BY Gregor Muir in Reviews | 08 JUN 95
Featured in
Issue 23

Embraceable You

BY Gregor Muir in Reviews | 08 JUN 95

Because Gerard Hemsworth has curated this show and selected five of his students from the Goldsmiths' M.A. course, the journalistic take on 'Embraceable You' would be to rave on about Goldsmiths' college. There would be mention of Michael Craig-Martin ­ even though he teaches on the B.A. ­ Charles Saatchi's cheque book and enfant terrible Damien Hirst. Richard Wentworth, who deserves more credit than most, wouldn't get a mention. In a recent article in the Guardian, Catherine Bennett says of Anthony Reynolds ­ who represents Hemsworth ­ that 'all but one of his artists are from Goldsmiths'.' Well, the one who isn't is ex-Slade student Georgina Starr, who doesn't seem to be doing badly by anyone's standards. What the 'school' of Goldsmiths' amounts to is a school of tired journalism. That out of the way, maybe it is possible to assess this exhibition for what it is ­ a more modest affair.

Peter Land's video Pink Space (all works 1995) begins and ends with the artist's entrance. Assuming the identity of a burnt-out entertainer in a tacky lamé jacket, Land sits on a bar stool and falls off, time and time again. While some of the falls are truly spectacular, others remain unconvincing. The play between the two creates an air of tension that eventually makes the piece unbearable to watch. Maybe the idea is that we laugh at some and not at others, but then the point becomes lethargic editing ­ that special something that distinguishes 'art' videos from TV and films. As a source of inspiration, sad behaviour appears to be the central theme of Land's work. Previously, he has filmed himself stripping in his front room ­ imagine Sean Landers in Y-fronts, twice as inebriated and a few hundred pounds heavier. By continuing this theme with reference to the kind of comedian found in Working Men's Clubs it would appear that the Danish artist shares the same sense of humour as filmmaker Mike Leigh who, at his most smug, portrays pissed working class people as being ever so funny.

Stephen Stephen ­ whose name is a smooth reworking of artistic double-acts, such as Gilbert and George, into a schizophrenic singleton ­ has produced a wall-painting of a cartoon girl. The Little Artist Mural LA1 recalls nauseating illustrations by Mabel Lucie Atwell and Trogwell wallpaper. We are led to believe that the girl, paintbrush in hand, has daubed 'I am not ashamed of my talents' on the wall. At first we imagine the tone of voice to be that of the girl but, as a statement of the artist's philosophical position, it echoes the streamline schmaltz of Jeff Koons. Like Gilbert and George, who similarly maintain that the public revel in their production, Koons is also prone to seizures of zenned-out salesmanship ­ 'First of all, I am not involved in pornography, Andrew'. The comparison with Koons goes further, as Stephen appears to be equally at ease with adaptations of kitsch mementoes and ornamentation. Maybe Stephen is being honest and maybe we all care about his talents, but, as a statement that can only be expressed through irony, the work is found wanting.

In keeping with secular gay-terminology such as 'Hairy Mary' and 'Muscle Mary', Doron Furman's photograph Bloody Mary refers to both the artist's dress code ­ full Nazi regalia, black wig and lipstick ­ and the drink positioned above the fireplace. Doron looks like he's had a hard day at the office and the combination of tired facial expression, visual one-liner and his attire ­ an old chestnut on the drag circuit ­ suggests a physical and iconographic exhaustion. That Doron is Jewish allows for an unsettling footnote with echoes of Mel Brooks' The Producers.

Alister MacKinven's A Plot to destroy the Youth of the Nation... is a recording of a young American male equating fast cars with fast women. Relayed as a meaningful conspiracy, the tale escalates from meeting fast woman to having children, which leads to four-door family saloons, which leads to hate and degeneration. However, the viewer is thrown off the epistemological scent by the sight of a 60s reel-to-reel tape recorder. Is this a sculptural by-product of the recording? Are we meant to put the two together, as in big car equals big tape recorder? But then you know what they say about men with big tape-recorders.

Shizuka Yokomizo's untitled photograph shows a young man kneeling in an alley-way with raised arms. He is bathed in a pool of light ­ too bright for an ordinary street-light. We are left wondering if this is a visitation from God, a UFO or someone on LSD freaked out by a halogen security lamp. The profound beauty of the work is that it is so close to being nothing ­ just a regular snapshot ­ while at the same time it evokes Renaissance painting. By mixing up filmic conventions with classical compositions, Yokomizo emphasises the corruption of the idea of light as harbinger of truth.

Thankfully, this exhibition does not profess to proclaim ways of working which are carved in stone, and the glitches are plain to see. Peter Land needs to get to grips with sad behaviour before he becomes Vic Reeves, Stephen Stephen should attempt to survive Prozac, while Doron Furman could firm it up a bit ­ honey. Nonetheless, 'Embraceable You' is a positive gesture; one that shouldn't upset the students who weren't invited ­ much.

Gregor Muir is director of collection, international art, Tate. He lives in London, UK.