BY Andrew Hunt in Reviews | 11 NOV 03
Featured in
Issue 79

Babak Ghazi

Tablet, London, UK

BY Andrew Hunt in Reviews | 11 NOV 03

Consisting of transformed detritus and bricolage, and contributions by artists and friends, this project by Babak Ghazi, 'We Make Our Own', could be described as a load of junk posing as futuristic sculpture. Ghazi also looks as if he was busy inventing himself as a character who occupies an ambivalent ground out on the edge of things. This is not a particularly bad thing, but it is downright confusing. The exhibition's claim to 'demonstrate the goodness-pretension of ideological decoration, with domestic bricolage, sanitized murals and emancipatory mosaics' clashed in some way with the fact that the works were incidental, ambiguous, and the overall aesthetic minimal. Any real substance existed in the conversation between Ghazi's Modernist references and his invited array of cohorts.

The exterior wall of the gallery, which faces a seated bar area, was filled with a variety of neat paraphernalia - including a handmade mosaic by Ghazi - and equated to something resembling a family mantelpiece. Dave Carbone's Unfinished (1997), a muddy abstract on a standard kitchen plate, looks a bit too much like an art student's makeshift palette for comfort, and sat uneasily next to Roland Corbin's tightly measured William Coldstream-esque Untitled Life Drawing (2003). In turn Elizabeth Anne Harris' disturbing Untitled Photo (1997), showing an attractive dark-haired girl resting a knife blade on the top of her head, was placed next to Kim Coleman's A3 Poster (2003), an advertisement for a recent launch night for International Cowgirl magazine in Glasgow. Helping to set up a post-Pop visual equivalent to that of an art school corridor, this informal array of loose works helped to introduce the elegant abjection of Ghazi's main installation.

The most noticeable thing about this room was the androgynous quality of the two figures in Ghazi's wall painting Liberation Sixtysomething (2003). Taken from The Joy of Sex (1972) and painted a mid-tone grey on a white background, the figures combined to form a silhouette, their stylized mid-length hairstyles accentuating the work's sexual ambivalence. In a humourous move a domestic houseplant obscured the focal point of the painting, its height directly corresponding to the point on the wall where the two bodies meet. Geometricise (2003), a video work across the room, repeated this process, skipping between blank images of human figures and coloured geometric shapes their same size and basic form.

Over in the far corner of the gallery a standard dark green leather sofa acted as a viewing-point for the exhibition. On one of the seats was We Make Our Own (CD-rack) (2003). Made from a small upended household drying stand, cardboard and parcel tape, an unnamed CD was caught precariously within one of the grooves. Almost too simple for words, it was similar to Chess Table (2003), formed from an old plastic water bottle and a travelling chessboard.

Despite the apparent mindlessness of these works, a strange logic started to appear. Playing with outmoded Modernist languages, Utopian forms and New Age spiritualism, Ghazi's Makeshift Candlesticks (Primary Time), (2003) echo a simple functionality through poor materials. Consisting of three different candles in red, blue and yellow, and held by empty soft drinks bottles, the colour of each candle corresponded perfectly to the remaining collar from the screw top on each bottle, and somehow referenced the work of Piet Mondrian. Similarly My Way to Bauhaus (2003), a small painting mounted on the wall, picturing Vidal Sassoon's first geometric haircut, reinforced a reference to classic Modernist fashion. Across the room a Gucci advertisement torn from a magazine, held to the floor by small rocks, also pictured a slightly confused-looking male model in a shiny black dinner suit. Again one got the feeling of being playfully duped by the fragility of the enterprise. Amid all this was Alex Pollard and Iain Hetherington's free publication This Book will also be Printed on Chair Legs in an Attempt to Liquidate a False Bourgeois Cultural Inheritance (2003). A compendium consisting of random cartoons, texts and nonsense, including a baffling introduction by writer Neil Mulholland, it somehow contributed to the faux liberatory aspect of Ghazi's project.

In one sense there's always been a case for the traditional crafted object as a strange political force, energizing and reinstating a faith in the handmade. Yet Ghazi's joy in the materiality of trash, one that oscillates between nostalgia for retro chic, high Modernism, Pop kitsch and the purely mundane, proves that there's also a different practice at work, one that's wonderfully irresponsible and walks a very thin line indeed.