ART REVIEW: Night Falls, Day Breaks

German born artist Anne Wenzel has based her work on the fundamental principle that "the concept comes first, followed by the technique". In other words, idea before craft.

Such methodology serves her well as her work in Night Falls, Day Breaks is brought to life for the first time as a solo exhibition in the UK and Ireland, in Derry-Londonderry's Void Gallery. Night Falls, Day Breaks marks a century since the events of the Easter Rising and the Battle Of The Somme in 1916: what we have here is a heartfelt and damaging expose of the human and natural horrors of war across three galleries, a collection about "commemoration and catastrophe".

This is a predominantly ceramic exhibition, with elements of metal, wood paint and even water when required. Wenzel's own admitted lack of familiarity with ceramics is an asset rather than a flaw, her groundbreaking use of technique translating into raw passion that seeps from the structures on display.

Thematically, the first gallery handles "attempted decadence" and "damaged goods", represented by ceramic trios of floral arrangements and busts respectively. "Attempted" is a word worth highlighting with regard to the sculpted plants, for one senses that these blossoms will not attempt to blossom regardless of cause and effect. They are emblematic of dying hope and forced survival despite the odds, their rust and ochre hardly concealed by the shimmering glimpses of blue, white, silver and the roses that just won't wilt. Behind the brighter colours lies a terrifying ugliness, the pain from neglect, loss of pride and loss of beauty. Only one of the sculptures admirably battles decay, its mother of pearl lustre creating a sheen of resistance.

The heads and shoulders of the three busts comprising "damaged goods" dare one to take in the erosion of time and combat on even the toughest of commanders. When followed clockwise from the gallery's entrance, their human features on the inside and out, notably their heart and intestines, become more and more ravaged. Where the first bust has at least a partly recognisable face, the second is visibly scarred by damage and debris, and the third is drained of both colour and identity. It's both frightening and eye-opening.  

Equally educational, if not quite as visually shocking, is the second gallery's "Requiem Of Heroism". Of note are the green stems and red lilies that wilt and fall off a wreath, which expertly indicate the dark side of memorials. Wenzel's pieces do not honour commemoration, but examine it. This carries over into a small bunch of lilies on the ground in the corner in the gallery. Existing as if they have been washed up on a shore, they recall the spilled remains on Omaha Beach in Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan", conveying the aftermath of ferocity that we have not, will not and need not bear witness to here. The decay, emptiness and colourlessness in both war and memorials is laid bare for everyone to see.

The third gallery is the most atmospheric and visual. Entitled "Silent Landscape" it features a series of broken, treelike ceramic sculptures - forty-four of them, to be precise - very partially submerged in still water on a large, raised platform. It is surrounded by a wallpaper mural of tall trees, rivers and a forest painted in india ink; sculpted is the aftermath of disaster, painted is what surely was before and what will hopefully be again. Any hope is surely faint, however, for what we see is a circle of time and life, brought to a standstill; the mere sighting and examining of the remains Wenzel has created in here - and indeed, the other two galleries - is enough to send chills down the spine. It's a wonderful exhibition in both its sharp resonance and its stark intimacy.

Simon Fallaha

Night Falls, Day Breaks runs at the Void Gallery until Saturday April 16.

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