Azize Ferizi at Ilenia

 Good or Evil; Bitch or Saint; Pleasure or Pain; Mother or Nulliparous.

The binaries that exist in our interpretations of and experiences with others, and indeed ourselves, place us into categories and mold us into one-dimensional cut-outs, clichés. Understanding that mindbodies outside our own are all complex, with potential for unspeakable evils and unanticipated benevolence, is a life-long project. When we figure out that people around us think and feel as deeply, and perhaps as darkly, as we do, it is a challenge. After all, lazy classifications and adjectives are so much easier than further investigation. 

Comprehending our own wholeness is hard, but we are impacted greatly by the stories of old, whether this is cultural, religious, or narratives fed through the family dynamic. The old wives' tales, which are mostly cautionary maxims around child-rearing, are usually gendered; women often automatically remain open to unwarranted inputs around our lifestyles and casual choices. The binaries constantly at play, especially "Good Versus Evil", are deeply entrenched, ingrained and repeated ad infinitum, churned out regardless of our actions. If we hear them repeated so often, what, exactly, do we believe about ourselves? What are we truly capable of? 

Installation view: Azize Ferizi, Redemption Request I, 24 November 2023 - 6 January 2024. Ilenia, London. Image courtesy of the artist and Ilenia, London.

In East London, new gallery Ilenia is showing works by Swiss-Kosovan artist Azize Ferizi. Comprised of a series of small-scale oil paintings and larger, more confronting, sculptural works, her solo exhibition, Redemption Request I, is an intriguing exploration into how we look to others for acceptance and validation of who we are, but ultimately struggle with rejecting these responses. This is not the self-acceptance that Girlbosses will tell you that one needs to develop by putting oneself on a pedestal; equally this is not a display of low self-esteem, but instead a showcase of how we look to others for some kind of 'redemption', perhaps absent-mindedly, perhaps unconsciously.

The Ilenia gallery space is incredibly well lit; as the daylight crept ever more elusive on a frosty Saturday evening, the contrast of the light, bright space overlooking the dark streets of residential Shoreditch created a pleasant viewing experience. The series of six paintings are all identically sized, making for a smooth journey along the presentation. A selection of imperfect, isolated body parts and gestures fall short of telling a coherent story; it is up to us to devise opinions about snapshots including two breasts with a set of rosary beads draped around the neck (Obedience as goodness I), and a flat stomach and exposed crotch (Immaculate conception I). There is something very tongue-in-cheek about Ferizi's work, and it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is. Am I being trolled? In a world that is seemingly full of bodies with questionable authenticity (I refer particularly to filters and AI bots rather than plastic surgery), the 'redemption' historically sought from The Bible, for example, is different to how we might seek it now. Who's afraid of the algorithm? We would just rather not get cancelled. 

Installation view: Azize Ferizi, Redemption Request I, 24 November 2023 - 6 January 2024. Ilenia, London. Image courtesy of the artist and Ilenia, London.

Facing the paintings are a set of sculptures: two lone-standing works on an assuredly human scale, and one larger, flatter piece hung on the wall, all Untitled (Madonna-Whore Complex). They are darker and more mysterious in aesthetic than the neatly produced paintings facing them; the lone-standing sculptures, which are smartly made of the same materials as the wall-based work, are decidedly eerie, feeling as if they could start stalking the viewer around the room at any moment. 

Installation view: Azize Ferizi, Untitled (Madonna-Whore Complex), 2023. Oil and rabbit skin glue on canvas, 215cm x 250cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Ilenia, London.

The wall-based piece is perhaps the centrepiece of the show, despite its display at the back of the gallery. This placement initially seems counter-intuitive, given its significant presence, however the momentum that builds from having it as something of a crescendo is palpable, even cutting through the brightness of the white environment within which it is situated. Here, the artist's use of the Madonna-Whore Complex comes most vividly to light; the work fiercely resembles a bed, but stripped of any comfort or warmth, a sense of the nefarious emerges. Dense matte black paint upon a wild, torn canvas, finished off urgently by a smattering of almost violently applied red paint signals disaster and destruction in the sacred bed. A symbol of the concealed, the intimate and a space for resting transforms into a pit of despair and perhaps even death. Being watched over by the two standing sculptures, there is an overwhelming feeling that something terrifying is happening in the space. Fear becomes rampant yet contained by the safe space of the gallery. Of course, this is all in the mind, but that's all we have. An impending uncertainty is further exacerbated by the exhibition's own title; with a void created by our abandonment of the authorities and deities once relief upon by previous generations, who do we look to now, both as individuals and as a society? 

Redemption Request I, a solo exhibition by Azize Ferizi. 24 November 2023 - 6 January 2024. Ilenia, London.

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