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Julian Opie, Andrea Heller and Lynda Benglis: Challenging Notions of Physicality

For the latest tour in our private programme, three exhibitions considered subject matter surrounding physicality, space and dimension. Each artist explored their own curiosities around these concepts, whilst encouraging the viewer to experience expanded boundaries and question assumed limitations around contemporary definitions. We are pleased to announce that this tour is one of the last private events we will host, before opening up our programme to the public in May. Please contact kate@artscopeintl.com for more information and how to book.

Julian Opie architectural work at Lisson Gallery Bell Street in London, 2023. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.
Julian Opie architectural work at Lisson Gallery Bell Street in London, 2023. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.

As naturally inquisitive creatives, contemporary artists' approach to their practice is a highly personal journey, but most often reflects on socio-cultural or political themes experienced by many. As a result, new work from artists in real time will address similar themes and debates in a cooperative, symbiotic conversation that fosters a rich and inclusive environment to think, feel and react. The work of Julian Opie, Andrea Heller and Lynda Benglis was an exciting opportunity to trace a specific interest in a common theme, yet explore how each artist, through very different ways, chose to address these concepts and crucially, ask the viewer to reconsider and redefine.


This overarching topic featured the ideas surrounding the physical object, and to what extent the object is in fact a solid form that takes up dimensions of space without challenging the parameters of its existence. In artistic terms, what a sculpture or piece of architecture might be known to be, and where the potential is for the characteristics we are so committed to might be able to evolve.

An Artscope guest experiences the Opie VR feature at Lisson Gallery, 2023. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.
An Artscope guest experiences the Opie VR feature at Lisson Gallery, 2023. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.

At Lisson Gallery on Bell Street, Julian Opie has embarked on an ambitious body of work spanning traditional sculpture, digital video sequences, landscape painting and, most uniquely, VR. Known for distilling imagery back to symbols which represent people, animals and buildings, Opie is firstly interested in representation of the physical form and how visuals are also a cultural language and form of exchange. Through symbols we associate our own experiences, yet in a collective manner that is understood by others. Harnessing this reality of human behaviour, Opie takes these symbols and places them in digital spheres such as LED screens, within acrylic painting, and generated in wire figures that are perceived as both solid and transparent, where light and shadow further complicate notions of dimension and form.

Opie metal wire figures in the courtyard at Lisson Gallery Bell Street, 2023. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.
Opie metal wire figures in the courtyard at Lisson Gallery Bell Street, 2023. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.

Opie's figurative symbols demonstrating Tik Tok moves, 2023. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.
Opie's figurative symbols demonstrating Tik Tok moves, 2023. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

At Lisson Gallery, the artist challenges concepts of physical reality with his VR presentation, the first-ever experience of its kind to be hosted at Lisson. Using portable headsets, visitors are invited to put their physical self within the non-physical, encompassing multiple realms within a realm, spanning from intimate interactions to multi-layered experiences and being asked to negotiate both their ability to manage both dimensions physically and conceptually. The presentation also includes the reveal of a new fast-paced dance sequence, life-size and large-scale portraits, as well as landscapes and architectural works, both indoors and out, continuously presenting new ways to manage the shifting and changing ideas around physicality.

An Artscope tour guest enjoys the Opie VR experience at Lisson Gallery Bell Street, 2023. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.
An Artscope tour guest enjoys the Opie VR experience at Lisson Gallery Bell Street, 2023. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.

Opie finally takes notions of physical existence to an even more philosophical place, as it relates to social media platforms. Inspired by the uniquely clipped style of Tik Tok and YouTube editing, Opie brings our attention to the behavioural traits of our contemporary culture and questions how "physical" social media presence really is, given the ability to digitally morph and redefine oneself through filters and staged production.

Artscope tour guests discuss the Opie landscape paintings at Lisson Gallery Bell Street, 2023. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.
Artscope tour guests discuss the Opie landscape paintings at Lisson Gallery Bell Street, 2023. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.

In bounding across types of medium and modes of expression, Opie is revealing the way in which physicality can be flexible. At Paraffin Gallery, Andrea Heller moves between painting, drawing and sculpture, but also looks at the diversity of medium through expert handling of ink, for example, where her brushstrokes and control of water and pigment generate a form that departs from its two-dimensional landscape. The image adopts characteristics of a rock formation, or billowing cloud, reminding the viewer of the way materiality can reconstruct objects completely and how they feel or look in space.

