Reflecting their research into R.D. Laing’s anti-psychiatry movement, the latest work by the London-based Israeli duo Pil and Galia Kollectiv, titled Progress Report from the Strategic Sanctuary for the Destruction of Free Will, 2016, is an exhibition and ongoing piece. On the ground floor, a monitor screens scenes from a film being made—on the day I visited the gallery, I watched performers dressed in neo-futuristic costumes of white cardboard outlined in black, re-enacting the jerky, robotic movements taken from video footage of patients undergoing psychedelic counseling and other forms of radical psychotherapy treatment.
The cardboard setting and props seen in the video are found on the upper floors of the gallery, where yet more filming will take place periodically throughout the exhibition’s duration. The final cut will be screened on the last day of the show. It feels a bit like entering the space of a 1920s Expressionist film set—stay there long enough and claustrophobia begins to set in (many of the walls have been covered in white cardboard as well, narrowing the already-narrow rooms even further). On the topmost floor, the effect is heightened by the blaring of a sound collage featuring recordings from the 1950s and ‘60s of people recalling their drug experiences, including, most memorably, a young woman relaying her conversation with a hot dog, which begged not to be eaten, because it had a wife and seven kids.
Lying at the core of this immersive project is the suggestion that the use of prescription and illegal drugs for medicative purposes ultimately results in a regulation of the relationship between mind, body, employment, and profit. It will be worth visiting Pil and Galia Kollectiv’s piece several times, especially at the closing, to see where it will all end up.
Three huge, silent slabs of high-density Polyurethane Foam, 2016—a material that is tasked with sucking up sound—stand by the entrance at Park McArthur’s first solo exhibition in the UK. Like everything else here, they seem to be getting pulled toward the edges of the room; even the overhead lighting appears centrifugal, illuminating the boundaries of the space more than its contents.
In “Polys,” 2016, large, white sheets of paper are treated with superabsorbent polymer, a powder that is used in diapers and sanitary pads to stabilize fluids by turning them into gel. Throughout the duration of the show these highly absorbent monochromes are gradually warping, as they take in the moisture of their surroundings (including our breath). It becomes evident that objects are not fixed or self-contained units here; they’re sites of contact.
“Contact,” made between 2015–16, is a cluster of plinths presenting stainless-steel trays filled with disposable products: condoms, tissues, medical tubing, foam dressings, latex gloves, plasters, antibacterial wipes, lubricants, surgical masks, protective balms, an HIV test kit, and other consumer/medical items relating in various ways to the body’s permeable boundaries.
Important work has been done within the field of disability studies to challenge our ideas about where the body ends and where its surroundings and supports begin. Questions that are present here take on an immediate sociopolitical urgency when we encounter a plinth holding a stack of A4 copies of a letter— Equinox House—that was issued by the UK’s Independent Living Fund last year, advising its members that the government-subsidized scheme, which had long supported independent living for disabled people, was coming to an end.
Heather Phillipson’s installation more flinching, 2015, doesn’t feature the usual buoyancy and explosions of bright color for which the artist is best known. Here we encounter a fragmented story by a grieving, paranoid narrator—available in stapled booklets for the taking from two rooms filled with the sounds of Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu in C Sharp Minor, Opus 66—about the shooting of a police dog conflated with the death of a pet. The walls are painted an institutional navy blue, and the space is reminiscent of stagnant, bureaucratic offices and their disorganized, dusty archives. But Chopin’s oddly ascending, melancholic score prevents it from becoming a graveyard. A screen on the floor shows images of a hand playing a piano and pixelated, zoomed-in shots of parts of a dog. Everything feels up close, too close—everything blurs.
A resin dog sits among the texts on a rotating platform, looking up wide-eyed as passers-by take them away, relieving the installation of its palpable sorrow. But the presence of absence is overwhelming, as the room suffocatingly embodies both love and lack. On the wall in white paint is the line “I’LL MAKE IT UP TO YOU, DARLING, IN DOG BISCUITS IN THE AFTERLIFE,” a feeling and a sign that transmogrifies the rotating dog into a symbol of eternal recurrence—the non-new new, forever. Books are piled everywhere. Perhaps Phillipson is gently offering up the idea that only language allows us distance from turmoil, even though, to quote the artist, “our faces are so close we can’t see.”
