The Passing of Time

Some thoughts on art I’ve seen this week

Dr Victoria Powell

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Sounds good to me… This quote is plastered big on the wall at the entrance of the Arnolfini gallery in Bristol

A few days ago I went to the Arnolfini, one of Bristol’s big public galleries, to see a show by Elias Sime, a leading contemporary artist from Ethiopia. It was a really engaging exhibition, partly I think because his art looks so lovely and it’s not hard work to find relatable meanings.

There’s something I really love about the communal experience of seeing art, and there was a definite buzz in the room. I enjoyed overhearing what gallery-goers were saying to each other about his work and I had a great conversation with one visitor who was flying solo like me. She was bubbling over with excitement.

Elias Sime is a collector of curious old objects, useless things that don’t seem to have purpose anymore, and he has been collecting this stuff since he was a kid. In particular, he is known for the redundant electronic materials — computer keys, circuit boards, electrical wires — that he has incorporated into his art since 2009 in an ongoing series called Tightrope. He attaches these materials onto panels, and creates semi-abstract images that look like landscapes viewed from above, a bird’s eye perspective. Some works are more abstract than others, but they all share a materiality that draws you into them:

Elias Sime, Tightrope 99 (2009–2014)

You can see the hand of the artist close up. From afar they make sense in terms of blocks of colour, but when you approach them they take on other meanings as you find yourself looking at the individual complex components. It’s really tempting to reach out and touch the artworks, to run your fingers over the surfaces. It’s hard to resist.

Close up of Elias Sime’s Tightrope series
Close up of Elias Sime’s Tightrope series

You might interpret his use of redundant, discarded materials as a comment on our consumption and global waste issues. But Sime doesn’t seem to be interested in that particular idea. In…

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Dr Victoria Powell

I write about art, history, politics & culture, without the confusing art speak. Crazy about dogs. Victorian historian. 19th-century gentleman in a former life.