Celina Teague: It's not me it's you

12 January - 10 February 2024 Berlin

Private View: Thursday 11th January 2024,  7-10pm  

Exotic species of plants, flowers and fungi sprout out of luscious lips, from beneath a drooping eyelid, out of an ear canal. A fetus nestled within a multi-coloured mushroom tree that’s balancing on two interconnected feet. These trippy visions are what artist Celina Teague describes as an attempt at escapism: to shut out the noise and disappear into the weird and wonderful world of nature. It’s Not Me, It’s You, Teague’s solo exhibition at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery presents a powerful new body of work that breaks away from her news-driven narrative paintings of the past. And yet, the realities and anxieties of the human world continue to creep in.
While Teague’s work is typically born from a place of empathy and rage in response to crisis events, this latest series of paintings took its departure point from a desire to lose herself in a mystical realm where nature holds the power and can bend the mind. It is in the earlier paintings produced for this show that she best evades the grip of current affairs. Both Natural Mystic and Eye Opener – with their vivid forms and almost luminescent colours against nocturnal backdrops – depict a sense of calm and new-found creative freedom. In both paintings, the human and natural worlds are interconnected rather than at odds: portraits of a nourishing form of hybridity in which the human body is enhanced, healed and extended by nature. 
However, this vision of harmony slowly evolves into something darker and more complex. In Colour Me Happy the mouth eagerly laps up brightly coloured pills and capsules that also hang from the lower lashes of eyes in the branches of a palm tree. The work reflects on substance abuse, the seedier side of Big Pharma and Teague’s awareness of her own appetite for news consumption. As she notes, our use of the internet, in particular social media, is a contemporary form of addiction – one that encourages snap reactions, polarises as much as it unites and can burp up its memory forevermore. 
This sense of lurking danger is most conspicuous in Slippy Trippy whereVenus fly traps crunch down on bugs and strangler plants wrap around the stems of poisonous flowers and insect-devoured leaves. The lips at the bottom of this painting are clamped shut – no longer, it seems, open to nature’s wisdom. It is perhaps no coincidence that back in the real world, bombs are falling and war – even if only experienced through a handset – is shaking humanity. Regardless of Teague’s intent, the news intrudes.
Two text paintings further reflect on the ways in which contemporary society engages with current affairs. Collectively titled The Problem With Humanity: one reads, ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ and the other, ‘It’s Not Us, It’s Them.’ The works take playful aim at the ways in which social media is used for passive action: for virtue signalling, to point blame and to reinforce harmful echo chambers that prevent nuanced discussion. 
Teague returns to this notion of armchair activism with a continuation of a decade-long series that pokes fun at her role as an artist waving a paintbrush for social causes. These armchair paintings pull together the themes and visuals featured in the rest of the exhibition. In For Better or For Worse opium poppies, Fentanyl lollipops, pills and cannabis leaves grow out of the chair’s fabric. On its seat, a disembodied mouth licks its lips – hungry for more substances and information. We always want more, the artist suggests, even when we tell ourselves to want less.