How do you walk around a show? In and out at high speed, zeroing in on a few key exhibits, or methodically evaluating each work in relation to some unifying idea? Or, as curator Christopher Green recommends, do you saunter through desultorily, surrendering to the journey without preconceptions?
Showing sixteen divergent artists, Green prompts us to recall Robert Walser’s walking habits and attitude of attentiveness to small things. Walser’s ironic and paradoxical 1917 novella, The Walk, insists the stroller observe “a child, a dog, a fly, a butterfly, a sparrow, a worm, a mouse, a cloud, a hill, a leaf,” and, likewise, Green relishes his list of things, as each one is given room to unfurl and reveal its oddness. Wandering past Hreinn Fridfinnsson’s photographic tribute to his Icelandic shepherding days we see two of Richard Artschwager’s obdurate and extraterrestrial-looking blps, 2013. Adjacent is Untitled, 2014, an icy moonscape by Etel Adnan, not far from Ian Hamilton Finlay’s characteristically pithy neon sculpture A,E,I,O, BLUE, 1992, and Vicken Parsons’s self-effacing, gray oil paintings. Moving upstairs, we make out Vija Celmins’s delicate spider-web drypoint Untitled (Web) 4, 2002, opposite Mary Heilmann’s smoldering painting Idriss, 2012. Approaching the window we find ourselves before a small video monitor showing Jem Cohen’s affectionate and short documentary, Anne Truitt, Working, 2009. And interspersed throughout, like droll punctuation, are Michael Dumontier & Neil Farber’s cartoon-like miniatures, including one of a corpse buried beneath a plant (You will be flowers, 2016).
There’s no way to collapse such heterogeneity under one organizing concept. Best to take Walser at his word and wander through as if this were “more a subtle circular stroll than a forced ride and march,” and succumb to the nonsequential pleasures and intellectual provocations invited by these enigmatic works.
Channa Horwitz combined formal rigor and intuitive perception like few others within her Minimalist and Conceptualist milieu. At this exhibition’s entrance is Language Series II, 1964–2004, an expansive collection of orange squares painted in casein on graph paper, each one mathematically related to the number eight. (Horwitz used the numbers one through eight in constraints for the making of her works—in this piece, embedded within a square, sits an eight-by-eight-inch grid of smaller squares.) This painting serves as a blueprint for the artist’s large-scale installation Displacement, 2011/16, which premiered in 2011 at the Y8 Artyoga studio in Hamburg. Its reconstruction here will be “activated” by a yoga class. There’s a spiritual generosity at the core of this piece that one would be hard pressed to find in, for example, Sol LeWitt.
What at first looks like glimmering Mylar in Horwitz’s series “Moiré,” 1983–84, and “Canon,” 1987, is actually an accretion of precisely measured ink and casein lines in sherbet oranges and pastel greens, alongside cyans, magentas, and reds. Hanging from a wall is Dome Inside Square, 1968, a white plastic globe halved and protruding from the titular quadrilateral. It is also a projection screen for Horwitz’s 16-mm film At the Tone the Time Will Be, 1969, a collaboration between the artist and choreographer Sheila Rozann, featuring four dancers, Horwitz's daughter Ellen Davis among them, wearing graphic black-and-white leotards. The convex object distorts the film but makes clear Horowitz’s subjective approach toward creating enigmatic works of art.
Invited to work with the Tate Archive, Charlotte Moth chose to interrogate the museum’s holdings of documentation and ephemera related to the work of sculptor Barbara Hepworth. Moth’s current exhibition, “Choreography of the Image,” highlights the imaginative control Hepworth exerted on photographic reproductions of her art from the 1930s until the ’70s (an aspect of the sculptor’s practice that’s received little scholarly attention). Hepworth chose certain kinds of plants, plinths on wheels, curtains, screens, and lights for the most indelible kinds of presentation—she was not only invested in the way her work would be displayed but also how it would be remembered.
