During her residency, Lola engaged with students and academics in the Department of War Studies on the productive possibilities of, and relationships between, security risk and aesthetic risk as a riposte to the ubiquity of risk management values in contemporary life and war. Risk is commonly understood as a negative or dangerous condition that needs to be avoided or managed. Against this view, the residency explored the critical, political and ethical potential of productive risks, which like aesthetic risks, are often repressed or overlooked in the interests of risk management. The collaboration was an opportunity to develop further theoretical and methodological engagement with risk, its critical and productive possibilities and how we might take it in new directions.
Through a series of collaborative engagements with the Department, Lola explored how the productively risky practice of creative aesthetic 'free play' invites critical reflection for audiences and artists. Such ‘free play’, Lola argued, is provoked by the risky and multiple interactions between sense, cognition, perception, affect, emotion and society's cultural expectations and unconscious discursive social constructions that constitute aesthetic experiences of art. As Lola has stated, 'I have come to understand that the life affirming possibilities of creative aesthetic free play for both artists and viewers are the performance of a particular kind of ethicality.'
These insights enabled her to argue for the distinctiveness and social value of aesthetic experience in art and also question why such experience is necessarily performative, indirect and not available to unambiguous representation. Seen from this perspective, her painting practice mobilises ‘free play’ by deploying a metaphorical and dynamic ‘grammar’ that is not only creatively risky to realise, but opens up, for example, oppositional moments of: self-disaggregation and agency. Unconscious drive and formal articulation; visual dilation and spatial precision. In her paintings, such dynamic oppositions stack up and fold in on one another, delivering a sense of the unspeakable nature of aesthetic experience.
During the residency, Lola exhibited her work in two exhibitions, both held in Somerset House's East Wing. The first exhibition, Taking risks, inaugurated the start of Lola's residency and was presented from 7 October to 27 October 2014. The second titled Going south was on display from 5 October to 30 June 2015 and was the residency's concluding event.
As an introduction to the residency, the exhibition was an opportunity to review a summary of Lola’s considerable body of work produced over the last 14 years, through which she has developed a signature series of paintings that map an investigation into body and place. These challenge the viewer’s certainty of their own place in the world by disrupting scale, distance and depth of field: one searches in vain for stasis and security.
In the exhibition catalogue for Taking risks Lola described her painting practice as having 'mobian commitments' that seek to mobilise oppositions without crossing a boundary. The Taking Risks exhibition was itself poised between two bodies of her work titled Coming alive (1997-2013), characterised as a vertical emergence from an interior psychic depth, and South (2013-ongoing) described as a horizontal expansion toward the unknowable ‘flesh’ of the world, figured around the ‘rim’ of the land masses that encircle the Southern Antarctic Oceans. The exhibition as an articulation of these precarious and transformative impulses, like all art, was seen by the artist as an opportunity for viewers to indulge in aesthetic risks.
These were informal conversations between the artist and the public around issues of aesthetic risk and issues raised by the exhibition which happened on 11, 18 and 25 October 2014.
Lola also hosted four conversations with academics from the Department of War Studies:
- Art, aesthetic risk & politics, speakers: Dr Lola Frost, Alister Wedderburn, Laurie Benson and Pablo de Orellana, 15 October 2014.
- Aesthetic risks and security risk, Dr Lola Frost and Dr Claudia Aradau in conversation, 22 October 2014.
- Cybernetic risk: aesthetic free play and the education of modern subjects, Professor Thomas Rid and Dr Lola Frost in conversation, 5 November 2014.
- Underrating risks?, Professor Ned Lebow and Dr Lola Frost in conversation, 3 December 2014.
- Risk and psycho sexual traversals in art, and exploring risky ways of writing, thinking and theorising around gender and sex in IR, Dr Lola Frost in collaboration with Prof Marysia Zalewski, 11 February 2015.
Lola explains in the Going South exhibition catalogue that the phrase ‘going south’ has at times been colloquially figured as going down under, down on, cashing out, markets headed south, towards a worse position or off the map. The exhibition challenged such stereotypes and inaugurated a project which referenced landscapes from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina and Chile, consisting of a set of paintings whose metaphors speak to a radiant and subversive nether world.
Going South engaged in a trajectory from Romantic aesthetics to Poststructuralist theory, such as the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, all of which offered versions of the unspeakable and slippery nature of aesthetic experience. The exhibition folded photographic events that occurred in the Southern landscapes into an internal or psychically oriented painting practice, one that signposted this aesthetic tradition through its titles and methods. The paintings opened up precarious, subversive and political spaces in which viewers were invited to take the risk of creative interpretation, attuning themselves to a different world order.
Lola gave three talks about the project within the exhibition space on 6, 13 and 27 June 2015.
Professor Vivienne Jabri, professor in the Department of War Studies and co-curator of the exhibition, noted: 'The Department of War Studies has succeeded in winning two Leverhulme artist in residence awards, the first for Dr Lola Frost, our artist in residence in 2014–15, and the second for Baptist Coelho for the year 2015–16. The awards have been invaluable in establishing collaborative research with practicing artists working on themes relating to conflict, war, crisis, and how these relate variously to political subjectivity, identity, language, corporeality, landscape, and the materiality of war. Working at the intersection of critical social/political theory, international relations, and the arts has, through these collaborations, enabled us to establish a mutually beneficial and challenging dialogue between social science research on war, security, and international politics and arts practice. The impact value of the residency programme was clearly evident in the recent exhibition,Traces of War. The exhibition was widely reviewed and raised much interest in the arts community. The Department of War Studies has now established an Arts and Conflict Hub as a direct consequence of these collaborations.'
Dr Lola Frost is an artist and scholar living in London. Her career as an artist spanning 30 years has included exhibiting in South Africa and in the UK. Her work is included in several major public collections in her native South Africa. Initially this work registered the impact of civil unrest, apartheid, race and gender. Since relocating to the UK in 2002, her feminist painting practice might be characterised as risky and sublime. Her academic career as a senior lecturer in South Africa and part-time tutor in London has involved the teaching of art history and art theory. Since the completion of her PhD at Goldsmiths in 2007 she has expanded her engagement with the field of aesthetics, writing on aesthetics, politics, ethics and aesthetic risk in art.
Watch Lola talking about the exhibition below.