‘The Mean Reds’, the title of Laura Buckley’s exhibition at Supplement Gallery, was taken from a line in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958), and it alludes to a feeling described by Holly Golightly, Truman Capote’s socialite heroine: ‘Suddenly,’ she says, ‘you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.’ This indefinable kind of anxiety hung over the exhibition. Coming from Capote and filtered via Audrey Hepburn, it was one of many eclectic sources – including the Bauhaus, desert winds, children’s toys and synthesized violins – that provided the intricate layers for Buckley’s sound, video and sculptural installations.
As is the case in much of the London-based, Irish artist’s work, a single structure served as the main formal component from which other elements fed off. Here, in Marcelo’s Game (Model for a Pavilion) / Tokyo Headbangers (all works 2011), it was a 50-centimetre-high piece consisting of roughly triangular parts of slotted-together Perspex. The architectonic form, an enlarged version of a do-it-yourself model Buckley found in the Bauhaus Museum gift shop in Berlin, sat rotating on a turntable, like a specimen to be admired. On a nearby wall was a projection of a toy, an inanely smiling miniature robot, relentlessly banging its head with its semi-circular arm – the sound of its battery-powered springs providing an unnerving, mechanical din. The projector shot through the sculpture, its geometric form creating an imposing silhouette whilst bathing the gallery in a spinning, disco-ball light. The atmosphere in the small gallery, a front room in a Hackney terraced house, was one of experimental inquiry, disorientating though no less appealing.
The adjacent work, Berlin Void (Closed Truncated Triangle), included footage Buckley shot in and around the Bauhaus Museum projected onto a knee-high wooden form whose shape echoed the component parts of the Perspex model, alluding to some kind of bric-a-brac grand design. Buckley’s material is mostly shot on her mobile phone, the Leica for the 21st-century artist. She focuses not on the museum itself but on the objects sold in the gift shop or on the designs that appear on the street outside, as if these are examples of how its ideals have overflowed and been reconstituted. This fragmented, haphazard account, like much of the current trend for Modernist-quoting installation, is a long way from the clean minimalism and research-orientated practice of the Bauhaus. While Buckley doesn’t seem nostalgic for the Modernist enterprise – her use of contemporary tools and references is too considered – she is certainly uneasy about how things currently stand.
At the far end of the gallery, Chroma / Levante (Open Truncated Triangle) included a third projection showing a figure angling Perspex shapes into the wind. The footage was shot in Tarifa, Spain, at the southernmost tip of Europe, where two strong winds meet. This is said to induce a sense of anxiety if experienced for long enough and here Buckley seems to be testing how nature can induce ‘the mean reds’. The footage of this unconventional technique, which had a ’60s West Coast feel to it, was interspersed with multicoloured screens and was projected through another of the truncated triangle forms on the floor, cropping the image and creating a looming shadow which extended the sense of apprehension which pervaded the room.
On top of this elaborate assembly of wires, projectors and objects, whose content spilled in and out of the three works, a violin put through a synthesizer played a series of simple notes, it’s a-melodic sound colliding with the Tokyo headbanger and the howling Tarifa winds – the legacy of John Cage’s chance operations looming over the clattering noises. Drawing on Modernist ideals and some its techniques, but left only with Holly Golightly, mass-produced toys and her mobile phone, Buckley’s line of inquiry is testament to a rather confused cultural moment. It will be interesting to see if, and how, she is able raise the stakes.