Lonnie Holley: The Growth of Communication is the artist’s first exhibition with Edel Assanti and first UK solo show since his 2004 retrospective at IKON Gallery in Birmingham (UK).
Lonnie Holley’s (b. 1950, Birmingham, Alabama, USA) interdisciplinary practice encompasses sculpture, painting, photography, filmmaking, performance and music. Holley’s found mediums are imbued with cultural and artistic metaphor, combined into sculptures that commemorate and give narrative to places, people and events.
The Growth of Communication consists primarily of works made over the course of Holley’s recent trips to the UK, sourcing and salvaging materials and inspiration from his travels across the country. The works were assembled in Suffolk during the artist’s residency there in February, at which time he concurrently produced a commission with Artangel, performing and filming on Orford Ness. With an artistic vocabulary whose foundations are steeped in the dispossessed aura of the South’s vast industrial heritage, Holley was inherently inspired by the history of Orford Ness as a laboratory for technological innovation. The spectacular shingle spit served as a military testing site for 70 years, in which amongst other secret experiments, radar technology was developed.
Travelling between the Ness and a converted barn/studio each day, narratives and objects garnered from the site and surrounding area seeped into Holley’s creative process. The exhibition’s title work, The Growth of Communication, 2022, makes vivid allusions to contemporary technological entrapment. From the carcass of an antiquated dial telephone, a trail of entangled cables emerge and knot themselves into a dense mass. Through these metal clusters, multiple silhouettes of faces are discernible. Repeating spectral human forms throughout the paintings and works on paper signal ancestral presences, with symbolic references that point towards ideas of interconnectivity and interdependence, as padlocks, chains and wires shackle us to the histories and technologies we have created. The works in the exhibition seem to offer windows onto former and future worlds, yet are underpinned by a sense of the urgent need for humanity to apprehend our shared universal destiny.
References to Holley’s own childhood in the pre-civil-rights-era South are hard to escape through his regeneration of discarded objects. As a child he watched his mother and grandmother gathering clothing, food and scrap metal to sell to junkyards, learning to repurpose salvaged detritus at a young age. Holley began his artistic life in 1979, aged 29 when he carved tombstones for his sister’s two children who died in a house fire. Discovering art’s power to transcend human emotions, he began making works assembled from found materials – a tradition closely tied to the “yard art” of the rural south. The yard emerged as a crucial sanctuary and expressive space for black southerners in the Jim Crow era, where improvisational languages involving the adaptation of found materials were forged.
Holley’s abstract compositions are invested with the symbolic power of their constituent parts: worn-out mannequins, rusted forks from a prison, burnt-out appliances. The histories his sculptures and music relay are both autobiographical and collective, inviting contemplation of the past and present as a guiding force in unlocking the future. The works in The Growth of Communication convey subtle narratives, addressing our challenging and changing relationships to history, nature, technology, politics and one another.
Marking the opening of the exhibition and London Gallery Weekend’s 2022 edition, Artangel and Edel Assanti will present a special live performance by Holley at the new London arts venue Stone Nest on Shaftesbury Avenue on 14th May 2022. We will also present a shorter musical performance at the gallery at 7.30 pm on the exhibition’s opening night (12th May).