Ian Kiaer’s oblique shift of the white cube gallery  
Within the strict, near-cube whiteness of Alison Jacques gallery in central London, Ian Kiaer subtly disrupts both the architecture and the bodily experience. His installation works combining painting, installation, found material & sculpture pulls ideas of architectural theory into a fine art context.

When Ian Kiaer turned up to Alison Jacques gallery two weeks before his exhibition Endnote, oblique opened, he had in his mind a rough model of what the final hang may look like, but not a fixed decision. He brought a lot more work than was needed, indeed more than would fill the two neat but not gargantuan Fitzrovia rooms. He then set out to build the exhibition, requiring a certain embodiment of the space, reading the presence, and a strict editor’s eye.

But it still didn’t feel right, and so he set out to create a new piece of work, which was still being finished just hours before the first wine was poured at the opening events. Endnote oblique, silver (2023) dominates the main space, the endnote of its title perhaps invoking its final-moments addition to the exhibition, and the oblique certainly referencing the angle at which it is hung from the ceiling – at an angle to the square geometry, obstructing entrance to the space for every visitor who enters.


“There was this need to think about the resistivity – just slightly – in terms of a different kind of non-white-cube space, or a suggestion towards a different kind of corridor space,” the artist says. He is not, however, talking about his own resistive act of breaking the gallery’s rigid order, but of the 1970 French Pavilion at the Venice Biennale by architect Claude Parent. Parent sought to build into the neoclassical space a series of sloped surfaces which disrupted and provoked new experiences of the overtly geometric and mannered space, and in his exhibition Kiaer has created a representation of that space as if on a torn, screwed up fragment of paper irregularly compressed behind a sheet of Perspex.

The Biennale exhibition progressed Parent’s ideas of the fonction oblique - or the function of the oblique – which took interest in testing how a body physically experiences space, about how a wall can become more than a vertical boundary to the horizontal but part of the spatial experience itself, and how the body can inexorably be tied to the space itself rather than existing separated and extracted through it. It is a spatial philosophy which folded into late 1990s and early millennial theory and projects, from Lars Spuybroek/NOX/Oosterhuis Associate’s Dutch water pavilions to Foreign Office Architects’ Yokohama Passenger Terminal, and through to Zaha Hadid Architecture’s parametricism and wobbliness. It could be argued that what was initially a disruptive proposition has since been absorbed into everyday aesthetic, as neoliberalism tends to do whether the disruption is form, capital, or social. But in these works, Kiaer hopes to extract the fundamental shift, and remind what dislocation can be.


Kiaer is interested in this notion of the oblique, and how it introduces a sense of instability and unbalance, not only spatially but also into the painted and created works displayed. The massive sheet of cellophane he made in the space, for the space, not only breaks the physicality of the room but compresses within its two sheets silver leaf and LED lighting which looks as if it has collapsed from the neat gallery system. Its instability and nervousness is oblique in a very architectural way, a fan up above gently blowing and moving the hanging chaos, reminding how it others the structure and geometry of the space it occupies.

Endnote oblique, silver has a secondary function in breaking the direct visual line between the other works on walls adjacent to one another. This deliberately turns the hang into less of a conversation between the works and insists on the visitor’s body to create the conversation. In the main space there are two works beyond the cascading plastic sheet and the sketchy reproduction of the French Pavilion. Endnote oblique, earth (2023) is formed of many sheets of Korean paper folded and unfolded countless times, then painted over into a whole which in trying to create a singular form only highlights the fragmented, stitched, and interconnected construction beneath the surface colour.

These patinas and visible histories interest Kiaer, who physically makes the works on his studio floor – “you kind of have this imprint of the studio,” he says. They are also present within all the perspex used in the works, each piece of which was once a part of a Paris bustop, but painted over and now shifted from French streetscape into London galleryscape – “the register of marks and traces of the grime of the city to speak through something that's both very quick, but also has taken time to have occurred, emerged through unknown artists, or bored and drunk people.”


In another room a flailing inflatable sculpture writhes on the floor as if it is also drunk. One part of the sculpture of three components of a similar green hue. “There's something about some different registers of weakness or failure, as well as being something that could be aspirational, it has possibilities, just how it has its own sort of presence and sort of breathing,” Kiaer says of the ventilated sculpture. The other parts of it are a wall work crumpled behind reborn plastic, and a small floor sculpture which would pass as a Bachelor level degree Architecture model.

Kiaer’s art plays between the idea of the model and the finished work, testing the modes of architecture through the language of art which is less specific around which the artist states:

“The model might be equivalent to a fragment as an almost philosophical form. One thinks of the fragment in terms of philosophy – you can have one proposition after another, relating to one another, but also totally autonomous within themselves. There's this kind of they're both relational and very open and concise, this idea of different gestures that are in relation that are distinct.”

