Vyner Street Reviews - May 2012
Jack Castle gives his pick of the best exhibitions on and around Vyner Street in the month of May...
While not particularly quiet or specifically elegant, Rock is a very good show. It consists of three video installations, projected from the floor through (and occasionally onto) detritus of various kinds. The real standout is ‘Hard Rock’, a 3D video projected through an obviously 3D space. The ground is littered with boxes and cube-shapes. You put on the special 3D glasses, switch them on (!), and are suddenly you are totally immersed in the work in a very space-age – “you are now entering… The Artwork” – kind of portal. You see an oblong shape rotating slowly, but seeming to hover directly over the space between the screen and viewer as each corner comes nearer you, then yields to the next.
It is a very serene experience: I felt as though I was ascending somewhere, towards a light of a kind, or as if the spirit of these boxes were ascending and I was shut off from the world, watching the vision, while on the lower part of the screen puffins (?) wandered around on a rock. Video is quite hypnotic anyway, I think it is the nature of the medium, but this was something entirely Ideal.
Swollen Jungle is elegant – it felt like a very well-conceived and “grown up” collaboration between three artists exhibiting one piece each. Beatriz Olabarrieta’s is a video installation that looks down from her first-person viewpoint onto a sheet of paper and a marker pen in each hand. There are two black balls, and Beatriz knocks the balls around, keeping them “in play” while the marker pens record the motions of her hands. Gorka Mohamed exhibits a painting that seems down-the-line Surrealist, which perhaps used to be a contradiction in terms but I’m not sure is anymore. This painting makes use of those eerily vibrant, sinister colours that nature didn’t want to invent: fluorescent reds and weirdly radioactive-yellow greens, and I particularly remember a kind of red, curving, water-pipe kind of shape that seems to be coming out from the canvas because of its shape, but going in because of its shadow. It is also quite a big painting, and it seems impressively heartlessly plastic-like and pneumatic. David Ferrando Giraut brings a flower, with a harmonious, spiralled phyllotaxis, and places this in front of a video of a similar flower, rotating, seen from the top. The fascination here seems to be on proportion, then proportion in movement, like Leonardo himself.
Giraut’s piece is at the silent heart of the jungle, and the other two swell out into faster and more chaotic things. There is a real sense of kinesis and kinetics about this exhibition, a kind of irregular motion (even in Mohamed’s painting) governed by Giraut’s regularly moving flower, and set against the quiet backdrop of the one, closed off gallery room. I don’t know quite what it was, but as I left I got the feeling that everything in that room would just keep moving silently on, even though no one was there to see it or prove it.
In the middle of the room sits a piece from Farquhar’s last exhibition, Nudes in Colour, where Farquhar lathered the bodies of models with thick or thin paint (at his decision), photographed it, then printed the photograph onto a flat plastic “bust” and propped it up, life-like. This leads to a very interesting series of questions about what is going on. Is this painting? What does it mean to have a 3D representation of a 2D image of a three-dimensional person, who has been disguised with a medium traditionally thought of as being two-dimentional? His most recent series, Boy, takes the cover art from U2’s album Boy and puts onto the photograph found designs of child’s face paint using oil bar.
I’m sure this “speaks to” popular culture, and the image (and the boy) are about a decade older than me, and it’s about the innocence of childhood perverted and reclaimed, and the representation of children, and the mask of painting/the painting of the mask, but I just didn’t care. It seemed to me as though the intense, possibly Situationist, conceptualising had in the end accidentally lead back to something as quotidian as a child with face paint on. The striking image, to my mind, was the boy painted with the makeup of a flapper, beauty-spot, whitened face and etc., because it is the only one to make you think there is a conflict at all. This is a very long and convoluted road that makes putting face paint on a (picture of a) child “problematic” (or “indicative”, or etc.) by a method of sort of “over-Boy-ing” him, and it is a road that logically discounts the use of the flapper-style face paint in this show because of its eerie and uncanny aggression. I feel as though, in Boy, the work has slightly failed the thinking.
The thinking is spelt out in a number of essays that accompany this series – but they are not explanations, or manifestos, or helpful. They ask rhetorical questions about “Deleuzian signs”, and use names of people you haven’t heard of in their adjective form. But I particularly object to “Deleuzian signs” because on meeting this you can either ignore it (choosing to pretend that you know what it means), or investigate what it could mean. I always thought Deleuze was a philosopher of metaphysics/epistemology, but he is bloody tough and I have only read his pair of books on cinema. You can (if you really really want), to me, have a “Derridian sign” or a “Saussurian sign” because they wrote a lot about linguistics, but “Deleuzian sign” struck me as a bit odd.
