Olivia Guigue


7 November — 12 December 2021

The exhibition Tamesiology by French artist Olivia Guigue is the result of her residency at the gallery, an extended period of 18 months that began at the inception of the pandemic, during which the artist undertook regular visits to the nearby foreshore of the Thames at Deptford in order to retrieve material ‘gifted’ by the river. Guigue treads lightly, barely disturbing the riverbed. She takes what is offered by its waters without digging beneath. In doing so, the project transposes the foreshore of the Thames into the gallery, albeit in a carefully redacted manner. In order to reveal this exceptionally diverse landscape, the artist devised a classification of matter in 6 degrees: indigenous, imported and modified natural matter, man-made materials from natural sources, synthetic polymers and conglomerates of all types. Perhaps the most extraordinary of these groups are the so-called Pseudo-Minerals, synthetic polymers that resemble natural formations; these are matched and displayed in pairs or small ensembles to outwit the viewers’ perception, triggering playful speculations as to their origins.

Guigue’s exhibition underscores the emergence of the Anthropocene, a new unit in geological time – the time of the human – through the evidence of identifiable synthetic signals in the strata record. Her work is partly archaeological – she works with the ruins of the past – but it also reveals ‘something of the deep future in the world we have made; as Philosopher David Farrier argues, ‘we are steeped in future fossils, testament of who we are and what we might become.’

The resulting display using tables and vitrines echoes that of a museum of natural history, but by contrast, though the taxonomies are precise and exacting, they do not follow established scientific conventions; rather, the artist asks us to consider her findings in an aesthetic manner, perhaps to treat them as marvels that reveal a certain poetic thinking portraying the march of decay and extinction as a process of crystallization able to impart new truths to the world of the living.

This text is an edited excerpt from the publication Waterlow Palimpsest by Nicolas de Oliveira and Nicola Oxley that accompanies the exhibition.