View of the Andrea Heller exhibition at Parafin Gallery, 2023. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.
View of the Andrea Heller exhibition at Parafin Gallery, 2023. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.

The notions of applied associations that can dictate how physical truth is identified is also carefully explored by Heller, who is fascinated with 'conditions of existence', namely these structural frameworks that designate things to be a certain way, or not. Heller firstly reveals these systems by working in the contradictory, juxtaposing assumed notions of light, easy, and fun, with dark, difficult and morbid. Deeply rooted in the consequences of history, the viewer is made aware of such inherently conceptual rules that then throw our understanding of "true existence"into doubt. Heller's new glass sculpture series entitled ‘The ‘Receptors’ (2023) exemplify this in referring to pills in playful colours that summon thoughts of medical healing, but also the realities of drug abuse, and then might start to depart from pills altogether and actually resemble mutating cancerous cells that refer to a completely opposite object.


Heller investigates this experience in more detail, "the internal processes of the (human) body which we hardly pay attention to in everyday life." They are based on considerations of sensory perception. In their form, the objects are reminiscent of receptor cells that have one or more openings through which the outside communicates with the inside and vice versa. This eventually could allow trauma, emotion and memories to dictate what we consider true existence. Ultimately, sensory perception is a key tool in making or breaking definitions of physical realities.

View of Andrea Heller works at Parafin Gallery, 2023. Courtesy of Parafin Gallery.
View of Andrea Heller works at Parafin Gallery, 2023. Courtesy of Parafin Gallery.

A glass sculpture from Andrea Heller's 'Receptor' series, 2023. Courtesy of Parafin Gallery.
A glass sculpture from Andrea Heller's 'Receptor' series, 2023. Courtesy of Parafin Gallery.

At Thomas Dane Gallery, the tour concluded with Lynda Benglis' newest works, technically the most traditional rendering of physical form of the three artists. However, over a fifty-year long career, Benglis has consistently explored using things the way they aren't normally used, and like Heller bringing our attention to systems of reference and potentially suggesting we challenge them to form new ideas.


Her bronze sculptures are reminiscent of a prehistoric ancient form with organic, lifelike 'fins' and undulating spinal columns, that also take on an alien, futuristic character- neither of which have we ever experienced yet somehow understand. Her fluorescent polyurethane shapes are starkly artificial next to the more traditional bronze medium, referencing a chemically-manufactured product that can not be mistaken for natural until the egg-shape is acknowledged. A symbol for a wholly primal, living organism, and referencing fertility and motherhood, these associations harshly contradict each other, reminding the viewer of their impositions on our basic natures and introducing a new object in its "physical" form. Where the egg forms hang on the wall, the bronze sculptures are rooted on the floor, stretching our designations of space to include additional realms.

View of Lynda Benglis works at Thomas Dane Gallery, 2023. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.
View of Lynda Benglis works at Thomas Dane Gallery, 2023. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.

Lynda Benglis, 'Power Tower', 2019. Courtesy of Thomas Dane Gallery.
Lynda Benglis, 'Power Tower', 2019. Courtesy of Thomas Dane Gallery.

View of Lynda Benglis works at Thomas Dane Gallery, 2023. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.
View of Lynda Benglis works at Thomas Dane Gallery, 2023. Photo by Kate Fensterstock.

Crucially as it relates to the themes that run through the selection of galleries, Benglis approach to making reflects a core component of her overall practice and personal ethos. Benglis begins by sculpting with clay to develop her forms, before casting these ceramics in bronze. The process is described as a dance, inherently physical and active, allowing the artist's production to be driven by choice movements and ultimately, where these movements have come from. This type of inspiration/reaction is known as proprioception, or kinaesthesia, and specifically refers to the conscious and unconscious awareness of the body through sensations.

Lynda Benglis at work in her studio. Photo by Paul O'Conner.
Lynda Benglis at work in her studio. Photo by Paul O'Conner. Courtesy of Thomas Dane.

It is an important contributor to how Benglis' process of making creates physical form, but also expands prior notions to include the unconscious, or non physical, as part of the physical's makeup as Heller suggested. Between Opie, Heller, and Benglis, the day concluded with significantly more open minds surrounding ideas of physicality and how our realities have the power to evolve.


For more information on the artists and galleries in this feature, or on our tours and experiences open to the public as of early May, please email kate@artscopeintl.com.


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