Friday, 21 February 2014


 ART FIRST, 21 Eastcastle St, London, W1W 8DD, until March 22

 Shangri-La, 2013, watercolour on paper, 35x50cm (c) artist
I place in your hands, (2013) 109 x14cm,
Shangri-La is a fictional place described in Lost Horizon, a 1932 best-seller  by James Hilton, later made into a Frank Capra film. It's a mystical, harmonious valley, an earthly paradise where people lived years beyond their normal span. ageing very slowly. Walk down streets like Kimberley Road, Lowestoft  40 or 50 years ago and you were  likely to see the words on  a small wooden plaque naming some of the neat  bungalows and semi-detached houses owned by the retired. (The next most popular name was Dunromin (Done Roaming)). Nowadays you may  still  find the name painted on a beach hut in Southwold or somewhere else offering peace and pleasure.

What is Shangri-La doing in an art gallery?
Its message sharpens the poignancy of other darker art works in the show. For this show is entitled Lost Horizon and chronicles our search in vain for a Utopia. Paintings, scrolls, videos, mirrors, word lists, collage, etched crystal glass all invite us to reflect on  our dream of a perfect society. 

This particular art work looks like a collage but is in fact a beautiful trompe d'oeil painting of discarded flora  and prunings from the artist's small balcony garden in South Korea.The accompanying notes remind us that "The search for paradise begins, and ends, at home".

The work on the right is embellished with gold vinyl lettering spelling out its title, I place in your hands, a fragment of dialogue from Lost Horizon. Postcards like these are still sent as friendly, perhaps tantalising, tokens from remote and desirable places. Many of the other exhibits are not so benign. A work in ink on Chinese linen To Be Governed lists some words taken from the writings of the 19C anarchist Proudhon: "taxed, stamped, forbidden, corrected, punished, spied on, choked, sacrificed..."

The artist tells us that the show refers to his new home in Seoul, close to the Utopian construct of North Korea. He writes ' ...a few dozen miles north lies a monstrous nation ...its leaders persist in the most absurdly ruinous and barbaric attempt to realise Shangri-La'.  (by Simon Morley, 2003)
The Sublime, a book edited by Simon Morley and  published by Whitechapel Gallery 

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