Cloth of Gold

It is only once we’ve stood in front of Anatsui’s work that this becomes clear. The bottle caps become a shimmering, textural visualisation of freedom itself, the levity of non-constraint. Each cap is linked with wire in a way that allows it to bend and shape according to how the piece is placed. Anatsui rarely instals his work, instead leaving it to the discretion of the curator to hang the work and to let it fold according to their own sense of what looks right. “A lot of people are scared of that freedom,” says the artist. “They want you to come and dictate to them. People have been brought up on a diet that says, ‘This is artwork and it should be put on the wall in this way’. By creating a form that is so free and not fixed, you can perhaps bring out the artist in those who would place the work.”

Art-world Alchemy

Indeed, the piece—called “TSIATSIA – searching for a connection”—is luminous. Made especially for the RA and on view through August 18th, the 15 x 23 metre work is one of the largest ever created by El Anatsui, a contemporary artist based in Nigeria. In those fleeting moments when the sun emerges over London, the work looks as though it has been switched on. Yet closer inspection of the woven panels reveals that they are made entirely of rubbish. Sections that look like stones are made from used printing plates announcing births, deaths and weddings. Squares of vibrant colours come from discarded roofing material. What glitters like gold from a distance is actually a chain-mail of flattened aluminium bottle-tops advertising cheap African liquor: Romatex, Castello, First Lady Brandy.

Royal Academy of Arts elects El Anatsui as one of their Honorary Adademicans

TSIATSIA – searching for connection is the largest wall-hanging sculpture that international artist El Anatsui has ever made using his unique bottle top technique. Measuring 15.6m x 25m, TSIATSIA – searching for connection, is an intricate, shimmering, metallic ‘wall-hanging’ created from aluminium bottle-tops, printing plates and roofing sheets, amongst other materials. The work is hanging from the balustrade of Burlington House for the duration of the Summer Exhibition (10 June – 18 August).

The New Razzle-Dazzle: El Anatsui on His ‘Gem’-Encrusted Tapestries, in 2008

“I saw the bottle caps as relating to the history of Africa in the sense that when the earliest group of Europeans came to trade, they brought along rum originally from the West Indies that then went to Europe and finally to Africa as three legs of the triangular trip,” explains Anatsui. “The drink caps that I use are not made in Europe; they are all made in Nigeria, but they symbolize bringing together the histories of these two continents.”

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