UnTurning is the first exhibition in the UK & Ireland by Canadian-born and New York-based painter Ambera Wellmann.
Wellmann’s paintings negotiate the devastation of the present, one in which the cultural logic of heteronormativity and capitalism are naturalised in the human psyche. Traversing distinctions between human and animal, and figure and ground, Wellmann visualises an illogical state where bodies transmute. Populated with elusive figures and motifs manifesting in uncanny physical forms, Wellmann’s works embody processes of erasure and revision, engaging with the potential of chance, vulnerability, and failure.
Wellmann bends the rigidity of art history by plucking from specific paintings across differing eras. UnTurning, the eponymous work in the exhibition, recalls The Study of Feet and Hands, 1818–1819 by Théodore Géricault in preparation for his masterpiece The Raft of the Medusa of the same year. The artist’s preparatory painting of fragmented body parts reveals a strange sense of tenderness amidst the horrors of the naval frigate Medusé. Harking back to the body in a fragmented state, Wellmann’s UnTurning is composed of cutouts of multiple paintings that were reassembled within an expansive, horizontal canvas, refusing to rest within a single temporal understanding. The cutouts are estranged from their original context: constructed from the detritus of rejected works, UnTurning proposes a deconstruction of desire.
Wellmann’s use of horizontality engenders a democracy of bodies, allowing for a recapitulation of meaning. Through a compelling exploration of figuration, she deconstructs the horizontal domain of the bed, and in such inherently internal spaces, her amorphous figures resist the binaries of active and passive, male and female. The subjects in Wellmann’s paintings navigate the potentiality of their present circumstances and endeavour to generate a domain informed by the ethos of queer futurity.
Image: Milk Watcher, 2019. Photo credit: Simon Mills