BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 01 SEP 96
Featured in
Issue 26

Ideal Standard Summertime/ Postscript

BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 01 SEP 96

Co-curated by Barry Barker and Nicholas Logsdail, 'Ideal Standard Summertime' was slyly and humorously self-ridiculing. Displaying curatorial distaste at the dictated need to defer, somehow, to the moribund summer show period, it sought to pre-empt criticism through a lively defiance, made - basically - by taking the piss. The dominant tone was one of facetious pleasure in the strong marketing of different kinds of futility - a sort of Curating for Godot. Some 45 artists variously appeared and disappeared without warning during the course of this group show, unrelated to any described plan. This was either exciting or exasperating, depending on your point of view, and meant that the show at its close was very different from the one at its opening. The range of artists exhibiting covered old favourites Carl Andre, Anish Kapoor and John Latham, through to four recent graduates.

Pierre Bismuth showed Blue Monk in Progress (1995), a computer-assisted piano that had learnt and replayed the inept performance of someone desperately attempting to read a score. The computer precisely documented this and printed out the musical notation as a 'revision'. This new version was then played by a gifted sight-reader who faithfully replayed the mistakes, as now notated, in an ongoing metabasis of imprisonment values - as we might say. This was then re-re-recorded and finally played automatically for our listening pleasure by the piano's on-board computer. This was essentially a game of Chinese whispers, an amusing systems game for parties if you are drunk.

While this disagreeable unmusic played remorselessly in the gallery, Lucy Gunning was also successfully noisy with similar intent. She described a disjunctive lapse between a painfully unsynchronous pupil and music teacher in The Singing Lesson (1994) using two video monitors. Meanwhile, high up in a corner, Jacqueline Donachie had placed a Walkman and two naked, black loudspeakers that looked like small, dangerous invertebrates: Home Taping (1995). The sound from the speakers described, in a relatively understated manner, a domestic life-history of wearying sadness, apparently without the benefit of metamorphosis.

These three pieces made for a definite sense of misadventurousness, a sort of funfair hell, while sharing an interest in technological re-documentation of musical or human acoustic despair. Elsewhere, another sound-piece, a kitsch, vinyl reclining couch with hidden speakers by John Isaacs, played sedative music at a low volume - a sort of playboy device for aural sex. All the sound-pieces were conspicuously without any obvious on/off switch, ending comparisons with the children's gallery in the basement of the Science Museum, and emphatically rubbing salt in the passive wound of futility.

Liam Gillick showed Prototype Erasmus Table 3 (London) (1995), a large, poorly constructed chipboard table, at the centre of which resplended his signed book, Erasmus is Late, placed assertively on the vertical. The equidistant positioning of the book and the surrounding gallery context made it fearsomely unapproachable by the respectful, and the uneducated were left to assume, in awe, that Erasmus was a friend of Godot's too. Upstairs, the documentation of whimsical futility continued with an inaccessible shelf above eye-level by Gary Rough. Laughter (1995) teases us with unavailable books and spectacles to increase our misunderstanding of a documented performance in which Rough's laughter becomes sadness. Meanwhile, above us, the image of a man, projected onto the gallery skylight, tapped forlornly on the glass seeking entrance, or acknowledgement. This work by Tim Noble inverts the Beckett theme by making us the Godots for a change, in receipt of an extreme excess of foolishness.

The most significant work in the exhibition was a plough, Untitled (1995), by Mark Hosking, a powerful work about barren futility. Built according to a design by UNESCO, the plough is intended to be simple to construct out of scrap metal, and is for use by very poor people in very poor countries to help them grow the food without which they would starve. Displayed within the Lisson Gallery, and costing some £2000, this work addresses some primary values head-on. It is as if Cadbury's introduced a new chocolate product in the shape of a starving African child, his belly swollen with air, holding an empty bowl. The plough is presumably untitled because in the context of the gallery it is not a plough. But, relative to its function - in a humane sense - neither is it exactly a work of art. It is intentionally a gross insult to compassion. This work transcends Duchampian intent, now revealed as idly posey and wanky. Resting static and abundantly fruitless on the sterile concrete floor of the Lisson, the plough is unbearably poignant; a brilliant, yet horrible, indictment of itself and the gallery.

The sequel show, Postscript, was more orthodox and involved fewer artists. What had previously been flippant indifference now became more bitterly forensic and final. Much of the work was about death, or kinds of perishing, documented as enclosure and containment within sarcophagi. Alison Gill displayed her own severed hair within a glass vitrine, from which archival surroundings some strands hung vulnerably. A further piece by Gill was a predictably sinister mannequin work entitled Talking Dead (1994): a ventriloquist's dummy condemned to its box. The morgue you buy, the morgue you save. Another mannequin-type piece by John Isaacs wears a pristine, snow-white Bugs Bunny outfit. Holding Bugs' head in its hands, the wearer is revealed to be a base Neanderthal creature of some reticulated deformity. These are very slight works, which are slightly enjoyable.

Finally, and cheerfully unrepresentative of the rest of the show, was a formally beautiful floor of very dirtied black and white lino tiles: Flash Art (1995) by Terence Bond. Through the grime, an improbably and perfectly pristine swathe has been mopped; a comment, perhaps, on the art magazine of the same name and its notoriously poor coverage of female artists.

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