Turn back, Turn Back!

14 March - 27 June 2020

Diana Yesenia Alvarado, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Rainen Knecht, Lila de Magalhaes, Elham Rokni, Summer Wheat and Tori Wrånes


Shulamit Nazarian is pleased to present Turn Back, Turn Back! an exhibition of works by Diana Yesenia Alvarado, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Rainen Knecht, Lila de Magalhaes, Elham Rokni, Summer Wheat and Tori Wrånes. These artists explore narrative structures that resonate with a deep history of storytelling found in ancient myths, fables, and folktales.


The exhibition’s title derives from the Brother’s Grimm fairytale The Robber Bridegroom. “Turn back, turn back” – this warning is often heard from a talking animal as the fairytale’s subject approaches the darker edge of the forest. From Little Red Riding Hood to Hansel and Gretel, this symbolic venture into the daunting woods can also be interpreted as a wandering into one’s unconscious anxieties. A cawing crow or creaking sign becomes an analogy for internal doubts as the subject meanders into the darker recesses of the mind.


Similarly, the exhibition’s artists use fantasy, archetypes, and anthropomorphism in their exploration of psychological and historical narratives. Amalgamating images related to culturally significant stories, these artists examine how fables serve as guides to the unconscious, using metaphors to explore age-old fears, anxieties, and shared beliefs. 

Trenton Doyle Hancock’s elaborate works interlace personal memoir with the history of painting and pop-cultural imagery. As the Houston-based artist states, “Archetypes of heroes going through toil and trouble and coming out all the better for it,” have been central to the way he constructs his visual narratives. Hancock’s dense and subversive storylines employ tropes, ranging from comic-strip superhero battles to religious mythologies, often introducing text as a key visual component that further complicates his narrative. Within this exhibition are significant works that illustrate the artist’s central character of the Mound, as well as depicting key moments in the origin of Hancock’s epic, decades-long myth narrative.
Oslo-based, Norwegian artist Tori Wrånes explores Nordic myths and folklore through dreamlike narratives. Her kinetic sculptures evoke the body without fully representing it, while her videos often serve as documentation for her surreal performances. Wranes’ video and performances utilizes her own unique method of communication coined as “troll language”. Using sound to convey primal emotions and truths, the artist bypasses the structural hierarchies of language and rational thought. For Wrånes, the troll is a metaphor for the id and human fate alike; it represents our hidden truths. The results are wide-ranging, experimental, and ritualistic artworks that freely draw on ancient stories and contemporary struggles to speak to the human experience of past and present.
Los Angeles-based Lila de Magalhaes’ artworks employ fantastical imagery that combines ecstasy with moments of danger. Referencing Greek mythology, preteen obsessions, and her own daydreams, the artist’s work investigates fear and desire through the personification of otherworldly creatures in a toxic, yet loving relationship with humans. The entanglements of these complexities are also literally entangled into the material. De Magalhaes intricately embroiders directly into bed sheets; a material that can be associated with both ripeness and of putridness; a child’s fortress with a flashlight late at night - or a damp encasing after a fit of sweaty night terrors. In Young Fixation, a girl is blowing kisses to a horse, a common symbol of pre-teen infatuation, an animal becoming an object through desire. There is a distinct line between De Magalhaes’ work and the Greek mythology of Eros and Psyche. Eros (the god of desire) falls in love with a mortal human, adoring her only in a pitch-black room, as a disembodied voice. One day, Psyche curiously turns on the light to see her true object of affection. As soon as Desire is illuminated, Psyche parishes into dust.
New York-based Summer Wheat’s tactile paintings merge process and narrative to ponder human experience through various moments in art history. Drawing from Egyptian relief sculptures to medieval tapestries, Wheat’s textural art objects destabilize material boundaries and symbols. Wheat allows acrylic paint to ooze through fine wire mesh, causing figures to emerge, dance, and coalesce. Wheat focuses special attention on the connection between human and animal behavior, as seen in Stepping on Snakes. The shoes of a witch – a powerfully healing female figure that was historically persecuted by men for having agency – are stepping on a snake, a symbol associated with both evil and fertility. Wheat’s undermining of archetypal animals considers the fraught and mythic needs between woman, beast, and survival.
Portland-based artist Rainen Knecht paints lurid, murky scenes of women in mythical settings. Bearing strange grins, these green toothy figures are at once menacing and playful. In Spinaria, the central figure appears catlike: the feral quality of her posture begs both a “come play” gesture, and an opportunity to pounce on the viewer. Upon closer inspection, the figure is pulling a thorn out of her foot. While one would assume some anxiety of impairment, she remains completely unphased, as seen in the confidence of her stare. In Fair Brow a young girl wearing a bonnet – clothing associated with youthfulness, naivety, or purity – is also imbued with an otherworldliness. Drawing from fables, horror films, and folk costumes, Knecht’s scenes appear as if they’re from a fairtytale - but instead of a damsel-in-distress, we find the central subjects taking on mischievous agency. Whether evil, awkward, or funny, the figures are emotionally unhinged – creating a complex psychological space that undermines expectations through a mystical re-working of familiar narratives.
Tel-Aviv-based Elham Rokni’s works on paper serve as a continuation of her research into the relationship between folktales, identity, and refugees within Israeli society. These drawings illustrate stories told to the artist by Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers who live in Israel. Investigating the complicated, cultural expansion within the region, Rokni seeks to establish these memories of moving societies by registering them in both the Israel Folktale Archives, as well as creating a series of drawings directly based on specific folktales. In doing so, the artist explores the multifaceted reality of borders - be it physical, political, or imaginary. Through narratives of mass movements of people and cultures, Rokni reveals a complicated truth between myth and politics not often seen.
Los Angeles-based artist Diana Yesenia Alvarado creates otherworldly and free-formed ceramic sculptures that are fantastical and historically referential, anthropomorphic and gestural. Inspired by her childhood dreams and her hometown of East LA, Alvarado crafts cartoonish guardians on top of pedestals made of ornate security bars and cinder blocks. Also fused with trinkets, toys, and advertisements found in her neighborhood, these sculptures take the shape of protective forms imbued with memory and a child-like sensibility of place. The artist’s vessels use psychological motifs of the past to touch upon a desire to anthropomorphize the present.
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