Mythical hybrid rabbits, hogs, dogs and humanoid figures are now presented in drawings, prints and sculptural forms in this new exhibition by British artist Sophie Ryder at Djanogly Gallery...
Upon entry into the gallery, you are confronted by the embrace of the Ladyhare with Dog II; a giant sculpture in bronze of a human figure hugging a large dog. The various characters are displayed embracing, or standing alone or in spiritual formations, cast in bronze, plaster and marble. The exhibition is a display of the prodigious studio output of British artist Sophie Ryder over her long career.
The art is playful and unusual. It shows incredible levels of skill as well as a certain creative abandon, with many statues having a rough hewn texture with various objects stuck into them. These objects include toy cars, scissors and old mobile phones. The statues depict humanoid figures, animals and mythical creatures such as the minotaur hugging a ladyhare.
But why are hares and minotaurs hugging? And why are these objects stuck into them? In classical mythology, the minotaur is a thing of nightmares, it is the monster in a hedge maze, and not something you might want to hug. But while Ryder's characters have clear allusions to the traditional, ancient folkloric and mystical beliefs of various other cultures, they are very much of her own world. Her art practice plays with contrasting symbolic themes, combining them. She shows dualities, different modes of perceptions and ways of interpretation. Instead of the classically aggressive minotaur, it is instead depicted lovingly embracing Ryder's ladyhare. The statues typically have the head of a hare or a minotaur, but are humanoid from the neck down. This suggests they are wearing masks, which brings into question the identity of the statues.
It questions human belief about non-humans. How do we relate to the natural world, and other life forms? Do we worship animals, or do we put them in cages and eat them?
The dog being hugged could almost be seen as the child in a family, with the minotaur as the man and the ladyhare as the woman. And the objects seem very reminiscent of household objects and things associated with childhood.
The University of Nottingham's art team organise workshops to accompany the exhibitions, and organised an interview with Sophie Ryder to discuss her work. In the interview, Ryder said she wanted to intentionally show the minotaur as an empathetic figure. Indeed, much of the exhibition seems to show relationships and love between things.
The most stand-out part of the exhibition is a gallery space that you enter through a narrow corridor, which opens out into a dimly-lit room with red lighting, like the lighting used to incubate eggs. Except, instead of eggs, there is in front of you a sea of three-foot-tall sculptures of hares. It is like a spooky relic room, with the feel of an Egyptian tomb crossed with a giant incubator. They are like Ryder's rabbit children trapped in a room. This is The Temple of the Two Hundred Rabbits.
The hare sculptures are large in size, making you feel like you are viewing them from the height of a child
This "temple" is a prison for the rabbits, but is presented within a religious framing. A piece of writing with the exhibition explains that Ryder saw a rabbit farm as a child and was disturbed to see a dimly-lit room filled with rabbits, some dead, all contained for ultimate consumption. Clearly this image stuck in her mind, and the hares are a strong monotheme of the exhibition that perhaps represent this repressed childhood trauma. The hare sculptures are made much larger than life in size, and as a result they make you feel like you are viewing them from the height of a child.
Just next to it is a sculpture of humanoid figures standing in the woods like druids. This shows connections with questions of spiritual freedom and physical freedom. We are shown the hares’ individuality as well as the importance of showing them as having a right to life. It questions human belief about non-humans. How do we relate to the natural world, and other life forms? Do we worship animals, or do we put them in cages and eat them? Indeed, Ryder has said she is a vegan, and animal rights very much matter to her. She makes the viewer metaphorically place the mask of the hare onto their own head to see through its eyes, to be able to empathise with them. It is beautifully surreal and thought-provoking.
As a presentation of her studio work, the exhibition gives an overarching view of Ryder's practice.
She is experimental and very hands on. It has a broad appeal and her drawings display a traditional style of art. The exhibition is a quirky, mystical and empathetic display showing a huge amount of talent and skill that is very nice to see.
You can find Sophie Ryder: Sculpture, Drawings, Prints at Djanogly Gallery until Sunday 12 March
We have a favour to ask
LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?