The South London Gallery (SLG) and Spike Island, Bristol, present a two-part solo exhibition by French artist Isabelle Cornaro (b. 1974). The SLG hosts an existing large-scale installation while the presentation at Spike Island focuses on new and recent work.
Isabelle Cornaro works with painting, sculpture, film and installation, to explore the influence of history and culture on our perception of reality. As a trained art historian specialising in 16th-century European Mannerism, her visual language draws on a wide array of references from the Baroque to modernist abstraction. In her work Cornaro uses found objects imbued with symbolic potential or emotional value, which she presents in different types of display and media to reveal the subtle shifts of meaning provoked by processes of reproduction and translation.
Borrowed from domestic, decorative or functional contexts, these artefacts are often linked to Western culture as a means of power, their combination and arrangement in the artist’s work inviting spectators to question the relationships between systems of representation and our understanding, and hence domination, of the world.
At Spike Island, Cornaro’s exhibition Témoins oculaires (meaning ‘eye witnesses’) features a series of specially commissioned installations in which the artist continues her investigation into composition, visual perception and interpretation. These tableaux which could be described as physical representations of the act of watching, activate specific viewpoints reminiscent of cinematic and editing techniques (framing, focus, close-up, wide angle, tracking, sequence shot etc). They can be likened to sculptural equivalents of the artist’s recent films, Metronomie, Amplifications and Chose (all 2014), also screened in the exhibition, in which she looks at concepts such as accumulation, symmetry and entropy. The exhibition is completed by a series of monochrome paintings which are accurate reproductions of enlarged stills from the artist’s film Floues et colorées (2010), in which colour is sprayed on a picture plane by an invisible hand.
At the South London Gallery, Cornaro presents the latest in the series of installations entitled Paysage avec poussin et témoins oculaires (version VI) started in 2008. Each of these installations is loosely based on a classical landscape painting by the 17th-century artist Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) created as three-dimensional interpretations using sets of plinths in varying dimensions to display objects in meticulous arrangements. The objects are selected by Cornaro for their specific form or decoration. Grouping them by size, lines of perspective and for their light and shadow effects, she puts into question their aesthetic and cultural value. The clearly structured composition reinforces the illusion of perspective, allowing visitors to experience the work from different viewpoints whilst also being able to walk between the plinths, encountering fragments of Cornaro’s constructed ‘landscape’. To accompany this work in the SLG’s main space, Cornaro’s short films Figures (2011) and Premier rêve d’Oskar Fischinger (2008) will be shown in the first floor galleries.