Marvin Gaye Chetwynd At Studio Voltaire – Enter The Absurdist Carnival

Turner Prize nominee Marvin Gaye Chetwynd – the artist formally known as Spartacus – marks the 20th anniversary of South London-based not for profit arts organisation Studio Voltaire with her usual brand of Absurdity; a video theme also running through New Sensations prize winner Charles Richardson’s crazy work ‘Rehearsal’ – during this entertaining Frieze week. Chetwynd, who was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2012, is widely known for her improvisatory and very often anarchic performances featuring handmade props, sculptures and installations.

The artist presents her largest commission to date, ‘Hermitos Children 2’, within a her usual brand of large-scale installation including props and interiors bathed in primary colours and immersive in nature. Viewers enter Chetwynd’s absurdist world of 16th century wandering troupes and wild, costumed, carnivalesque live performances, via the video of a previous live performance within the installation itself.

The installation and video work is an ongoing project and the sequel to ‘Hermiotos Children’, which was presented at Altermodern, the fourth Tate Triennial in 2009. The filmed performance was summarised by Adrian Searle as, “The young woman who rode to her own death on the dildo see-saw at the Sugar-Tits Doom Club,” and described by Richard Dorment as, “Silly beyond words and teetered at times on the edge of porn – but once you start looking at it I defy you to tear yourself away.” The very same could be said for the sequel.

The work is a rather hilarious if slightly bewildering experience; taking the form of an experimental television crime drama which follows female detective Joan Shipman as she uncovers and solves sex-crimes. The film veers from the surreal to the comical via the absurd – and back again – and combines staged cinematic sequences with footage of live performances recorded in London, Nottingham, Krakow, Gothenburg, Gozo, Vienna and Australia.

Chetwynd does not document the events of her performances chronologically – but instead coheres both scripted and live elements into a single overarching narrative. beginning with large-scale live performance that was held at Studio Voltaire and, referencing Cat-woman and Minoan bull-leaping, elements of which were included in the final cut of the film.

Chetwynd takes the viewer on a spiralling cacophonous journey into the absurd and comically sexualised world of the psychic detective. The viewer follows Joan Shipman on an abstract ride into a narrative that collapses in on itself. The film constantly bombards as if testing the limits of the senses. The work is a little like a cruel experiment that is being perpetrated on the viewer, occasionally punctuated by a plethora of female nudity, and a performer dressed as a Wookie. Which was never a sentence that I ever expected to be reading back to myself during my journalistic career.

The artist’s work follows the trippy dancing narrative of blackmail, money management, catting (this is apparently similar to dogging but with women, and on boats), children drowned at sea who then miraculously survive – and a cat cult – of course. This is all a rather heady mixture for a rainy Wednesday afternoon; unleashed on the unsuspecting (suspecting?) viewer – awash with carnival-esque crudity and explicit imagery – all through the haze of a clairvoyant’s crystal ball – and with a deliberately amateurish wobble. When I finally left Studio Voltaire I wasn’t sure where I was going.

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd and Anne Collier: Major New Commissions for Studio Voltaire – Studio Voltaire, 1A Nelsons Row, London – until 14 December

Words: Paul Black © Artlyst 2014 Photo courtesy of Studio Voltaire all rights reserved

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