I had not heard of the German born artist Lin May Saeed before going to the preview of her show Biene (Bees) at Studio Voltaire on Thursday and it’s not surprising, as this is her first institutional show. She works in modern media, styrofoam, paper, wood and steel and explores the relationship between humans and animals. After seeing this I will definitely look out for her in future.
Her sculptures have a rough, unfinished look but they also have a timeless quality, referencing earlier sculptural traditions, of both East and West. The figure seated on a boat with a feline for company looked decidedly Ancient Greek in style and I wasn’t surprised to find that it is entitled Zenon in Boat (2005). This, depicting Zeno of Elea, he of the paradoxes of motion, is the earliest work shown and he is depicted as both male and female. The four near life-size animals which are the centrepiece of the show include a calf which owes much to the art of Mesopotamia.
These animal sculptures dominate the space. They are ranged in a line facing the same way, their attitude poised, in the act of movement. They, an anteater, a serval, a calf and a hyena, are animals which are outside any heraldic or classic tradition (though cattle and cats have their place in religions). Carved in polystyrene, with tufting of wool or hair, they all have anthropomorphic qualities. The slow, wading gait of the anteater, its knuckles dragging the ground, is the epitome of ponderousness. The serval, with is quivering poised alertness, is ready for anything, while the calf trots forward, its big eyes gazing forward at the viewer, a sacrifice waiting to happen. The hyena ( and I learned more about hyenas on Thursday than I had ever wished to discover, though it was fascinating ) appears in many folkloric traditions, but always with negative connotations, portrayed as scheming, sly or cowardly.
I liked the other works too, the huge back-lit paper cut-out of a square-torso’d human figure about to clap its hands closed to capture or, more likely, to eliminate an insect, entitled Bee (2018) is arresting. The steel gate structure The Liberation of Animals from Their Cages XXI (2018) is a lobster caught in metal and the friezes are interesting, showing human figures in a landscape half natural, half manmade. The figures aren’t refined representations, their oversized heads may possibly be turbaned and masks for faces and the materials – polystyrene, wood, twisted metal – jangle, discordantly, together. This is humankind impacting upon its environment.
May Saeed’s work touches upon environmental activism, but it is rooted in the mythology of the ancient past, physical and metaphorical, where form and gender is fluid and one can be both male and female, human and animal. One can be still and in motion. But it is more than just an artistic juxtaposition of binary opposites, it is too firmly based in folkloric tradition for that, which makes it far more interesting.
The exhibition runs until 26th August at Studio Voltaire, Nelson’s Row, SW4. It is free to enter.