Ansell Cizic, Once Were Here, 2016

Ansell Cizic
Once Were Here

Private Reception & Drinks: Friday 6 September 7-10pm
Viewing by appointment: 7 September – 27 October

Once Were Here brings together a body of work which the artist began in 2016
during a residency at Artoll in Bedburg-Hau, Germany and continued to develop in
2017 in Fish Island, Hackney while working on a UCL commission. The resulting
ideas of stillness – both in body and consciousness – in opposition and to and in
juxtaposition with movement, are something that continues to inform his work now.

Artoll functions partly as a regular art residency, where visiting artists are encouraged
to engage with the work of Joseph Beuys (who was born in nearby Krefeld and whose
museum and archive at Schloss Moyland is the starting point of each residency cycle).
Described by the Cizic as “surprisingly light and spacious, a sanctuary and not the
gothic dark place I expected” - the Artoll building nonetheless carries an enormously
loaded history – it was an asylum, whose inmates were expelled during the war to
make space for a troops’ hospital. Later it was turned into an artist residency space,
owned and supported by the German government. Currently it still functions partly as
a hospital.

Working within the grounds of this incredible building, burdened with history and a
sense of pained human lives that have passed through its walls, Ansell Cizic made the
first of a body of work exploring just the space itself, trying to make sense of it on his
own terms, without attempting to directly grasp or come to terms with its impossible
past. Concentrating on his own presence there and trying to understand how he
himself occupies space and how he defines it just by being there through images
based on his own body, one is nonetheless left with a palpable sense of other
possibilities when confronted with this work. Seeing the artist sitting on a chair
gripping it tightly, trying to anchor himself physically into stillness, while his head
blurs into frenzied movement, one cannot help feeling a sense of struggle against
some inner torment. So, while the artist states that the history of the space did not
consciously inform his work there (“history didn’t direct me, the images are to do
with the space”), he also talks about a gasp of recognition of something familiar from
his mother-in-law who worked in an asylum in Britain during the war.
Regardless of any (subconscious?) sense of history in these images, however, Cizic’s
underlying concepts in fact emerge quite clearly. In every work he makes himself the
subject, the one who is trying to feel and to understand what it is to inhabit space –
and in doing so he finds himself becoming lost in time (in the sense that time can be
thought of as movement while ‘the now’ is stillness). In the blurs created by his
frenetic body against the stillness of architecture (both interior and exterior) one sees
the artist struggling to be in the here and now, a place where he is anchored and real,
while also becoming lost in time where movement detaches him from safety, from
reality and takes him to a place not quite real, a place both physically and emotionally
dangerous and destabilised. He describes these moments as “struggling to remain in
the now”, so that his grasping a chair, a hand rail, or a signpost, is an expression of a
need to feel secure, not of being secured or restrained.

A year later, Cizic was commissioned by UCL, alongside two other artists, to explore
the human response to changes in Fish Island, Hackney after the post-Olympic
regeneration, which brought about enormous architectural and social forces to bear
there. Describing this as “larger, inhuman forces”, Cizic once again returns to the
dichotomy of stillness and movement, of the way that we change the environment and
the environment changes us through our presence within it. He applies these ideas not
just to the body, but also the mind and to the conditions and surroundings within
which we live – of factors we can control and of larger tectonic movements which
sweep us helplessly along. He talks about stillness as mindfulness, as the deliberate
slowing down of thought in order to regain sanity and control, while describing the
movement in his work as a kind of dance, with certain elements of expression and
perhaps even deliberation that this notion implies.

Ultimately, of course, the works present us with a series of forms frozen in time, so
that the sense of movement they project is an abstraction, a powerful suggestion. This
is perhaps the final reason why they seem to carry so much feeling and a kind of
unfocused sense of the human condition, of the state of the world in general. There is
more than just an interplay of simple formal concepts at work here. Through the
duality of the language Cizic is exploring, he seems to reach some fundamental truths
about being which are inexpressible through words, yet seem recognisable, familiar,

Documentation by Ansell Cizic