Ghisha Koenig: Machines Restrict their Movement
25 May – 13 August 2017
Exhibition in Gallery 4
Ghisha Koenig dedicated her artistic life to studying and sculpting modern factory labour in Britain.
This exhibition brings together drawings and sculptures made between 1951 and 1985 to explore Koenig’s commitment to sculpting industrial labour in South-East England around St. Mary Cray, one of the first housing estates built outside of London.
It was an interest in the body that drew Koenig to her subject. She spent several weeks at a time on the factory floor, sharing the routines of the workers and producing sketches in places such as Morphy Richards, Black and Edginton’s and United Glass Containers. This careful observation directly informed her finished sculpture. Reflecting on the experience, she noted her surprise at finding that the workers were forced to conform their bodies to the machines, rather than the other way around.
Koenig's sculptures are about the human predicament. The artist described the trapped nature of her subjects and their lack of ability to move:
“The machines restrict their movement, but when they are free, say in tea breaks, they’ll still take up the same position day after day. They’ve become so conditioned that they’ve become incapable of real movement; most human beings have very little choice in our society.”
Interview in 1974
Koenig’s dedication to making figurative sculptures stands as a counterpoint in a period of post-war sculpture populated by artists concerned with abstraction as much as figuration. Her characteristic use of compressed perspective and the sense of familiarity between the workers and their machines gives us an intimate view on working-class life in mid to late century Britain.
We would like to thank the John S Cohen Foundation for their generous support for this exhibition.