For the vitrines in the Archive Room, Moth has created ten Inserts, 2015—a series of “sculptural interventions,” according to the artist, on which she has arranged about one hundred items, including exhibition-installation pictures, correspondences, and one of Hepworth’s collages (Collage featuring Sculpture with Colour [Deep Blue and Red] ca.1943). Images from the 1937 avant-garde journal Circle: International Survey of Constructive Art feature photographs of artworks by her contemporaries, such as Naum Gabo, László Moholy-Nagy, and Henry Moore. References to Hepworth’s son Simon Nicholson’s kinetic sculptures also show up, reflecting shared interests in landscape, art education, and child psychology.
Moth’s Filmic Sketches, 2015, merges exquisitely evocative footage of locations that were important to Hepworth—her studio and garden in St. Ives—with images of the Palais-de-Danse, sundry rock formations, and ancient magical sites in Cornwall. Moth worked on the film’s sound track, made up of environmental recordings from the sites she visited woven into computer-generated ones, in collaboration with the composer Carlo Peters. Moth has organically and elegantly echoed Hepworth’s language in the present time.
Kerstin Brätsch and Adele Röder, who collaborate under the name DAS INSTITUT, conjure polymorphic forms that merge painting with cosmology. Brätsch’s series of prints, “Unstable Talismanic Rendering,” 2014/16, mimics the psychedelic surfaces of marble. Her prints are composed horizontally in water baths, where ink droplets fall and take shape along a mercurial surface. Brätsch’s prints are affixed to temporary walls and act as ceremonial gateways for the rest of the exhibition. In one room, large-scale slide projections, collectively titled Dark Codex, 2016, combine images of Brätsch’s paintings with Röder’s body prints. On glass slides, the artists’ pictures become unified surfaces. Two projectors cycle through these images—they mix and break, shuttling between the celestial and the mineralogical. The work proposes an alternative zodiac to reorient the body.
In another gallery is Flame Creatures, 2015, a multichannel light and sound piece by the artist Sergei Tcherepnin. Brätsch’s inflamed monsters, the “KAYA Mylars,” 2015, are composed on clear plastic sheets. They are illuminated by theater lamps and COMCORRÖDER Deep Sleep, 2010/15, a neon piece by Röder. The sound track to Flame Creatures is made up of all manner of sonic debris: from interstellar space, maybe insects, and other odd fragments. Through all the cast shadows, Brätsch’s phantasmagoria mutate into molecular patterns, where figure and ground begin to dissolve.
With the opening of Dennis Morris’s “PiL - First Issue to Metal Box,” an exhibition of the designer’s work for Public Image Ltd’s first two albums, the museum also celebrated forty years of punk, with performances by a slew of DJs and the all-female band Skinny Girl Diet, who screamed their ideals to an audience of sleek page-boy haircuts, broad-brimmed hats, tight leather, and faces full of piercings. It felt like a head-on collision between the past and present. The show’s location in a small room beneath a staircase leading to a bar seemed appropriate and not too unlike PiL’s coordinates within music history: firmly tucked into the bowels of the Establishment yet weirdly hidden, even marginalized. The vitrines display Morris’s visual brand building: photographs of John Lydon after his heyday with the Sex Pistols and during the creation of PiL; fictional newspaper interviews; a promo video from 1978 of Lydon drinking a beer onstage in a blue suit and screaming (Public Image, 1978); and Metal Box’s iconic album sleeve, with its embossed, aspirin-shaped logo—band as commercialized “product” and necessary drug. It all feels and looks so precious—somehow trapped in amber. But for those unfamiliar with the complexity of the scene, it documents a particular trajectory of punk and post-punk aesthetics with museological deftness.
There is a quiet photograph of Lydon, who recently turned sixty, that seems rather tongue-in-cheek: Morris’s John in Kingston, Jamaica, 1978, features Lydon, twenty-two years old at the time, around totemic-looking cacti and assorted shrubs. In the arid environs, his gray, barely buttoned shirt, black pants, and leather wristbands contrast starkly with the natural environment. It does, however, push one to envision the cactus as a “punk” plant. After all, a cactus is extraordinarily resilient in the worst of conditions and, if you get too close, can really fuck you up.
