For her latest London show, Pae White has created a hypnotic maze of black, red, blue and purple threads which reach from and terminate into the walls of South London Gallery – as seemingly endless and bewildering as the sleepless nights which conceived it. White’s bout of insomnia began when she stopped running, and this blur of colour and text reflects upon the thoughts which possessed her addled mind during this period.
UNMATTERING and TIGER TIME scream out of the gallery walls in supergraphics, meshes of thread forming sharp black corners before drawing the words out into the space. Using such a thin, basic material to create such a powerful impression exemplifies the effect of irrational and unimportant fears on the sleep-deprived mind: everyday worries becoming all-powerful in the darkness.
The first of White’s most memorable night time preoccupations, UNMATTERING, confronts our own ultimate unimportance; whilst TIGER TIME (originally TIGER TIGER before White realised the reference this made to one particularly dodgy London nightclub) is that monster which lurks under the bed. The blacks, blues and purples which overlap one another refer to an even older “monster” – mimicking the colour scheme of a Black Sabbath album which haunted White as a child, and which stayed hidden under her bed – whilst a flash of red severs the other shades, signifying danger, pain and fear.
At first glance, the work bears similarity to a handful of other artistic weavers; however, what divides White’s work from artists such as Chiharu Shiota is that her work is not just a matted spider’s web, but threads of scattered thoughts which converge and overwhelm. The piece is nostalgic, White’s own childhood memories feeding into it, and for me it even conjured flashbacks to the taut threads of an old violin or becoming entangled in a folded washing line as a child. Walking inside the piece and between these dark strands, there is time for contemplation which gives way to a meditative yet mesmerising experience.
What is so impressive about this piece is that it somehow manages to absolutely mirror the effects of exhaustion: confused eyes, overblown emotions and random thoughts and ideas which take on exaggerated significance. The streaks of colour crash into one another at the centre of the room, jar on the eye and even appear to move; like tiredness, the work has a surprising effect on the disposition – I even lost my balance on my fifth stroll through the space.
To complete the piece is a stack of pizza boxes and a grey BRITAIN MADE ME Tshirt: a nod to the team who spent a week laboriously constructing the show; and the exercise which used to allow White to sleep. Although geometric and exact, these additions ensure that the piece is not too regimented or removed; instead White has a clear and personal presence amongst her thoughts.
Whilst heavily concept-based, and overtly contemporary, this show remains an optical illusion that would be very hard to dislike; like the night to the insomniac, Too Much Night, Again is simultaneously inviting, threatening and profoundly thought-proking.
Pae White: Too Much Night, Again, until 12 May, South London Gallery, 65-67 Peckham Road, London SE5 8UH.
1. Pae White, Too much night, again, 2013, installation, mixed media. Courtesy greengrassi, London. Photo: Andy Keate.