Friday, September 22, 2006

If You Smelt It You Dealt It


I am heading up the stairs to the opening of the show ‘Silent but Violent’, I am at the The Empire on Wadeson Street, the show is called ‘Silent but Violent’ it is child slang for fart, guff, trump etc., heh heh heh.

So as you can guess I am armed on this Thursday night with the awareness that I may need to be on my guard for some pranks or certainly prankish art. At the top of the stairs I pass the gallery office, I peer in, why is the door open?, the room looks plush, in the semi industrial wasteland of this side of North East London it looks incongruous. The office has a big Manhattenesque cityscape poster on the back wall, there is an eighties-retro-yuppie feel to the room, all red and purple-nightclub-flock wallpapered- shag pad-live work style. The title of my next interiors book that will make me rich will be ‘Manhattenesque Eighties Retro Yuppie Red Purple Nightclub Flock Wallpapered Shag Pad Live Work Style - Offices’. I cant decide if this office has been commandeered by an artist participating in the show with this as an installation or the office holder has a sense of irony and a real eye for playful fun workspaces, either way I like it, its cool.
Further into the main space I stroll around waiting for my eyes to be grabbed, tonight I feel it’s a struggle, something feels a little unsettling, the office experience, although fun and cool has left me slightly skewed. There is a temporary bar for the opening manned by a guy in ill-fitting evening wear, is this for real?, A youngish guy strolls past me with a self centred smirk, he has a mullet and leather bomber jacket two sizes too small. Concentrate you fool! I tell myself.
The work is deemed to be about absurdity according to the press release, I am baffled the work leaves me cold and the healthy turnout of people visiting the opening is distracting me. Good for them though, they appear to be enjoying themselves, many people are purring about the work , some appear to be the mums and dads of the artists, occasionally there seems to be a potential buyer checking out prices and looking intently at a target artwork. Yes, look at the work, you fool, says my inner voice whilst momentarily breaking from its usual humming of the tuneless blues that normally plays in my head. A clunking, clanking kinetic absurd machine is clanking and clunking in a corner of the large gallery, more distraction, it’s bloody hard work this absurdity I can tell you.
I look at a tree, a bit of nature separated from its environment and adorned with tiny doodled paper and pencil drawings, I am not sure what to think. On the wall a few feet away is a drawing by the same artist, Joseph Richards, it is of a group of fantasy creatures in an elliptical zone, they appear to be ambling around in a splodgy alien styled manner, one eyed critters, pumpkins, trees that drip gloop and jellyfish walk around in something that looks like a dazed slow dance or melancholic chanting ritual, I cant vouch for any of these with certainty but whatever their state they don’t appear particularly happy.
Some of the pieces are still not working for me but maybe the absurd world present this evening in the empire is beginning to make sense, or does absurdity just make nonsense, anyway I’m engaging with the work now. On the far wall is William Waterhouse’s epic amalgamation of tapestries, these found works from a variety of unknown sources have been stitched together to form a massive wall hanging, the sheer effort taken to produce these by the original makers is something I find disturbing, the imagery is kitsch and in some cases dated. It certainly contains some idealised views of Britain and Britishness that certainly never existed in my early life and perhaps nowhere else either, occasional images of other lands can be seen, jarring colours and images of geishas side by side with red coated huntsmen on horseback and pheasants. Despite this imagery and clashing colours this is a fun but honest, perhaps affectionate, view by Waterhouse.

More kitsch Britishness abounds with Charlotte Bracegirdle’s altered Victorian scenes, ‘scallywags’, scores of Victorian urchins play in idealised cartoons. Some of these images are barely altered, but in the scenes of childish play the occasional 7 year old boy turns an innocent game of kiss chase, or some such, into something altogether darker as his small female playmates scatter from him whilst he runs around with his trousers round his ankles. Other even darker scenes can be observed with the odd machine gun and a naked leering character watching scrumping kids.

I’m grabbed now and well into the absurdity.

I bump into Russell Herron and at the same time almost bump into Kaoru Tsunoda’s sculpture, luckily I miss it by a whisker and that is a good thing as the most absurd thing would be asking my bank manager for the loan for breakages to a sculpture priced at £1,500. We chat for a while but I am on my way out and he is on his way in, this is normally the way for the two of us, our paths cross occasionally and sometimes we are at the same show on the same night but at different times and never meet but end up writing about the show. Russell’s blog is a great read and he seems to know everyone, his blog is the best London art world commentary and exhibition review, it sometimes has me scratching my chin and pondering and other times roaring with laughter. It’ll be interesting to see his views on this show and somehow I think he has a healthy eye for the absurd so it should be a good read.
The almost accident with Tsunoda’s unmarked, white, never ending roulette wheel has me really taking notice of it. The wheel spins continually in never ending motion, the ball rolls and jumps around the un-numbered and uncoloured wheel in a game of un-winnable gambles. It is easily the most engaging piece in the show.

I descend the stairs and leave the madness behind, back out on Wadeson Street the sun is dropping out of sight behind the gasworks on the canal, the sky looks great. I make my way home and back to normality.

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