Walter Benjamin famously asserted that reproduction and dissemination diminishes the auratic quality of an original artwork. Hany Armanious, however, tries to prove the opposite. Known for re-creating objects in polyurethane resin, his uncanny, hyperreal sculptures have a glow all their own. Keep in mind that they are nothing like Duane Hanson’s figurative representations. Rather, the Egyptian-born Australian lovingly renders the detritus of the world.
His subjects tend toward the distressed, abandoned, or overlooked. For example, a child’s scrawly drawing is transferred via an industrial dyeing process onto soft, furry carpet. Hung on the wall, this pair of works—both Untitled, 2016—act like (and of course, in a sense, are) paintings. Across the gallery’s second-floor space, Armanious has strewn twenty-seven little blobs of cast Blu-Tack: Logos, 2015. They look like discarded remnants from a previous hang. Like the replicas of melted house candles casually placed on the second floor, Frequently Asked Questions, 2015, Armanious asks us to see and, more importantly, to question more closely.
In past exhibitions, Armanious has given us configurations of different objects, but this time, his selections are offered individually or in semiserialized groups. It is important to note that the artist is not simply playing with mimesis—Armanious is interrogating, gently, the nature of art and art production. How do you make sculpture? What do you pick to be your subject? Are these objects any less “meaningful” or “existential” because they appear slight and careworn?
Bloody life. A phrase we might utter, exasperated, navigating a world that can be both exciting and dispiriting. Curated by Herald St in collaboration with Gigiotto del Vecchio and Stefania Palumbo of the Berlin gallery Supportico Lopez and mounted throughout Herald St’s East and West End spaces, this group exhibition (whose title is borrowed from a body of work by Gilbert & George that is not presented here) brings together a wide range of artworks—some you’ll love, some not—but hey, that’s bloody life.
Athena Papadopoulos’s bold fabric works are somewhat corporeal—she gives us bulbous legs in platform shoes (Stumpin’ and Bumpin’ II, 2016) and a giant, swollen sea monster vomiting up a mass of chicken bones, heart shaped, into apricot-pigmented resin (Shrinking Violet, Buffet Bulldozer, 2015). The artist uses Pepto-Bismol and Crazy Color hair dye, which, when combined, create rich monochrome surfaces of red or purple. She also crudely stitches on image transfers—caricaturish pictures taken from drawings, photographs, or magazine clippings—which cause these sculptures to become whirlwinds of visual hyperactivity and handicraft. References to the body continue in Rebecca Ackroyd’s two giant hands modeled from plaster bandages and chicken wire that architecturally rise up to the ceiling (Nut Cracker, 2016), along with Franziska Lantz’s morbid series of mobile sculptures, where bones and metal dangle from wires (“THAMES, no title,” 2016).
An orgy of disparate materials, including chains, jewelry, metal wires, and rubber form a tightly packed, wall-mounted bundle in Robert Bittenbender’s Nocturnal Digest, 2015, while Lindsay Lawson’s objects meld pants, fake fur, chewing gum, and Styrofoam balls into vase-shaped plaster casts—like ceramics washed up in a shipwreck or buried time capsules containing detritus of this fabulous, fucked-up, gorgeous, and indeed bloody life.
As if stepping into a time-warped consciousness-raising session, you are confronted with five video projections of multiracial performers reading from feminist and lesbian newsletters distributed in Britain and the United States from 1955 to ’77. The videos are projected at different scales across a makeshift plywood hoarding that traverses the gallery; on the back of it are pasted pages from the aforementioned publications. Sharon Hayes unearthed this occasionally harrowing material from archives in London and Philadelphia. Had you lived at this wild frontier of political advocacy, she seems to ask, how would you have answered readers’ letters asking for help in dealing with the KKK; advised on the institutional repression of lesbian relationships in prison; or responded to African American gay women having to turn to white middle-class groups to counter prejudice from their own community?
