BY Alice Butler in Reviews | 25 SEP 15
Featured in
Issue 174

The boys the girls and the political

Lisson Gallery, London, UK

BY Alice Butler in Reviews | 25 SEP 15

'The boys the girls and the political', foreground: George Henry Longly, He, 2015, She, 2015, background: Alice Theobold, And The Wanderers Wandering at the Wonders of Themselves, 2015, George Henry Longly, Trophic Cascade, 2015, exhibition view.

Three smudges of blue pigment have been slapped on the gallery wall like an ellipsis. Dotted around both of Lisson Gallery’s Bell Street spaces as part of the group show ‘The boys the girls and the political’, curated by Hana Noorali and Lynton Talbot, the blue markings of Facebook Blue Filler (2012–ongoing), by the collective Am Nuden Da (Adam Gibbons, Lewis Ronald and Jesper List Thomsen), indicate our daily surrender to the instant message, while also acting as symbols that encourage ‘conversations’ between the works exhibited. Ten contemporary artists – working in film, performance, painting and sculpture – were featured in this somewhat chaotic show, in which works (unlabelled and anonymous) were installed erratically throughout the space, testing the viewer to find thematic relationships between them.

Facebook Blue Filler reminds me of so many writers’ and artists’ obsession with the colour blue: from Carol Mavor writing about Irène Némirovsky’s handwriting in Blue Mythologies (2013) (‘blues are miniscule mournful knots of ink’) to Maggie Nelson’s Bluets (2009), in which she names Leonardo da Vinci, Joseph Cornell and Derek Jarman amongst her ‘blue correspondents’. For these artists, blue is light, hope, death: it is affective writing. Am Nuden Da replace such authored emotion with deadened dots that suggest the inexorable, digitally induced need to communicate, as labour and intimacy become uncomfortably intermixed.

The show suggested ‘collaboration’ as its uniting curatorial thread, but this was perhaps misleading: only Am Nuden Da and Lucy Beech and Edward Thomasson, with the enjoyably banal sex-soundscape 7 Year Itch (2015), were showing works that have been made within a genuinely collaborative framework. Instead, ‘collaboration’ was often less explicitly declared: Cally Spooner’s sound piece And as the medieval cloisters connect seamlessly with the corridors of power … I’m quietly confident (U-Turn) (2013), for instance, was developed by the artist, composer and chorus-line.

‘Correspondence’ is a more effective lens through which this exhibition should be read, both in terms of the metaphorical conversations between the works and the ‘act’ of writing. From the short fictions that Elaine Cameron Weir gives her brass sculptures as titles to Spooner’s email-interrogation Questions for Kevin (2015), distributed as an A4 hand-out, the works that foregrounded ‘language-as-performance’ formed a separate message-thread of their own. As the artist performs a tabloid inquiry, asking the actor Kevin Spacey questions about his work and private life, Spooner’s piece becomes an investigation into public performance and artistic labour.

Emphasizing the event of writing over the emotion behind it, this was writing without the ‘mournful knots of ink’. Joining Spooner’s group, Beatriz Olabarrieta’s projections of fuzzy verbal material show language to be an automated substance, and writing a performance; in the same way, Jesper List Thomsen’s titular series of seven paintings The boys the girls and the political (2015) reimagines writing as a staged, synthetic event. And, in the environmental collage that includes the video the tourist trap (2015), Richard Sides culls the language of advertising and repositions it in a carnivalesque, critical context.

In and the wanderers wandering at the wonders of themselves. (2015), Alice Theobald studies the ways in which our speech is constructed and performed. Across three films, shown on three monitors, we encounter a man and a woman walking around a London square, performing a conversation – as if anonymous extras in a TV show. Each film has been cut and edited in order to expose the camerawomen behind the scenes, who are filming this ‘everyday’ scene from different angles. By revealing the backstage equipment, the artist gestures towards the film’s artificial make-up, and the artifice of the verbal gestures it documents. The work depicts curiously banal meeting that calls to mind the banality of those Facebook blue marks, and what they suggest about the everyday urge to make (immaterial) contact. I think of Joan Miró’s 1925 This Is the Colour of My Dreams, with its similar blue patch – a prophetic vision of our daily ‘fill’ of blue.

Alice Butler is a writer and academic based in London, UK. She is currently Writer in Residence at the Freud Museum in London, where she is working on kleptomania and feminist art.