Here, Kiaer speaks of the abstraction of form and language which is the privilege of fine art, but also the concrete process of model-to-building pathway of architecture, mentioning the way in which in Rem Koolhaas’ OMA studio a rejected cut-foam model for a domestic house might be reformed and rescaled into an opera house. The mutability of model making and its ability to present scaled utopian futures and a promise unconstrained by actuality, material, possibility, or viability, is represented by his small creation of cardboard, foam, and wire.

These works form the experimental ingredients of what will form part of the opening exhibition at the re-launched Drawing Room – the national centre dedicated to drawing – which come autumn will be re-homed in its new permanent home. Alongside artists Jessie Brennan, Emily Speed, Do Ho Suh, and Tanoa Sasraku, Kiaer will show in UNBUILD: a site of possibility, furthering these explorations of dislocation and obliqueness.

Later this year, Alison Jacques gallery will expand into a new three-floor, 560 square metre Cork Street gallery led by architect Mike Rundell, so for any future installation, Kiaer will have to consider an expansive increase of archietecture and geometry with his subtle oblique tweaks of experience and space.

Ian Kiaer (b.1971, London, UK) creates work indebted to histories of painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, and theory, but its central interest is repurposing: the waste, recovery and reconstitution of meaning. For over two decades, the artist has utilised found materials as a means to explore the latent legacies of lost ideas, the memories that physical objects preserve and the often-unseen relationships between material things. While the work might present as quiet, propositional and, in the case of Kiaer’s inflatable sculptures, temporary, it is the result of a long-standing inquiry into the ways in which artworks contain and convey both contingent and fragmentary information. As critic Jonathan Griffin writes: “Formally and philosophically, he tests the propensity of things to hold together, to prise apart or to float irredeemably away from one another. The conclusion he arrives at, more often than not, is the latter.”

Will Jennings is a London based writer, visual artist, and educator interested in cities, architecture, and culture. He has written for the RIBA Journal, the Journal of Civic Architecture, Quietus, The Wire, the Guardian, and Icon. He teaches history and theory at UCL Bartlett and Greenwich University, and is director of UK cultural charity Hypha Studios.


Ian Kier: Endnote, oblique is showing at Alison Jacques gallery, London,  until 29 April 2023. More details at: www.alisonjacques.com/exhibitions/ian-kiaer-endnote-oblique


fig.i Endnote oblique, silver (2023) Silver leaf, cellophane, LED lighting, fan490 x 410 x 70 cm (192 7/8 x 161 3/8 x 27 1/2 in) Courtesy: Alison Jacques, London © Ian Kiaer⁠; photo: Michael Brzezinski
fig.ii Endnote oblique, black (2023) Acrylic, pencil on paper on rubber, repurposed plexiglass, aluminium123 x 102.5 x 2 cm (48 3/8 x 40 3/8 x 3/4 in) Courtesy: Alison Jacques, London © Ian Kiaer⁠; photo: Michael Brzezinski
fig.iii Endnote oblique, pink (2023) Acrylic, varnish on repurposed plexiglass 254.4 x 127.5 cm (100 1/8 x 50 1/4 in) Courtesy: Alison Jacques, London © Ian Kiaer⁠; photo: Michael Brzezinski
fig.iv Endnote oblique, earth (2023) Acrylic, pencil on paper, cellophane346.5 x 300 cm (136 3/8 x 118 1/8 in) Courtesy: Alison Jacques, London © Ian Kiaer⁠; photo: Michael Brzezinski
fig.v Endnote oblique, inflatable (green) (2023) Acrylic, pencil on paper, repurposed plexiglass, cardboard, wood, concrete, polythene, fan Inflatable: 15 x 240 x 50 cm (5 7/8 x 94 1/2 x 19 3/4 in)
Painting: 125 x 59.5 cm (49 1/4 x 23 3/8 in) Model: 36 x 28 x 25 cm (14 1/8 x 11 x 9 7/8 in)Courtesy: Alison Jacques, London © Ian Kiaer⁠; photo: Michael Brzezinski
fig.vi Endnote oblique, silver (2023) Silver leaf, cellophane, LED lighting, fan490 x 410 x 70 cm (192 7/8 x 161 3/8 x 27 1/2 in) Courtesy: Alison Jacques, London © Ian Kiaer⁠; photo: Michael Brzezinski

publication date
17 April 2023

Alison Jacques, Venice Biennale, Jessie Brennan, Drawing Room, Foreign Office Architects, Geometry, Do Ho Suh, Installation, Ian Kiaer, Rem Koolhaas, NOX, Oblique, Oosterhuis Associates, OMA, Painting, Claude Parent, Paris, Perspex, Mike RundellTanoa Sasraku, Emily Speed, Lars Spuybroek, Zaha Hadid Architects


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