BY Izi Glover in Reviews | 04 MAR 97
Featured in
Issue 33

The Happy Shopper

BY Izi Glover in Reviews | 04 MAR 97

Rising monstrously above a blighted traffic roundabout, the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre is notoriously ugly. In an act of perverse camouflage, the owners, Pinkland Ltd., painted the whole shopping mall a grotesque shade of puce. It is hardly a genial locale for shiny happy shoppers.
Perhaps it is with irony, then, that 16 artists have thrown open the double doors of a disused Tesco supermarket to the public. This strategy did not seem entirely successful: the public hung back outside the doors, or at a wary distance, reading the posters framed by the 'sand-blasted effect' plastic stuck on the plate glass windows. These posters declare that 'the Major administration is secretly invading your thoughts by telepathy'. This spoof of American paranoia is risible in its absurdity, particularly given the surroundings of the area - the Elephant and Castle is hardly a Conservative showpiece. But within the shopping centre a resilient culture emerges: a juice bar pipes Latino tunes across the mall, a martial arts showroom jostles with a religious bookstore and the 'Paradise' international telephone call shop is just a few doors down. Perhaps the Elephant and Castle will revert to its former name, the Infanta de Castille.

Once the old Tesco threshold is crossed, a miscellany of exhibits awaits, dispersed in the gutted space where the supermarket's innards are exposed, unadorned. Ducts and pipes swarm across the ceiling; the walls are pitted and blasted to reveal concrete breeze blocks; and the floor is demarcated by carpet and lino. Sarah Staton, in England (all works 1996) has framed exposed crimson carpet with a layer of flour to outline a cross. Its neat edges are corrupted by emerging drip shapes, disturbing the carmine silhouette. Further on, down the metaphorical aisle, a monitor emits strobing images: Abuse by Orphan Drift is a painful spectacle, as white stalagmites of signal distortion relentlessly push a line of interference up the grey screen.

Stefan Beck's Shopping System in the same section is easier on the eye. Ring binders contain a dialogue between artists which transpires to be nerdy nonsense. The transcribed dialogue is the output of a computer programme that has been assigned sentence structures and vocabulary. Since much of the vocabulary consists of arcane software brand names such as Avid, Stone and Frost, the repartee is Pythonesque in manner. The speech that emanates throughout the space comes from Janette Parris' videos SE5 Episode 2 'Betrayal' and SE5 Episode 3 'The Date'. Cloth dolls are the mute protagonists in these plots, eliciting inane soap opera responses from their human counterparts.

There is a tentative link with shopping in the vegetal content of two works. In Plant Kingdom Emanations by Alison Gill, a line of dark photographs presents spectral images of fruit and vegetables, but the comestibles are only distinguishable by faint glowing dots, as if heavily irradiated. A young apple tree, in Edwina Fitzpatrick's After Eden: Life and Dead Matter, is held up by laboratory clamps, and casts its shadow over apples clenched between further clamps emerging from the wall. Metal botanical signs attest to qualities such as 'tastes like what it would be to be natural'. One apple had shown its innate natural tendencies and splattered, rotten, to the floor.

Two text pieces by Reza Arameshi rise cheerily over the space. Painted on the back wall, Affirmation No.3 expounds in a powder blue script - 'I love and appreciate my beautiful mind!', whilst My Favourite Roses catalogues names and attributes against a vibrant green. This dippy mentality appears again in Shuko Nakata's piece, Shit, I Did Too Much Shopping. White paper bags stand by the door, their handles waiting to be picked up. Several bags seem to glow, with hidden products lurking in their unseeable depths. In this exceptional location it is the pieces that reference shopping that are the most effective. Works such as Stapleton and Warren's Untitled - a little tangle of sticky tape and tinsel clinging to the wall - are completely lost in the space.

Although the show seems at first to have its fair share of video works, it transpires that four of the monitors have been installed by the Metropolitan Police in advance of a conference to be held in the space. The monitors display continuous surveillance of the outside mall - the public are thus finally drawn into the show.