Unicorns Are Real, an intriguing solo exhibition by British artist Nicole Wassall, runs at contemporary London gallery Fiumano Clase from 15th September to 20th October 2023. It explores ideas of belief, by looking at myth, science, spirituality, environmental concerns, feminism, magic and absurdity. The artist’s thought-provoking approach combines techniques such as etching, sculpting, and water gilding, with materials including gold, semi-precious stones, wax, wires, and a handkerchief to create a dynamic collection.
Ghost of a Unicorn sets the tone for the exhibition; it’s a delicate etching of a beast we don’t quite recognise. The artist has reimagined the unicorn (scientific name Elasmotherium Sibiricum) by studying skeletal remains found on the Eurasian grasslands, alongside its closest living relative the white rhino and the woolly mammoth. Scientists have confirmed that ‘Unicorns Are Real’ but were surprised to discover (via carbon dating) that they lived alongside modern humans, as recently as 35,000 years ago – raising questions about influences that saw something real become a myth, in a very long game of Chinese Whispers.
Nicole Wassall often explores feminist ideas alongside broader issues. Take the vibrant piece Pope Joan, Patron Saint of Feminists, a contemporary icon painting that’s concerned with broader concepts of disinformation and religion. Pope Joan, the legendary female pontiff, supposedly reigned under the title of John VIII for 25 months, from 855 to 858. It’s said she gave birth during a procession and was subsequently stoned to death. Wassall depicts her floating above a gold road, with a symbolic hole in her stomach.
In a practice imbued with discovery Wassall strives to challenge the way we, the viewer, read the objects she places before us. By combining the familiar and unexpected she opens up thoughts and things aren’t quite as they first appear.
Other works are more philosophical, like Well, What Did You Expect? a white embroidered handkerchief held in a wooden hand. This piece alludes to the handkerchief embroidered by Louise Bourgeois, which reads: ’I have been to hell and back. And let me tell you, it was wonderful’. However, Wassall’s piece also connects to internal beliefs through voices of self and public criticism:
Alongside these works are curious pieces, like ‘Mysterious Times’. A carved snail, with a gold shell, glides between coral trees under a spider’s web of human hair. A quieter piece, it encourages viewers to create their own narratives and beliefs.
Nicole Wassall: Unicorns Are Real
Exhibition dates: 15th September – 20th October 2023
Fiumano Clase, First Floor, 40-41 Pall Mall, St James’s, London, SW1Y 5JG
Tuesday – Friday 12– 6pm
Saturday – 12– 4pm
Artist’s Talk: Francesca Fiumano in conversation with Nicole Wassall: 9th October 2023, 6.30 – 8.30pm
Fiumano Clase Family Saturday: 14th October 2023, 12 noon – 3pm
See also: Nunzio. Drawings at Mazzoleni London