BY Izi Glover in Reviews | 07 JUN 00
Featured in
Issue 53


Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK

BY Izi Glover in Reviews | 07 JUN 00

A photograph of an abandoned Coney Island rollercoaster adorned the promotional literature for 'Lost'. Vegetation tenaciously creeps over the steel structure in the image, reclaiming its environment and rendering its host at once lost and found. This sense of recuperation via re-invention ran through the show (curated by Tania Kovats) - it was not a project that rigidly defined what being lost means. Instead, an opportunity was afforded to momentarily experience vicarious escape from your regular mental abode. Moreover, the show was hung in such a way as to prompt fresh associations between the works.

With immaterial benevolence, Felix Gonzalez-Torres' string of low-wattage light bulbs, Untitled (A Love Meal) (1992), cast a warm light over its neighbours. From the ceiling hung Louise Bourgeois' Arch of Hysteria (1993), a masculine figure whose lean, gilded frame describes a taut arc: an acrobatic release from the suggested mental trauma of the work's title. Seemingly weightless and transcendent, this body contrasted with Kovats' earthbound Rocky Road (1999). This road to nowhere implies that it is not the destination but the journey that is revelatory, for the path doubles back on itself in a figure of eight. A convoluted route is mapped in three dimensions, the varying height of the gritty track supported by a chiselled white structure. The road's undulations echo those of the rollercoaster, emphasising the experiential nature of the journey it offers.

Meanwhile, Paul McCarthy's sculpture revisited archetypal loss. Apple Heads on Swiss Cheese (1997-99) is a cartoon-like rendition of Adam and Eve, perhaps the original losers. Enormous apples top the couple's bodies, whose genitals are enlarged to nightmarish proportions, but sensitively toned a delicate egg-shell blue. Standing in classical poses atop giant slices of cheese, they dwarf you like a childhood nightmare. Indubitably confrontational, this overwhelming work foists upon you a visceral and inescapable awareness of your body in space.

Works by Martin Kippenberger and Wolfgang Tillmans also presented life outside Eden, and the ensuing struggle for self-realisation. Several of Kippenberger's studies for his installation I am Going into the Birch Forest as my Pills will be Taking Effect Soon (1990), were included in the show. Drawn on hotel notepaper, these studies intimate the artist's peripatetic lifestyle, while their dense hatching imparts a sense of the proposed installation's kooky realm as a space for an isolated experience of chemically induced consciousness. Meanwhile, Tillmans' photograph Outside Planet, View (1992), captures a communal come-down from pharmaceutical enlightenment in an industrial lot. Assorted dishevelled ravers lounge around outside a warehouse. Hedonistic fantasy is not apparent in this depiction of spent post-party energy, which portrays instead a collective experience of a different, more conversational, form.

Several works offered the viewer a little vicarious re-orientation via their enigmatic employment of perspective and scale. A droll photograph of a Le Corbusier apartment shows a rooftop room, carpeted with grass, furnished with a fireplace and open to the elements. The high vantage point enables a glimpse of the l'Arc de Triomphe, which adds a surprising element of frisson to this simultaneously public and private space. The double-take induced by Thierry De Cordier's Trou-Madame (Matrijs) (1994), is due to its odd scale and unidentifiable materials. A dense black object, it sat incongruously and heavily on the gallery floor, its silhouette reminiscent of that Antipodean oddity, Uluru. Yet, De Cordier's mini, mystic mountain has an aperture, which further heightens its mysterious presence.

Scale plays an important part in the works of Vija Celmins and Agnes Martin. Their work foregrounds everyone's journey (and sometime quest) from person to inconsequential blip. Celmins' series of prints, 'Sky, Galaxy, Ocean, Desert' (1975) present vast fields of matter. Close inspection provokes an oscillation between the constituent details and the overwhelming whole. Similarly, in Morning (1965), the minutiae of Martin's delicate pencil grid compete with the overall repetition extended across the canvas.

Our sense of place in the universe is informed by encounters and events, musings and observations. Often fleeting or seemingly inconsequential, these happened-upon moments can be revelatory. In the redemptive and affirmative finale of American Beauty (1999), the central character Lester dies remembering how he looked up at the stars as a boy scout. Gazing skyward, like mulling over the works in this show, is a meditation upon those lucky circumstances that make us alive.