Hayes’s point is that this is less time warp than temporal compression, where the young performers, all recruited from queer and feminist Philadelphia circles, evoke contemporary political struggles by revisiting the origins of gay activism. Indeed, the exhibition (and 2016 multichannel video’s) title, “In My Little Corner of the World, Anyone Would Love You,” references a song by Anita Bryant, the famous homophobic Florida campaigner, whose treacly music is played in one scene to direct us inexorably to that state’s recent antigay legislation. The actors casually move through the rooms of a house, reading while sitting in the bathroom, lying in bed, spinning records, typing in the kitchen, or folding and stapling publications at a hallway table in a play of domesticity where Hayes points to the home as the fundamental site of sixty years of sexual politics.
In Josh Bitelli’s recent exhibition, “A Partition,” the artist has compressed the gallery with a false ceiling, rendering the ample space compact, claustrophobic. Snaking throughout is a white antibacterial curtain that bisects the room. In the western corner, two monitors are stacked, showing Bitelli’s video All Doors and No Exits, 2016. The work’s script, performed by health-care professionals, borrows from generic medical diagnostic texts and determines a set of prescriptive actions. As the artist’s camera shows his actors rehearsing over and over again, both image and sound begin to lose their coherence. The film becomes neurotic.
Despite the clinical content, Bitelli’s piece has its Lynchian moments, especially when its rigidity gives way to a strange material excess. Near the end, the actors continually depress the handle of a soap dispenser. No reason is given for this action. As more and more soap drains from it, the white foam engulfs the camera’s frame. Then, in a matter of seconds, this seemingly endless froth dissipates into transparent formlessness. This scenario unfolds as a kind of macabre theater in reverse—abjection run through a process of purification, making it entirely aseptic. Perhaps this is the overriding subject of the show, a work inaugurated by an act of separation—bodies and ideas are divided from one another but then suddenly collapsed and made permeable, suggested by the transmission of fluids from one state to another.
The Japanese art of kintsugi—the treatment of cracked or broken pottery with gold lacquer—stems from a philosophical embrace of imperfection. Seams of precious metal trace the jagged fault lines of an object; gold can elevate, but does not mask, these traces of the vessel’s history. Bosco Sodi’s art is forged in a similar spirit of deference for raw materials and natural processes. If you look closely enough at one of his ceramic-glazed volcanic rock sculptures (all works cited Untitled, 2016), a subtle line of gold-on-gold pigment might catch the light, revealing its meandering path across the work’s textured surface.
True to the philosophy of wabi sabi, which has long informed Sodi’s practice, each of the thirty-two rock sculptures featured in his latest exhibition is uniquely shaped and draws focus to the interplay of opposites: the roughness of igneous rock with the smoothness of ceramic glaze. Of varying sizes, these are arranged seemingly haphazardly throughout the gallery, requiring the viewer to walk carefully, even contemplatively, around the space. Such is Sodi’s vision: This show, titled for the concept of Yūgen—defined in faint handwritten script on the entrance wall as the “profound and mysterious beauty of the universe that cannot be described by words”—is laid out like a Japanese garden and invites a reflective mode of viewing.
Sodi has extended his ongoing series of sawdust-and-pigment “paintings,” previously executed in hues such as magenta, charcoal, and ochre. His latest output is strangely suited to spring in England, its palette reminiscent of ash and moss. These appear like grand topographies of cracked earth, and, as with the volcanic rock sculptures, they betray a sense of time and process—melting and cooling, drying and congealing—and of the beauty in roughness.
In many of Dawit L. Petros’s large-scale color photographs, fragmented or partially obscured figures stand in vast desert landscapes, flanked by swathes of sea, sand, and sky. The effect is enigmatic—like de Chirico’s abandoned city plazas—but might be more appropriately characterized as opaque in the sense described by the late Martinican writer Édouard Glissant, whose words grace Petros’s film, The Shop, (all works cited, 2016). Glissant writes: “There is an opacity now at the bottom of the mirror, a whole alluvium deposited by populations, silt that is fertile but, in actual fact, indistinct and unexplored even today. . . . Opacities must be preserved.” A degree of illegibility, then, is integral to the maintenance of difference amid the rapid globalization of Western culture.
