Rachel Kneebone at the V&A – ‘Renaissance Meets the Contemporary’

No visit to London would be complete without a visit to some of its world-class museums. Located in Kensington, the V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum) is one of the UK’s top tourist sites, attracting nearly 4 million visitors every year. In its 145 galleries, it houses 2.27 million objects which make up the world’s largest collection of decorative arts and designs. Apart from its permanent collection, it also hosts a number of temporary exhibitions. For many Britons, the museum’s lack of entrance fees gives them the opportunity to access free entertainment and culture.

Since April 2017, it has hosted works by the British contemporary artist, Rachel Kneebone (1973-). Her works have been displayed among the museum’s Medieval and Renaissance collection (Room 50a) to illustrate her influences, among whom she singles out Ovid, Dante and William Blake. Her works also share the quality of the past to convey highly emotive states.

Kneebone has chosen porcelain as her medium of choice. Although traditionally associated with arousing feelings of repose and stillness, the intense emotions conveyed in her works introduce a feeling of movement and fluidity which fits in with her themes. She often introduces ruptures and cracks in her finished works to represent the contrasting qualities of strength and vulnerability.

Kneebone is primarily concerned with themes of transformation, renewal, lifecycles, and the complex reality of exhibiting a human body – both its physical limitations and its cognitive possibilities. A common characteristic of her works is that they often contain writhing limbs and hybrid body parts which appear to twist in bewildering ever-changing configurations: multiplying, merging and almost cascading. This illustrates how the boundaries between different states such as the real vs. the imagined or the conscious vs. the sub-conscious is similarly in a state of flux and change. It also implies the blurred lines between beauty, ecstasy and death.

The exhibition’s main crowd-puller is her 2012-13 work entitled ‘399 days’. This 5-metre column, which echoes a replica Trojan column in a nearby gallery, is made up of individual tiles and everywhere you look, there is a merging of vines, tendrils and body parts. The work’s seeming solidarity is challenged by the inclusion of a large vertical opening, from which you can catch glimpses of the structure’s interior. The entire monument is an example of contrasts: the monument’s imposing height compared to her attention to fine detail. It also represents a challenge to commonly-accepted ideas about the nature of classical form and Renaissance attitudes towards knowledge and power.  

Other works on display in the exhibition include ‘The Search for a New Myth’ (2015) and her earlier work, ‘The Solitude in the Depth of Her Being Begins the World Again But Only Begins it For Herself’ (2014).

If you’re planning a trip to the UK, you shouldresearch everything about money matters including the best rates. You still have time to visit the exhibition as it runs until 14th January 2021. Entrance is free, and it is open daily, 10am-5.45pm (Fridays: 10am-10pm).