Magali Reus

Hwael (Butter Side Of Bread)


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Not on display

Magali Reus born 1981
Aluminium, fibreglass, polyester resin, hessian, cotton, Jesmonite and other materials
Object: 2250 × 3050 × 1000 mm (given)
Purchased 2019


Hwael (Butter Side of Bread) 2017 is a large metal-framed sculpture from a series called Hwael, first conceived as an exhibition for Bergen Kunsthall, Norway in 2018, and reconfigured for the South London Gallery in London later that year. The title of the series derives from the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘whale’. The artist has explained that ‘the metal sculptures of Hwael were distributed throughout the exhibition in the rhetorical manner of a fragmented whale skeleton, proportionally analogous to the skeletal framework of the public bus’ (quoted in South London Gallery, London, press release 2018).

Themes of travel and transportation recur throughout Reus’s practice, seen in previous series such as Parking 2013–14 and In Place Of 2015 (see In Place of (Archipelago) 2015 [Tate T14508]). Mounted on the metal framework of Hwael (Butter Side of Bread) are what look like two bags; these have been custom-made by the artist out of resin. One of the bags holds casts of twigs and the graffitied slats of a park bench, apparently gathered from a city park; the other contains a woven souvenir scarf. The visual motif of the bag or suitcase, with its innate connection to portability and adventure, contrasts with the stillness and austerity of the giant disarticulated carcass that the work’s framework and title allude to. The two bags appear clinically dissected, their bizarre purpose-made contents exposed. The use of hard-wearing and durable materials, such as canvas and hessian, affirms associations with travel and exploration. The resin carcasses of both bags are imprinted and embossed with moulded stamps in the shape of city badges, suggesting a narrative of familiar routes travelled, as well as evoking romantic notions attached to the image of an old suitcase covered in stickers and labels, or the accumulation of stamps built up in a well-used passport. 

Hwael (Butter Side of Bread) is representative of Reus’s broader practice of creating sculptural objects and installations that are seemingly recognisable, often appropriating the symbolism of ordinary objects, yet have been purpose-made following a process of analysis, digestion and recreation. The ‘bag’ form was designed using a three-dimensional computer modelling program, thus allowing subtle manipulations of size and format within the conditions of a universally recognisable form. Reus has said of her sculptures: ‘Their formwork is engineered, their skins taut with the cold precision of industrial mass production, meaning that each component detail carries the suggestion of importance.’ (Quoted in South London Gallery, London, press release 2018). Yet, even as they are reproduced, layered and repeated, these visual elements are individually crafted using complex casting, moulding and weaving techniques, pitting the emptiness of mass-production against the slow diligence of handiwork. This amalgamation of contrasting registers suggests a status of both being new and used, covered and exposed, authentic and contrived. Writing in the catalogue of Reus’s exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 2017, the artist Liam Gillick suggested that ‘maybe what we are experiencing when we are faced with one of Reus’s works are the structures that underlie the false order of contemporary arrays. What lies below and underneath a series of logically arranged steps has been undermined by a poetic consciousness.’ (Liam Gillick, in Stedelijk Museum 2017, p 127.)

Further reading
Magali Reus, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 2017.
Magali Reus: Hot Cottons, exhibition catalogue, Bergen Kunsthall 2018.

Sofia Karamani
November 2018

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