Looking further, it seems Deleuze wrote a book called Proust and Signs (which I haven’t read), where he picks out four different types of sign and defines them. Then I found a handy Ph.D. thesis on Deleuze’s semiotics ( at http://www.egs.edu/pdfs/chris-drohan-material-concept-sign.pdf) that seems to suggest that there is also a lingering semiotic element to Deleuze’s philosophy as a kind of “bonus ball” across his entire work, and localised in Difference and Repetition (which I haven’t read). According to Chris Drohan, it seems as though Deleuze also thinks of a “sign” not quite as a linguistic element, but as a way of designating something that we know exists, but we don’t know the nature of its existence: what it does, how, what it means in all social contexts; and so have to explore in order to reach the truth of. Of the 5+ possible meanings of the phrase “Deleuzian signs”, I don’t know which one I am being asked about, am offered no help in trying to decide, and start to regret following this surface precision into its subterranean messiness. However, if the essay means the more metaphysicsy “sign” that Chris Drohan elucidates then that is possibly a great way to look at this exhibition, and maybe I am wholly turned around on the subject.
Herald St. brings together Matt Connors and Marc Hundley in a bright white windowless space. Marc Hundley’s work consists of quotations from books, fliers, dates, song lyrics, hung simply on the wall. The challenge seems to be “work it out”, and often you can’t – they are just there: moments of significance, holding significance only to the artist, and a secondary significance because they are significant to the artist, to Marc Hundley. They make for interesting Moments of Being, locked away forever in the private memory. In particular the choice of quotations: why use that quote from that book/song, when the entire book/song is a whole list of potential quotes? It is an odd feeling: to know that somewhere, at that some time (and sometimes he gives us both place and time), there was an instant of significance, and we have no idea what that was, or what was significant about it. A critic of Virginia Woolf once wrote that to her ‘it is the experience of revelation that matters, not what is revealed,’ and Marc Hundley, a quoter of Woolf, takes on the same aesthetic.
Matt Connors is a painter. He is a painter who has a very keen colour sense, a broad range of styles, and a good conceptual mind. All the work being exhibited has been done this year, but one would be forgiven for thinking it was a sample of a lifetime’s progression. There are heavy Constructivist elements at work, and perhaps a hint of Terry Frost or Sandra Blow (depending on the exact work you are looking at), but this is only what the stuff looks like: my perception of these paintings, and Matt Connors, is that he possesses a kind of disinvoltura- a strangely Italian kind of chic that apparently resembles something like “unrolled”, but I always think of (incorrectly, as it happens) as “not involuntarily”: a kind of deliberate nonchalance or rounded poise (Marcello Mastroianni), that I have maybe seen before in Lucio Fontana. I would love to write more on him, and whether or not Matt Connors has any relation to Italy I do not know, but it is this kind of ease with skill that probably makes him the most exciting artist I saw that day.
Stephen Prina @ Maureen Paley (until 3 June 2012)
There are two levels to this show. In the bottom floor space, sections of wall are marked out in pairs of rectangles with black string, all tied halfway up the left-hand side, like a mourning armband marking out where a painting stood. Upstairs, the rectangles are “filled in”, taking the exact mirror of their downstairs location, but here each pair’s emptiness has been filled: the left panel bears a light ink wash in a series of arcing swooshes from bottom left to top; and the right panel presents a kind of “index” of the shape of all the 556 works that are theoretically in this series.
This is part of Prina’s Exquisite Corpse: The Complete Paintings of Manet, and each diptych (plus its downstairs ghost) takes the title of a Manet painting. I was sad to discover that the dimensions of Prina’s work don’t seem to be quite the same as the Manet work it is teasingly claiming to superannuate (and now think there are funnier Impressionists that one could have nothing to do with), but I do like this concept.
The second “type” of work sees Prina use the same swoosh, but this time on window-blinds hung from the ceiling, and in colour. There is an obvious, knee-jerk wish to relate this to the Abstract Expressionists, with all the runnings and colour-splodges, and with the one-directional paint-work that is very reminiscent of the brushwork in Cézanne’s Provence trees, particularly The Great Pine (Cézanne and Manet…). The work dangling in the middle of the room gives the pieces an extra sculptural edge, as well as making the colour field literally “come out at you” from the wall. It is a quietly elegant show.
Words: Jack Castle © 2012 ArtLyst