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Matty Bovan NOW gallery
Photography Carlos Jiménez

Matty Bovan’s brain-melting exhibition makes a monster out of ribbons

The ‘poetically aggressive’ RIBBONS lands at the NOW gallery in Greenwich Peninsula

For Matty Bovan, a ribbon isn’t just a ribbon. “It’s a symbol of the feminine. A flourish, a trim that’s never been given centre stage,” he says, having spent the last few weeks braiding long strips of satin into gargantuan sculptures for his debut exhibition at the NOW gallery in Greenwich Peninsula. “I wanted to twist an overlooked trimming into big, tough structures. I see RIBBONS as poetically aggressive.” The whole thing is an assault on the senses: a bowel-shaking soundtrack pummels through the showspace, industrial vents pump out cedarwood and frankincense, while walls are festooned in pretzeled knotwork as if guests are travelling through the mangled ravines of Bovan’s mind.

“My world is full of dreams and nightmares, much like real life. I want people to be able to escape into the RIBBONS world, to be able to dream, and to want to create their own world, however abstract or literal they wish.” The overall effect is more uplifting than that sentence might make it sound, though it’s just as brain melting – much like the designer’s SS23 collection, which saw models bundled in layers of mad, art school creations cut from clashing zig-zag patterns and illusory squares. Flanked by glitching videos and large-scale painted canvases, Bovan’s sculptures take on the form of deconstructed sweaters, pushing his obsession with craft to Kafkaesque extremes. “My work is always about light and dark,” he says. “Fantasy and reality.

These kinds of fascinations are harboured in Bovan’s memories of his grandma, who was the first person to introduce the designer to the pleasure of handmade clothing. “She was very creative, as is my mum, and I was lucky to be exposed to craft at a very young age. It just blew my mind that you could create a fabric from bits of string.” Though she took on a much more traditional approach to knitting, Bovan soon started experimenting with unconventional materials, using massive needles and thick yarns. He saw her delicate gauge and “blew it up with brute force energy.” He’s applied this same madcap approach to filmmaking – something he describes as a particular “labour of love” – overloading footage with with colour and texture, which shifts and melts into hypnotic forms.

The experience of watching those videos is something of a full-circle moment for curator Jemima Burrill, who said Bovan’s SS22 presentation “burnt a hole in [her] retina”. “The film he created was nothing like anything I had seen before. It struck a nerve and made fashion exciting again even at the bleakest hour. He had to be the next NOW fashion commission, whatever he came up with would rupture our space and make us think about clothes, life and who we are – in a different way,” she said. Though there is a lot of fun to be derived from the designer’s cocoon-like exhibition – exemplified by images of Bovan riding a bucking bronco in plaited vests and bonnets – it’s also his most personal project to date. “It’s a world built in my truest vision,” he concludes. A world that stresses the importance of craft and making things. “It's our future.”

RIBBONS will run from Nov 30 to Mar 5 2023 at NOW gallery in Greenwich Peninsula.

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