BY ​Jack Smurthwaite in Reviews | 27 SEP 19
Featured in
Issue 207

Benedict Drew Serves Boris Johnson Cold

A new show at London’s IMT gallery attempts to exorcise the horror of British politics

BY ​Jack Smurthwaite in Reviews | 27 SEP 19

Benedict Drew is no stranger to the corrupt systems that afflict society. He has, in the past, interrogated our uncertain and questionable relationships to technology and the sickeningly uneven distribution of money, privilege, labour. ‘Trapped in a sticky shed with side chain compression’, however, crams all this and more into a show that is part ritual, part DIY fairground and more than a small amount of a collapsed party, in an attempt to exorcise the spectres making a horror of British politics. 

Benedict Drew, Colonial Fantasy Slop, 2019, oil on gesso panels, 100 × 70 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Matt's Gallery, London 

A totemic figure, apparently modelled after Cousin Itt from the Addams Family, keeps guard over discarded cascades of nationalistic bunting. Made from streams of magnetic tape spilling from a reel-to-reel machine whirring on the floor, the figure’s role is ambiguous – is it cleaning up or breaking down? It could be waiting for us to enter the gallery or it could just be gormlessly staring at the animations, which play on monitors propped against the walls. On one of the screens, the gammon face of a politician bubbles in and out of focus under a ruffle of blonde hair, a vision that’s as haunting as it is inescapable. Above, trembling, cartoonish figures – all bubble-gum pink and Pinocchio noses – are depicted alongside snatches of text. The characters crawl around and shake hands under black clouds, while clichéd and unfinished phrases, such as ‘the great British’ and ‘cheer up’, fall from their slack mouths and impassive faces. The phrase ‘cheer up’ might be followed by ‘it might never happen’, but, unfortunately, we know it is happening and happening now. Through a brothel red corridor, a ‘flashy flashy flashy wah wah wah’ video, as the handout puts it, strobes the words ‘collective amnesia’ to the sound of Jacob Rees-Mogg laughing like a lunatic. There is a distinct sense that we are seeing characters in harsh daylight clinging onto the night before, frantically scrambling to hide the mess and smear the surfaces clean. 

Benedict Drew, ‘Trapped in a sticky shed with a side chain compression’, 2019, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and iMT Gallery, London; photograph: Silke Løvstad 

Sticky shedding, or ‘sticky shed syndrome’, is a condition created by the deterioration of magnetic strips on audio tapes, either through overuse or abuse. When you play the broken tape, gaps and omissions on the surface create crackles and screams where there should be reason and information. In an interview with the artist, Kristen Gallerneaux describes these ghostly holes as ‘an analogy for thinking around current politics in the UK’. Even when the rousing speeches and political soundbites are stripped from the tapes, the technology is still haunted by its origin as a propaganda tool. 

The relationship between memory loss and sticky shedding is obvious, but the idea of a haunting – a hazy residue of what is left behind – is a much more accurate optic for surveying the UK’s political systems. Drew constructs and invites us into his haunted ‘sticky shed’, made – much like the figure of bunting and tape at the threshold of the gallery – from remnants of an erasure. There is the feeling of accelerating entropy whizzing past outside his anti-haven. 

Benedict Drew, Shareholders, 2019, oil on gesso panels, 100 × 70 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Matt’s Gallery, London

‘Trapped in a sticky shed with side chain compression’ continues Drew’s previous inquiries into the mechanisms of his socio-political environment. Nestled in the ever-unfolding mayhem of Brexit and Supreme Court rulings, it is unsurprising that this exhibition feels more urgent and manic in a somewhat farcical way than his previous shows (‘Trickle Down Syndrome’ at Whitechapel Gallery in 2017 and ‘THE ANTI ECSTATIC MACHINES’ at Matt’s Gallery in 2018). Here, Drew manages to construct a social body that is soft, sticky and vulnerable to these syndromes, while also being mechanical and unbearably hard to penetrate. 

Main image: Benedict Drew, Bad Bad Bad Man (Trapped 1), 2019, video still. Courtesy: the artist and Matt's Gallery, London

Jack Smurthwaite is a writer and curator, based in London, UK.