In this spirit, there is some incomprehensible element in each of Petros’s works. He hides the faces of his photographic subjects, and The Shop is filmed in a dark interior that one can never quite make out. Formalist allusions to opacity exist in the surfaces carried by some figures: the mirror that faces but does not reflect the cameraman in Untitled (Prologue II) or the fleeting views of prayer rugs with A Series of Complicated Ambivalences.
The theme of the stranger that gives the exhibition its title converges with notions of migration that are central to the artist’s practice. Produced during Petros’s yearlong journey throughout West and North Africa, the exhibition comments on the experience of passing through, on outsiderness and mobility. In the three-channel sound installation La Tente n’a pas de porte (The Tent Has No Door), an unseen speaker muses on the Mauritanian conception of the foreigner, in alternating English, French, and Arabic passages. The hostile environment of the desert, he suggests, renders openness to cooperation a necessity for survival. Just as Glissant attests, relationality is key.
Los Angeles–based artist Kathleen Ryan’s sculptures are big and bold—seemingly hypertrophied in the life-altering California sun. She uses functional, everyday items salvaged from thrift stores and junkyards—curtain panels, railings—and reconfigures them with slick and subtle gestures. For example, Lipstick Rail (all works 2016) is a bent, upended, fire-engine-red railing, which resembles a giant line of the titular makeup, drawn in three dimensions.
In Bacchante (Tall White), countless concrete spheres, like an oversize cluster of grapes, tumble from atop a pristine marble column, ready to burst. Their smoothly polished surfaces, mottled in varying tones of gray, from pale pebble to rich slate, glimmer. Fecund and sensuous, they summon forth the Greco-Roman deity of wine, madness, ecstasy, and fertility.
Further classical references appear in Untitled. Ivy is cast in pewter, complete with delicate capillaries, and woven to form a huge metallic wreath. And Caprice recalls Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, ca. 1486: a pale pink clamshell opening to reveal a pearlescent bowling ball that’s replaced the serene goddess being blown to shore.
Ryan’s materials can be hard, shiny, and cold. But with the artist’s playful and charming tweaks, they go beyond Minimalist aesthetics. The ways Ryan transforms the strange beauty of junk reminds the viewer that common objects can become scintillatingly uncommon if you consider them thoughtfully and for long enough.
Emerging from the combative tribalism of 1970s Italian art, a time of pitched street battles between radical activist movements in Milan and Rome, the term Pittura Analitica (Analytical Painting) classified a new rigor with which a loose grouping of artists overcame enervated and repetitive modes of abstraction. In this show, it’s clear that choices about actions and materials should be understood as painting concepts rather than evidence of self-expression.
Enzo Cacciola’s 11-05-1975, 1975, is made up of cement dragged across canvas. Paolo Cotani’s Benda (Bandage), 1975, features the titular material soaked in dun paint and wrapped around a stretcher. Paolo Masi’s Tessitura (Weaving), 1974, is a grid of red and gray thread sewn into a khaki ground. Carmengloria Morales’s Dittico (Diptych) R 75-11-1, 1975, is an unpainted canvas alongside one of diagonal pewter-colored brushstrokes, with the feel of torrential rain. Vincenzo Cecchini’s stack of washed-out gray squares, Untitled, 1972, looks like a skyscraper lost in fog. Is such doleful color coincidental, given that this era of convulsive political turmoil in Italy came to be known as Anni di Piombo (Years of Lead)?
Even where Giorgio Griffa’s Linee orizzontali (Horizontal Lines), 1975, introduces stronger hues, the pink bands have been systematically drawn across a piece of unstretched, creased linen to much the same severe effect. This collection of straightforward, unsentimental painting suggests Pittura Analitica had an indirectly critical relationship to the murky politics of the period, as if artists committed to making irrevocable decisions about working processes might exemplify a clarity and probity absent from the public sphere.
