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Nana Wolke, “Second Row” (2021)
Nana Wolke, “Second Row” (2021), Oil on linen, 40-x-30-cm.Courtesy of the artist

This surreal art show is providing a post-lockdown reality check

Featuring Douglas Cantor, Elsa Rouy, and more, London’s Guts Gallery presents Reality Check, a show confronting how we lived our lives in the pandemic, and exploring imagined, alternative realities

The concept of ‘reality’ as we all perceived it has taken a bit of a knock over the past year or two. There’s been a sense of slippage in our grasp of what’s durable as the world assimilates the new experiences that the pandemic has brought into being; we’ve been forced to reassess many of the pillars of our existence that had hitherto made our lives legible. 

In keeping with this phenomenon, a new group exhibition, Reality Check, at London’s Guts Gallery presents work by artists exploring the present moment while simultaneously creating alternative realities to escape into. The show’s curator, Jen O’Farrell (whose work also features in the exhibition), tells Dazed, “We came to the idea from discussing the current state of the world, through all facets – politically, environmentally, socially – and thought that the world is currently in need of a reality check. The artists who I was planning to approach for the exhibition were already playing with this idea in their work – examining both imagined and lived realities. So we wanted to play on fusing these two elements together.”

Reality Check features the work of 20 artists – including Douglas Cantor, Elsa Rouy, Corbin Shaw, Nana Wolke, and Emily Moore – each inviting visitors to confront reality through a series of original and oblique angles, while also offering the possibility of escape into new, imaginative realms. O’Farrell explains, “I think the works occupy a space where artists totally escape into their practice and bring with it a kind of new surrealism which is really exciting.”

The gallery’s founder, Ellie Pennick, elaborates: “It’s a very present response to everyone's existence and what they're working on, but also it’s quite magical, it feels quite escapist.”

“It’s a very present response to everyone’s existence and what they’re working on, but also it’s quite magical, it feels quite escapist” – Ellie Pennick

Established by Pennick, a Dazed 100 alumni, the gallery’s founding principle is to create space within the art world to accommodate new voices from less privileged backgrounds who might otherwise not find a platform. The 25-year-old gallerist is also committed to reinventing existing power structures and the distribution of wealth within the gallery system.

She describes the Guts’ ethos astutely: “Shifting up the art world; supporting a new generation and collectors; flipping the percentages on representation; being very political, very vocal, and setting a standard that everybody should and can fulfil.”

O’Farrell agrees: “We always put the artist at the forefront, because, without the artists, none of this exists.”

The gallery has quickly proven talent for identifying the most exciting emerging artists from across a diverse range of backgrounds. Creating an environment that feels welcoming to a diverse range of visitors is also a central tenet of Pennick’s vision. “A lot of people say that they don’t feel intimidated when they walk into our exhibition, which I think is really important,” she says.

O’Farrell affirms: “One thing that we are always searching for when curating shows is a sense of optimism and a sense of joy in making, something that is often devalued in the bourgeois art world.”

Take a look through the gallery above for a glimpse of a selection of work featuring in the exhibition. 

Reality Check is at Guts Gallery from September 23 until October 3 2021