Anya Gallaccio

Anya Gallaccio was born in Scotland in 1963. She studied in Kingston Polytechnic for a year in 1984-1985 and then attended Goldsmith College, University of London in 1985-1988.

According to the artist, her senior project was a mess and it is through Damien Hirst’s guidance that she established herself as an artist. She took part of Damien Hirst’s project “Freeze” in 1988 and organized her work through his strict regulations and guidelines and set herself for success. (Rebecca Fortnam Contemporary British Women artist in their own word, (London: I.B Tauris and Co LTD 2007),pp2.

After gaining attention through “Freeze”, she exhibited many presentations such as “The Greenhouse effect” at the Serpentine Gallery in 2000,  at The Istanbul Biennale in 2001, “Anya Gallaccio;Silverseed” was published In 2005 by Ridinghouse alongside her exhibition by the Mount Stuart for and installation  at the Isle of Bute Scotland and in 2006 was listed on the Pink Power list of 100 most influential gay and lesbian artists. We should not forget to mention that she was listed for a Turner Prize in 2003. She currently teaches at the University of California, San Diego at the department of Visual Arts.

Anya Gallaccio uses materials such as roses, chocolates, fruits, vegetables and trees in her works. The incorporation of these materials set a vibe to her work as whole.

We notice that on the long term, her piece will smell, decay and generate a certain vibe to the audience. But that is the charm of Anya’s art works.

We feel there is a sense of liveliness at the start of her piece that tends to end in death of the material, whichever she has selected. The audience witnesses the transformation on the long period of time and thoughtfully reflects on the invincibility of human beings through objects.

The following are three of Anya Gallaccio’s pieces of art that I have chosen to depict the above -mentioned characteristics:

“Preserve beauty”  1991-2003 is a piece of Anya Gallaccio that was presented at the Tate Britain (Fig. 1). It comprises 2000 gerberas between glass panels that are left to decay as time passes by.  The audience is taken away by the grandeur of the piece and the red bloody color that emanates from it. On closer look is noticeable the rotting of the flowers on the floor of the room.

When looking at the piece for the first time from afar one is reminded of cloth, of a carpet that could be used to decorate a living room. However on closer look one notices the flowers mutinously hand picked and set side by side to form four blocks of even pieces.

Art critics have suggested that the piece is a reminder of the feminism movement and talks to the female audience. Furthermore, the piece interacts with our senses; the olfactory sense since we try to discern a certain smell from the flowers, whether they are decaying or still alive, our visual sense; since we are scrutinizing the work, the touching sense; since we want to touch the glass panels but are restricted from approaching it, and in a way the hearing sense; when we hear our surroundings’ comment and exclamatory feedback on the piece.

The following link shows us how Any Gallaccio’s “Preserve Beauty” was re-constructed to be exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2003 . It is interesting to see the steps that the technicians of the gallery took to put the pieces together for the show.

According to the artist. “ With the flowers work, I made a conscious choice to make them appear easy, to hide the effort involved..” Fortnam (2007), pp3.

preserve beauty

“Revons d’or” is another of Anya Gallaccio’s pieces that was first presented at the  Annet Gelink Gallery in 2006 (Fig. 2). In this piece, the center of the showroom is filled with a big trunk of a tree painted in gold bronze from which twelve glazed porcelain apples are hung by a rope.

Again the artist uses natural materials such as a tree and apples. One would consider that with time the apples are going to rot. However on closer look it is noticeable that the apples are made of porcelain and that the tree is of bronze. Hence this time Anya plays on the invincibility of her products.

We notice that Anya Gallaccio uses a lot of these materials in her art work; “Because I could not stop” presented at the Lehmann Maupin New York in 2000, “Because nothing has changed” presented in New York in 2001.

Anya plays with life and death and puts into practice this concept through the materials chosen for her pieces.

The tree trunk she uses is that of  an oak tree which symbolizes strength and endurance (which emphasizes the life/death concept) and reminds us of the country side of England , (Wikipedia, (accessed on 16th June 2013). She uses elements that would make the audience analyze the work of art  in a philosophical approach.

Art critics argue that her work resembles Damien Hirst’s shark in a tank because both artists have taken “credit for something for which only God or nature should be admired” (Ken Johnson, The New York Times, Sculpture That Looks Very Much Like a Tree; Actually, It Is a Tree
By p. E37.)

revons dor

“ Chasing Rainbows” is another piece of installation art created by Anya Gallaccio in 1998 (Fig. 3) in which she created a rainbow on the floor with a light and color play, whenever a person came close to interact with the rainbow, it would disappear from sight. What differentiates this piece from the previous works I have discussed above is that in this one, Anya does not use any raw material. Instead she uses light and colors and mirror to create a rainbow, a playful rainbow.

In this piece Anya interacts with the audience through the appearance and disappearance of the rainbow. A rainbow which is by definition “an arc of spectral colors, usually identified as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet that appears in the sky opposite the sun as result of the refractive dispersion  of sunlight in drops of rain or mist” and a profound definition of it is “an illusory hope”, (The free Dictionary,  (accessed on 16th June 2013). We might depict from the latter definition, that there is a certain illusory hope whenever a person approaches the floor to perceive the rainbow, only for it to disappear and make us ponder about its presence in the first place.

chasing rainbows

Let us go back in 1988, when Anya was only 25 years old and a fresh graduate from Goldsmith College. She was invited by her friend, Damien Hirst to take part in a show called “Freeze”.

