James Angus

Ideal State

Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin 2003

Memorably, James Angus once attached a rhinoceros to a wall. It was bright yellow and, for a rhinoceros, medium-sized and it jutted out proudly and horizontally into the gallery space, its feet set firmly on the vertical wall as if this were the white emulsion surface of a veld on which it might at any moment shake itself awake and trot away, leaving us,the viewer, far behind.

There’s a touch of the conjurer in James Angus, a willingness to employ a ‘trick’. But in this case the trick doesn’t disguise or misdirect - diverting our attention whilst the rabbit is shuffled into place - It’s not a sleight of hand. It’s in your face, up front, and it is the action itself — the trick- that becomes the source of wonder. He takes on some of the fundamental concerns of sculpture — scale, material, mass, orientation, spatial relation…concerns which (lazily), one might have suspected as being by now beyond reinvigoration - and thrillingly re-articulates them to make work that makes us question our readings and understandings of the world around us.

With the white Manta Ray (Manta Ray 2002 ) Angus has (seemingly) taken a fish out of water, cast it in plaster and then in fiberglass and placed it on a plinth. The ray has been changed and translated from the natural through the digital and into the material. It was recreated and modelled using computer software made for industrial design and engineered into its present form: a re-articulation that floats between discourses and orderings, between meanings and media. Its placement in a gallery and the gleaming abstractions of its fins and body suggest those relationships between the natural world and twentieth century design and architecture which - as expressed in art-books and magazines of the fifties and sixties - seemed to anchor modernism into the ‘natural order of things’. As if Barbara Hepworth and the Fibonacci sequence of seeds in a sunflower-head ineffably proved the historical and ontological inevitability of a Brazilia, a United Nations or a car with fins, and so the perfectibility of history. A teleological certainty expressed in manufactured goods. However from where we are looking at the fish, this future has ceased to be inevitable and our predatory Manta Ray also calls into being a dark twin: somewhere between a Stealth Bomber and a star ship from Star-trek the Next Generation and in turn a chaos of futures both utopian and dystopian. Here we may glimpse worlds where we have swim-bladders or where fish move through the air and where the organic and inorganic seep into each other in endless osmosis.

Crucially in the work none of these generations are editorialised or underlined by either the artist or the work. Rather it is as if the simple act of modeling and making solid is enough to pull these altered states into being.

Other shifts and transformations trigger possibilities and dissolve certainties. An upside down hot air balloon (Shangri-la 2002 ) either defies all the laws of physics through its stubborn inversion and its refusal that hot air rises or …(equally…) insists on the existence of another place and plane where we, the viewer, are currently occupying the ‘up’ and are looking down on its stripy envelope. This inverted world of course, given our current location, is the antipodes— which is, from the title — also a Shangri-la.

Other Shangri-las and ideal states are both suggested and problematised through taking the vectors of haut-modernism and twisting them into the endless strip of a mobius loop — Lakeshore drive mobius loop 2001, or, as here, the Palazzo della Civilta Italiana 2002 which takes an unfinished icon of Italian fascist architecture — surely also an architecture that can be seen as essentially phallic, directed - and morphs it into a mobius torus..a loop around a hole.. where all movements become endlessly circular, self feeding and closed off, suggesting a solipsistic universe sutured off from our normal continuum endlessly feeding back into its own dynamics and drives.

All of Angus’s works insist upon their own being, their own physicality, and securely occupy an event that takes place in our material world, but each also brings into being other potential states and dimensions, a sudden flux or buckling as some other state nearly breaks through or overlays, and which serves to render contingent and hallucinatory that reality which the works seemingly occupy.

Richard Grayson 2003