Tejo Philips - Lost in Translation 2013



A few years ago, the Dutch artist Tejo Philips had an exhibition in Zwolle Museum, covering an entire wall with his small ceramic sculptures, which acted as elaborate hieroglyphics, using "all kinds of shapes, from those you can recognise, to unfamiliar abstract forms". He adopts a very similar approach for this current show, which takes its title more explicitly from ideas around interpretability and (mis) communication.   He doesn't just use nautical influences, as his inspiration comes from sources as diverse as the tool box, the flotsam and jetsam found on the seashore, and, as he says "organic, or sea-flow things.
All combinations of these".  His overriding aim is to make his own text, "...the text you can't understand, Arabic, Chinese, medical information" - languages which are alien to the Dutch or English speaker.

  The proliferation of visual signs he invents are a haptic response to what Philips describes as overwhelming incomprehensible information, and the way we try to make sense out of an excess of written and verbal non-sense.He sees this body of work not as an attempt to understand everything, but more a process of "making your own language, like a letter or your own story."

In 2008, Tejo went for one month residency in Fuping, China, staying near to where thousands queue up to see the famous Terracotta Army. The sense of being "lost in information" during his stay, overwhelmed by words he couldn't understand, informs this current show. But he is not daunted by the inability to comprehend - and it's often as if the pieces are conversing with one another. As Philips says; "they need each other to communicate". Ultimately unreadable, and so closer to poetry than the descriptive attributes of prose, Philips invites us to try and 'read' his figures, but he deliberately leaves them open, thereby inviting us to translate them using our own imagination.
  He also describes the making of these sculptures as like writing what the Dutch call 'a daybook', or a diary. Instead of describing the creative process in the usual way, he says;  "I had to clay". We see the end result of a long process of reflecting on what he thinks and feels each day, and the effect of being puzzled, and working things out. He often combines and re-combines the pieces, as if he is making three-dimensional sentences. Although they could change after being placed on the gallery wall, he sees his choice as like a final statement; "my sense it is unique and finished". In the gallery, he has made a wall text with this private alphabet. The closest we can get to pinning it down is when he says, "It is like a journey".   A few of his sculptures are painted with oil paint, whilst others are glazed a glossy dark blue, placed like precious stones against the white wall. Around 10-12 cm, each, they are reminiscent of the 8th - 7th century BC Bronze animal statuettes from Olympia, used as the votive offerings found in churches in the pre-Christian era.
In this show there are many more human, fish and animal forms, than in previous shows. The artist sees these as having been a 'lost element' in his work, and he has recently re-discovered the importance of the figure. Body parts, such as single legs attached to abstract wave forms are partly recognisable, and partly indecipherable, and Philips describes these as " surrealistic'.

He feels they strengthen the impact of other, more abstract, industrial looking pieces, as we ponder on the relationship between ourselves and other living creatures and machines. This show is clearly about the playfulness in relationships between living and inanimate things and the ways in which we are visibly intertwined. Machine parts turn into ears shaped like empty windows, screw heads take on the form of vertebrae or ribbed poles held by shapes which could be fists.   Many of the pieces are covered in black glaze, emphasising their mechanical, industrial feel - as if they have been carved from stone or iron.
Philips plays with ceramics in the same way that illustrators create characters in comic books, transforming what he says is 'horrible reality' into a humorous cartoon-world which doesn't ignore difficulty, but looks askance at what seems inevitable and familiar.
  The artist sees this as a way of surviving - laughing about life rather than taking it too seriously. Despite all the problems in the world, this inventive work is optimistic. From these surprising sculptures emanates a kind of innocence.

Opening Saturday 30th November 2013

Siobhan Wall 2013
Tejo Philips - ceramics - Lost in Translation 2014

Tejo Philips - ceramics - Lost in Translation

Tejo Philips - ceramics - Lost in Translation

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