In that exhibition, Anya presented a piece called “ Waterloo” ;  consisting of a rectangular floor space covered in lead, including a child’s cardigan in one corner. According to the artist, this was her first true work because she felt the let go of materials. Comparing to her previous work in college where she used cloth to put things together, in “Waterloo” she threw the cloth as if getting rid of it.

“I liked the idea that I was destroying the very object that I was trying to preserve. The rectangle of lead was supposed to be in relation to this very tiny object; I felt that if I just had this beautiful rectangle of lead people would think that I was this really cool sophisticated minimal sculptor and that wasn’t my intention” (Patricia Bickers, ‘Meltdown’, Art Monthly, April 1996, pp 2-8 (pp3)

This got the attention of Richard  Wentworth, her teacher at Goldsmith, whose work consisted in juxtaposing materials that do not belong together. His influence has been claimed in the work of the Young British Artists, (Wikipedia, (accessed on June 17th 2013).

During his year at university, Damien Hirst prepared a show called “ Freeze” in 1988 which comprised of the works of 16 of his art student/friends attending Goldsmith College, that took place in an empty Port of London building in Surrey Docks.

It is an event that is known to have launched the career of many of younger generation of artists and set a new trend called Post modernism which “can be pretty much anything you want it to be”( Will Gompertz, What are you looking at? 150 years of modern art in a blink of an eye, (Great Britain: Penguin Group 2012) pp350.)

Many art critics, collectors and curators attended this exhibition and felt the drive and ambition of the up- coming artists of that generation.

This show set way to a new terminology in the art world which is the emergence of the YBA, well known as the Young British Artists. They distinguished themselves in their art work, and in the installation of their art piece and most of them used concrete material aspired from the life and death theme.

The event was a success and many of his friends got famous, however Damien Hirst’s pieces were not as successful as he thought they would be, since he got a reputation of an organizer and curator since he prepared the launch of this exhibit from scratch. He says “ I found I could work with already organized elements. And I suppose in “Freeze” the artists were kind of already organized elements in themselves and I arranged them”.

The art works presented by Damien Hirst were called “ Boxes” (Fig. 4), ‘Edge”  and “Row”. Respectively, the first piece of work was painted boxes hung on the wall and the two others were painted dots on the wall of the warehouse.

They reflected a new trend at that time and a reflection of the young artists’ creativity from Goldsmith College.

One buyer thought of purchasing his piece “Boxes” but reconsidered it when he realized it would be too complicated to hang it on his wall.

the box

Anya Gallaccio, in her interview, emphasizes the point that without the guidelines and restrictions imposed by Damien Hirst, she would not have been able to create her piece “ Waterloo” for the show, (Fortnam, (2007) pp2.)

In his own words, the artist explains to us that “ Art is like medicine- it can heal. Yet I’ve always been amazed at how many people believe in medicine but don’t believe in art, without questioning either” (Pharmacy (Auction Catalogue Sotheby’s, London Monday 18th October 2004, Sotheby’s Auction.) pp83).

Hence comes one of his master piece at the beginning of his career entitled “Pharmacy” (Fig. 6) where he combines medicinal and scientific objects into his work. His piece consists of displaying different types of pills, therefore combining different shapes, forms and colors of drugs on display to the public. We, furthermore, understand that his famous dots paintings are named after several medicinal capsules and the colors reflect those pills.

the pharmacy

At first, the audience would have the feeling that the artist is in a depressed mood, or went through a depressive phase in his life and that is what he exposing to his audience. Furthermore, for the skeptics like me, a way of getting through that phase is to exteriorize that depression to the public as a healing process.

However, Hirst’s aim is much more different that the above mentioned. He says “the spot paintings are an unfailing formula for brightening up people’s fucking lives.” … ”The thing is that they’re fucking gorgeous; they’re fucking delicious; they don’t keep still, they’ll live forever: They’re absolutely fantastic. They’re color. They’re as good as flowers” (Auction Catalogue Sotheby’s (pp83)

We notice that Hirst compares the essential part of his work, i-e colors, to flowers, which is a material that Anya Gallaccio is notoriously known to use in her piece of art work.

Both of these artists, pioneers of the YBA generation share a lot in common.

They both incorporate tangible materials into their work, whether flowers, fruits, vegetables, chocolate, pills, animal and human body parts, cigarettes and the list goes on. According to Henry Meyric Hughes, the pieces of art of Damien Hirst represent “polarized images of death and rebirth”, (Damien Hirst Istanbul Biennale 1992 and Richard Stone,( Exhibition catalogue, Third International Istanbul Biennale 1992, 16th October 1992-30 November 1992), British Council 1992 pp3.)

We should bear in mind that Anya Gallaccio’s materials decay over a period of time, i-e dying as well.

“Freeze” generated the work of the up-coming Young British Artists which were taken seriously by art collectors who invested in purchasing their work, such as Saatchi, Rosenthal and many others. Anya Gallaccio is a successful Young British Artist who is still exposing her work throughout the world; a set of art pieces that reflects life that will eventually end with death.

We can say that the aura of her work is similar to that of Damien Hirst; both artists reminding the public of the vision of death through inanimate objects that decay or are still in front of our eyes which tends to shock the audience and ponder the question of invincibility in their mind. However after two decades of  post modernism, one should question if this trend is coming to an end and is the art world experiencing nowadays the emergence of alter modernity as presented  in a discussion at the Tate Triennale 2009 in the Tate Britain ?