Christ Church Spitalfields

Laura White may not have thought about it when she chose the image that she would project onto her assemblage of found objects from the Christ Church Spitafields Crypt. Yet, the elephant that we slowly recognise turning around the complex sculpture she installed in the Middle Crypt might remind some of the visitors of Ganesha, the Hindu elephant-deity, Lord of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. There is certainly no religious connotation to this monumental and absorbing sculptural installation. Yet, there is a certain commonality between the mythical figure of Ganesha and the untitled sculpture of Laura White: both reveal a very human sense of the imaginary and the ability of mankind to create images that transcend our rational vision of reality.

There is something particularly relevant in inviting Laura White’s animalistic imagery to invade the space of the Spitafields’ crypt. Animals have for a long time been part of the Sacred that we could define as this realm of experience to which both pagan and religious traditions and myths belong. For Georges Bataille, Art and the Sacred are born together in the prehistoric caves, when men divided existence in two opposite worlds, the world of play facing the world of work. "Resolutely, decisively, man wrenched himself out of the animal’s condition and into "manhood": that abrupt, most important of transitions left an image of itself blazed upon the rock in this cave.", writes Bataille in Lascaux. In the low-ceiling room, I saw the shadowy image of this elephant gradually embracing the architecture of the space and the volumes of White’s installation, printing its contours onto the wall and making it disappear into the chiaroscuro of the moving image.

There are actually two projected images of the gigantic animal, overlapping, blurring our perception and understanding of what we see. White has reproduced through her sculptural construction the animal’s physical volume, yet deprived him of his wild and threatening presence, meaning his real presence. However, the creature created by White does not build on the pop or exotic imagery the elephant has inspired before –thinking of Hinduism, Circus or Walt Disney’s animated film, Fantasia. Her use of documentary images aims at radically transforming the context in which we perceive the animal in order to raise a feeling of uncanniness and lead us on a different imaginary path. In the crypt, we are driving to pay attention to the materials and how our bodies physically relate to the corporeity of this indefinable object.

White’s sculpture creates a space that relates to two different universes: the old crypt with its architectural characteristics and history and her own imagination driven by her artistic goal. In this work, I had the feeling that the artist made me plunge into her very emotional interpretation of the site but left enough space for my own mirages.

Projects at Christ Church will present three other commissions by Louise Ashcroft (12 to 22 November), Clare Gasson (26 Nov to 6 December) and Guler Ates (10 to 20 December)