEEK Magazine, Yale University Radio, I Like Your Work Podcast, and ‘Selling Art Online,’ produced by theprintspace and Creative Hub, UK.