- APT Gallery, London
The experience of feeling ‘in the dark’ about what is happening, is part of a Nigredo phenomenon: the term used by alchemists for a time of falling apart, putrefaction, chaos, contradiction, paralysis and closeness to death. Darkness at Noon explores the Covid-19 pandemic as a nigredo phase, in a wider process of transformation, and reverberates with a sense of the paradoxical in our times: the coexistence of anxiety and stillness, doom and hope, fracture and heightened connectivity. A show of mainly paintings, enriched by sculpture and film, many of the works seem haunted by an awareness of loss, impending or already dealt.
This show elegantly weaves themes relating to the personal, social, and global effects of Covid. Sikelela Owen’s monumental picture of her family overseas is a testament to enduring connections. Ruth Calland’s monochrome scenes, from horror films made during the Spanish flu, point to the unifying nature of a widespread fear of disease and sickness.
The American writer James Elkins likened artists to alchemists, each working at and into their chosen materials, bringing deep personal integrity to their exploration of process. Here we see the work of 27 artists in response to the pandemic and its context, at the intersections of medical, ecological and social disaster, engaged with soul-searching, and mapping this valley of shadows. This moment is both ‘now’ in an existential battle with demons internal and external, and also a sudden return to a sense of history, as we stand newly in relation to previous plagues and pandemics.
Reworking images of antiquity, Jonathan Waller’s funerary pieces and Casper White’s spectral paintings hold a dual sense of disconnection from and connectedness to the temporal. The exhibition returns us to ourselves as spinners of ritual, myth and the archetypal, as in Jo Whittle’s image of an eerily-lit altar in a forest, and Chantal Powell’s sculpted alchemical totems.
A nearness to death is pervasive; implicit in Susie Hamilton’s nightmarish images of Covid wards, and Ruth Philo’s piece made in grief for her daughter. There are also moments of resilience: exuberance from Karl Bielik, and whimsical dark humour such as Andi Magenheimer’s Funeral for a Mouse. As in alchemical work, there might be hope within the darkness, despite the always provisional nature of our own