At the very end of a dimly lit room full of phantasmagoric antique textiles and artifacts from northeastern India is a video titled Invocation, 2015. It is trancelike and dreamily romantic; a subjective collection of images from the natural world imbued with ideas from the spiritual one, pieced together by an unreliable narrator behind a camera lens that occasionally blurs.
Invocation, which amplifies the numinous aspects of all the mysterious objects surrounding it, is given to us by Sonal Jain and Mriganka Madhukaillya, aka Desire Machine Collective. This work evokes the spirit of Assam, India—from which the artists hail—through visions of the Brahmaputra River and the sundry myths that surround it. A roughly fourteen-minute montage, it blinks at you with a panoply of colors, symbols, and situations: a pulsating blue that suddenly transmogrifies into flashes of butterfly wings and fish scales, which then become a boat ride on light-dappled water, then lines on the palm of a hand, mustard fields, and slow-motion masked dancers in a forest. Time slips, lags. Though the piece is silent, you hear music, or birdsong, or just the quiet breath of your thoughts. The camera sways and disorients, leaving you lost at sea, hallucinating, longing for something beyond the horizon. So many of the things we witness in Invocation are steeped in animistic traditions. You become the camera, an outsider peering in, at the intersection of fiction, the occult, and the ethnographic. Nothing is linear—space expands and contracts. Invocation does what art should: It summons the faraway and demands that your critical voice hush or else dance along.
A collaborative project by Alice Theobald and Atomik Architecture, It’s not who you are, it’s how you are, 2015, operates on different levels—quite literally. Mixing sound, video, and performance, the temporary edifice they conceived together is composed of a sinuous black platform abutting four cylindrical, timber-framed towers lined with duvets. This immersive site-specific installation occupies a single, lofty gallery, and its hypnotic recorded sound track permeates everything.
Visitors are channeled along a circular route as they walk in and out of the towers at ground level, which are minimally furnished to look like a stage set. On the platform, two performers, from a cast of fifteen working in shifts, operate video cameras, whose feeds of the audience and surroundings are projected live at different heights onto the towers. When not on tech duty, the actors are performing ordinary actions and gestures: sitting, daydreaming, putting on a dressing gown, or occasionally lip-synching the script and singing variations on the show’s title, the latter of which is inscribed in one fluid line slightly above eye level within the towers.
Effectively blurring disciplinary boundaries, Theobald and Atomik Architecture’s multifaceted artwork perfectly illustrates the concept of performance architecture, a field mapped out by curator and architect Pedro Gadanho. Modeled on performance art, the term, as he sees it, applies to temporary, open structures built using ephemeral materials, with a focus on the body. Nothing if not vertigo-inducing, this theatrical, highly artificial scenario succeeds in making us acutely aware of how built environments construct and program our behavior.
Three tightly organized grids of inked drawings of Diet Coke cans from the series “Alcoholism” (all works 2016) hang on one of the stripped-back walls of the living room that doubles as this artist-run space. Opposite these, above a fireplace, is a large digital print, Alcoscopolism, depicting floating thought bubbles containing sexually suggestive imagery from Coca-Cola’s recent “Taste the Feeling” advertising campaign alongside pictures of Andy Warhol, Martin Kippenberger, and tipsy Helmut Newton models. This arrangement serves as a mood board for Dan Mitchell’s exhibition, collaging marketing ideology with scopophilia.
The show, also titled “Alcoholism,” is packed with Mitchell’s astute interpretations of capital’s illusions and habitual addictions. He is attentive to how a product is marketed to the point where consumerism itself is the commodity, sold through its repeated representation. In the drawings, the soda cans are already open; these empty vessels are the artwork already devoured. As an über-brand, Diet Coke is substitutive—no calories, no sugar—and while it might be this artist’s social lubricant of choice, the title of the show is nevertheless a red herring. These works aren’t really about compulsive drinking but are more focused on associating obsession with looking as a means to grasp the potency of images. For instance, in the middle of Alcoscopolism is a recognizable still from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 Rear Window, reworked so that the artist’s grinning face is superimposed over Jimmy Stewart’s, while Diet Coke cans are reflected in the lens of the camera he holds—finally capturing the objects of his voyeurism.