London-based Céline Condorelli is interested in architectural space and our physical and ideological relationship to it. In her restless, probing survey show, “After Work” (on view through October 1, 2022), she evokes work and leisure, the social, and the political through sculptural installations, films, and print works that embed themselves across two floors of galleries. This approach makes a virtue out of awkwardly configured mix of disparate spaces at Talbot Rice—from a large white cube to a former natural history museum—taking the viewer from light to dark, open to enclosed, large-scale to small.
Before becoming an artist, Condorelli studied architecture. Here, she draws on the work of several Modernist architects, including the postwar playgrounds of Aldo van Eyck in Amsterdam and Lina Bo Bardi’s buildings in Brazil. Bo Bardi’s aesthetic informs Condorelli’s scene-setting installation in the first gallery—a high-ceilinged white cube flooded with natural light from the usually blocked-out skylights that the artist uncovered. Prologue (2022) brings together various elements to create a kind of inside/outside urban garden, calling to mind street cafés, sandboxes in children’s play areas, and specifically Bo Bardi’s architecture in Salvador de Bahia.
The space is dominated by a large kidney-shaped planter, edged in corrugated steel and filled with small stones. Tropical-looking philodendron plants are supported by pink steel tube sculptures, while the striped fabric sun awnings that provide shade are anchored with shiny limestone blocks that double as seating. The wall text—an essential tool for fully appreciating Condorelli’s thinking and intentions—tells us that she is referencing Kyoto rock gardens and the materials used by Bo Bardi. Wall drawings, prints, architectural maquettes, and brightly colored spinning tops (models for possible playground carousels) are arranged around the edges of the space. More Permanent than Snow (2019), a series of delicately beautiful sand-colored models of Aldo van Eyck’s 1950s playground designs, occupies a large window ledge. Despite their historic nature, these exquisite abstract forms seem futuristic and hopeful—an embodiment of the importance of childhood play in the midst of the adult world.
The notion of play and an exploration of the social spaces given over to it thread through the exhibition. In a dark upstairs space, the film installation After Work (2021), from which the exhibition takes its title, poetically documents the labor involved in the production of a playground designed by Condorelli for the Elmington Estate in Camberwell, South London. We’re invited to view the film, a collaboration with Ben Rivers and the writer and artist Jay Bernard, by looking through Spatial Composition 13 (2021), a painted steel and fabric sculpture that recalls Condorelli’s multicolored climbing structures and the do-nothing relaxation associated with deck chairs and beach loungers.
The show’s final, dimly lit section, installed in the Georgian-style natural history museum, provides a marked shift in form and tone, and it includes works by other contemporary artists such as Isa Genzken and Grace Ndiritu. The mezzanine overlooking the central hall features a fascinating collection of Condorelli’s research materials installed in vitrines; the main space houses a multimedia installation, Thinking through Skin (2021–22), which takes as its point of reference, not Modernist architecture, but cephalopods and how these shape-shifting animals perceive their surroundings. Again, there’s a sense of play, of bodily navigation through a busy, visually stimulating environment. In “After Work,” Condorelli, acting as guide and interrogator, highlights the possibilities and realities of our relationship with architectural spaces—and ultimately the worlds of both work and play.