BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 06 SEP 96
Featured in
Issue 29

Edward Lipski

BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 06 SEP 96

Entitled 'RAT RAT RAT', this exhibition is about science; a science of the making of imagined problems. These problems are unprecedented prior to the artist's invention of them, and are inflicted on the world's universally vulnerable: children. Lipski tries to trip the viewer beyond objective comprehension - beyond disbelief even - into a purer condition of an impossible, but resonant, new. To do this he offers deals in trauma - inventive new stiflings and suffocations, stuntings, mutings, blindings, disfigurements and other corruptions. These are intended by the artist to surprise us involuntarily out from behind the assumptions and associations of our language conditioning.

(It is unfortunate for Lipski, and other mutation fiends, such as Jake and Dinos Chapman, that they are left miles behind in the shock stakes by the supreme corruptions made by the character Sid in Toy Story (1995). This is where the hand of the true master of childhood terror - Disney - may be seen.)

The nine works in the exhibition take as their resources the child, the child's play box and the classroom. There are three child mannequins of which one, Crying Child (1996), cries 'real' tears and stands in a plastic bowl within which the water from the child's tears is endlessly recycled. This is an oblique variation on those paintings of children with overlarge eyes and welling tears that are seen in Woolworths. The faces of the other two mannequins - Star Child (1996) and Boy (1994) - are obstructed with moistly faecal blackened seeds, which overlay the eyes, noses and mouths of the children like an invasive gingerbread man, or a turgid, excreted Smiley.

The children are alert and healthy, understandably increasing their value as host to the mocking parasite that invades them. In Star Child, a boy sits in an institutional chair under bright light in a state of poised expectancy. He is wearing a Little Jimmy Osmond sort of suit and his hands and feet are reduced to stumps. This showbiz quality is incongruous with the mute blinded face and the semi-thalidomide limbs. (By chance, interviewed at the same time as this exhibition, the real Jimmy Osmond described how he would vent anger as a child by systematically smashing dolls of himself made by toy manufacturers).

Nearby, an extremely over-sized toy pig, Pig (1996), stands without head or trotters. Obsessively modelled, its surface is real pigskin with make-up and it is bathed in slowly changing coloured light. The ano-genital region of the pig is particularly pronounced, although stylised, and looks interestingly like an Anish Kapoor sculpture (or else a Kapoor sculpture looks interestingly like the stylised ano-genital region of a pig). By extension, the ultimate Lipski work could be a mannequin of a child, covered with a real human child's skin.

Bad (1996) is a semi- biblical didactic text display on cloth, such as those used in schools. It is rather beautiful as a psalmic poem: 'I got up at 8 and went to the park and it was bad and I saw a bird and it was bad and I went to the sea and it was bad...'. Opposite is a large bird, Bird (1994), which is indeed a seriously big, bad bird. Suspended from a rope, without eyes or legs, it is a sadly dysfunctional creature. Seemingly rejected for service on a carousel or elsewhere, its sinister feathers invite a tactile fear.

There is a general absence of sex in the exhibition, other than the enigmatic void between the great hams of the pigs arse. This seems significant, as there is a correspondence between Lipski's unspeakable feelings and mute silences, and the descriptions given by survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The work seems to be a displacement, working overtime, to counter some other trauma - a principal, but often avoided, originating emotion of the artist. The reason that this unresolved and fearful trauma or abuse is not addressed appears to be because of its unspeakable nature and the extreme pain caused. Lipski tortures his emotions before they can torture him, rendering them less painful by placing them in an intellectual context: one about the limits of language, rather than emotions.

Although sometimes potent, the show is involuntarily inarticulate, with the understandable inarticulacy of a victim. Lipski's works are like the dolls given to abused children in police stations, to which a police woman points with a pen to facilitate discussion of the 'he touched me there' variety. Rather than using the pen to indicate, it seems Lipski asks us to look at the nature of the ball-point pen, before snapping it in half. Respectful of his trauma, we must be patient with him.

Neal Brown is an artist and writer based in London, UK.