Ydessa Hendeles is a collector/curator turned artist, exhibiting in London for the first time. German-born, she emigrated to Canada in 1951 with her parents, who were Auschwitz survivors. She has a proven record of extraordinary philanthropy and commitment to art. In 2009 she donated 32 contemporary works worth $12 million to the Art Gallery of Ontario.
With From Her Wooden Sleep she creates a “tableau vivant” using her personal collection of 150 wooden manikins. Previously housed in her home studio, the piece has been re-designed specifically for the space at the ICA. It is a theatrical experience. “The manikins surround a lone figure that stands exposed in their collective gaze. The intense focus of the scenario suggests a community gathering – perhaps in a courtroom, or at an auction, anatomy lesson or drawing class.”
Walking into the space where From Her Wooden Sleep is housed is an encounter with another world. A piano soundtrack of Claude Debussy’s Golliwog Cakewalk accompanies visitors’ walk in front of mirrors that warp the image and around the many wooden bodies, summoning the atmosphere of a fairground. Some manikins sit upright and formal on wooden benches, some are crammed into vitrines, others tumble out of boxes under tables. There are an overwhelming number of eyes upon the spectator.
One of the more controversial items on show is a copy of a popular children’s book, published in 1895, titled The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwog. The showing of the book as part of the show seeks to highlight “the way crazes define culture and social dynamics…Golliwog was the first black protagonist in English picture books…in the mid 20th century, however, the character became a controversial symbol of racism.”
Hendeles provides a detailed exhibition list of all the items used in the show, encouraging visitors to learn more about the history of the artifacts. There are so many components to the exhibition that each person will take away a very different experience, but it is unlikely that a viewer will leave without feeling that Ydessa Hendeles is a groundbreaking, exhilarating artist forcing a reassessment of the boundaries between curation and art.
Photos: Robert Keziere
Ydessa Hendeles: From Her Wooden Sleep is at the ICA until 17th May 2015, for further information visit here.