Polly Morgan & Leena Similu, False Flags
Polly Morgan – OPEN! CHANNEL! FLOW!
Both until 29 April 2023
Royal Society of Sculptors
Dora House, 108 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 3RA
Royal Society of Sculptors presents False Flags, a joint exhibition by British artist Polly Morgan and US artist Leena Similu. Here camouflage, mim- icry and subterfuge are the inspiration for a series of painted snakeskin-textured sculptures, photographs and ceramic-based sculptural works which explore the politicisation of bodily adornments, drawing parallels between military, cultural and primal warfare.
The practice in naval warfare of raising a neutral or enemy flag to misrepresent your identity or intent is a good example of the powerplay between predator and prey, with camouflage, mimicry and subterfuge being used to misdirect the opponent. Similarly, the flare of a cobra’s hood to reveal large eyes more akin to those of a mammal, while displaying the markings common to benign snakes, are all tricks employed by the deadly cobra to hide its true identity. It’s the oldest form of appropriation and, if detected, would mean cancellation of the severest kind.
Polly Morgan is white, with bitten, unpainted fingernails. Is it appropriate she uses in her work the sharp painted nails more commonly associated with black culture or good grooming? Her snake-textured augmented sprues, spine-like columns on which acrylic nails are packaged before applica- tion, are like strings of bunting or serried shields, beauty both as cue and armour. Beside these, her photographs of birds’ skins on serpentine wire look remarkably like the wigs worn by showmen, judges, and chieftains. Leena Similu makes anthropomorphic ceramics inspired by the masks of her mother’s homeland, Cameroon. Features exaggerated and expressions frozen, they sport shocks of human hair and wear earrings that resemble their younger selves had they lived.
Concurrent with False Flags, British artist Polly Morgan’s first public sculpture, OPEN! CHANNEL! FLOW! Is on show on the sculpture terrace at the newly restored Dora House. Taking its title from the name given to any conduit with a free surface, OPEN! CHANNEL! FLOW! consists of two triangles of furrowed concrete adorned with painted, iridescent fibreglass casts of snakes that spill from the crevices and connect the two. Through the use of materials commonly used in boatbuilding and nail decoration, Morgan uses modern technology to mimic nature at its most dazzling and obfuscatory. The snakes are moulded into their concrete trenches, with their scales reflecting light as rainbows. The sculpture represents how we are all shaped and constrained by our environment: the refracted light is the energy, ebb and flow of ideas, and the serpentine forms embody all life; at points intertwining, repelling and jostling for position.