Glass visits Leonor Antunes: the Frisson of the Togetherness at the Whitechapel

ANTUNES’ first solo project in London, the Frisson of the Togetherness, borrows its title from British architect Alison Smithson’s description of how young people bring together elements of style to define their identity and social allegiances.

Composed of abstract floor-based and suspended works, Portuguese artist Antunes’ spatial intervention employs quotidian domestic materials such as cork, lino, leather and string which have been elevated through subtle artisan processes. Employing traditional craft-techniques such as hand-knotting fishing-nets or braiding leather horse-bridles, the artist’s body of work hints at notions of labour and temporality whilst referencing migration and the historical trades of London’s East End.

Installation view at the Whitechapel Gallery. Photo: Nick Ash

Paying homage to overlooked figures of the 20th century, Antunes’ commission is largely-informed by two sculptors who lived in London: British artist Mary Martin (1907-69) recognised for her geometric abstractions and Brazilian artist Lucia Nogueira (1950-98), whose work alluded to the body and was concerned with the relationship between objects and language. 

As with previous projects which include SFMOMA (2016), the 8th Berlin Biennial (2014) and Kunsthalle Basel (2013), Antunes’ sources of inspiration often include female artists, architects and designers from the mid-century such as Ruth Asawa, Anni Albers, Eileen Gray and Greta Magnusson-Grossman. Drawn not only to their radical social and political stances, Antunes shares an affinity with their practical aspirations to improve quality of life through modern art and design. In an interview from 2016, Antunes vocalised her intuition that for one to have the impetus to create, one must be transplanted far from the safety of their homeland, she herself being a Portuguese artist living in Berlin who is creating sculpture in London.

Installation view at the Whitechapel Gallery. Photo: Nick Ash 

Taking the form of grids, Antunes’ tactile sculptures at the Whitechapel serve as screens or dividers that play with visitors’ experience of – and engagement with – the space, inviting one to weave between elements whilst maintaining complete panoramas of the gallery through their open structures. Of her practice, Antunes has said, “I do not think in terms of creating something new, but rather use the past as a source for linking things together. Most of all I am interested in the idea of sculpture per se, which still operates as a very specific medium. The space it generates, between the viewer and the object, and vice versa – but then this is just a beginning …”.

 Installation view at the Whitechapel Gallery. Photo: Nick Ash

by Rowena Chiu

Leonor Antunes: the Frisson of the Togetherness is on display until April 8 at the Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High St, London E1 7QX