Nadav Kander: Dark Line – The Thames Estuary / Reviewed by Gemma Padley / 21.11.17
For his latest exhibition, Nadav Kander and his gallery, Flowers, have pulled off a show that is remarkably affecting and thought-provoking. Upon entering the east London gallery, one immediately gets the feeling that for Kander this is an immensely personal exhibition – a labour of love, even. It’s evident in the way we sense Kander’s presence in his huge vertical prints of seascapes (inspired by Chinese scroll paintings), and more overtly in a film installation in which the artist literally puts himself in the frame.
Dark Line – The Thames Estuary centres on London-based Kander’s exploration of the point at which the River Thames widens and flows towards the North Sea. A landscape he’s been photographing and “absorbing” since 2015, it is characterised by mudflats and marshes, and there is little trace of human activity save the odd power station or port just visible on the horizon, or boat inching along dark murky waters in the distance.
It is these indifferent and still, seemingly bottomless bodies of water that drew Kander to what was once a booming industrial area – a place where trade was brisk and barges hustled and bustled up and down the Estuary. His fascination with bodies of water has long roots. Kander remembers swimming as a child, and upon noticing how the sand disappeared into blackness, fleeing the water in terror. Yet despite its menace, water draws him back again and again, intrigued by “its ability to conceal what is unknown”. As Kander writes in the accompanying catalogue: “When alone, there is nowhere I’d rather be than beside large bodies of slow-moving water. I feel myself, quiet and alive as emotions come and go.”
If in China, along the Yangtze, Kander explored the communities embedded by the river, and was compelled to investigate socio-political and geographical histories, in Dark Line he is less concerned with the geography of place and history, and more interested in the river as a metaphor for the “perpetual cycle of change” that is life and death, and also time (the parallel with photography’s relationship to time is apparent and deliberate).
Great wordsmiths (T.S. Eliot, Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad) informed the work on occasion, which Kander acknowledges by concealing quotes in pull-out drawers in the prints’ frames. “In my beginning is my end”, reads one by T.S. Eliot that is especially poignant given the exhibition’s underlying references to mortality and immortality. These handwritten quotes invite us to reflect on what we are looking at in light of impossibly beautiful and moving sentiments about the human condition.
Indeed, what makes the exhibition so compelling is the way Kander effortlessly taps into and brings together art forms outside of photography – literature, music, sculpture, and film – to complement his art. Dotted throughout the space are plinths filled with water containing objects such as rocks and feathers, which Kander salvaged from his travels, and tucked away in the back of the gallery is a film installation comprising three suspended sheets of silk onto which a video of Kander being slowly engulfed by and rising from water is projected. As emotions and expressions from bliss to contemplation, confusion, and fear flicker across his face, it is like watching a man meet his death. Specially commissioned music by star composer Max Richter accompanies the film and gently wafts through the gallery. It’s a hugely powerful, almost transcendent combination. The prints themselves with their coffin-like wooden frames have a very physical presence and feel more akin to sculpture. Hung low to the ground, they are like doorways inviting viewers into a mysterious world, and there is a wonderful dialogue between these and the plinths. Add in the low lighting and barely-there scent, and it all makes for an incredibly affecting experience.
The work is Kander through and through – his distinctive use of lighting and tone are undeniable – but the exhibition feels like that of an artist on the cusp of something new and urgent. In creating a body of work that is very much about him and his relationship to water, to photography, and about life itself, it is as though Kander has embarked on a voyage into unchartered waters, a journey he doesn’t seem intent on stopping any time soon.
– Text by Gemma Padley
Nadav Kander’s Dark Line – The Thames Estuary is at Flowers Gallery London, 82 Kingsland Road, until 13 January 2018. Installation views, courtesy of Flowers Gallery, below:
82 Kingsland Rd, London E2 8DP