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Issue 209

Non-Stop-Super-De-Lux: Charlie Godet Thomas at Vitrine

A public installation in London’s Bermondsey suggests that the linguistic landscape is deteriorating along with the ecological one

BY Paul Carey-Kent in Reviews , UK Reviews | 30 DEC 19

You could be forgiven for missing Vitrine. Charlie Godet Thomas doubles the gallery’s camouflaged facade – a run of windows on the ground level of a non-descript modern block of shops, offices and flats – by blending his work into it. A set of five blue-grey paintings, four of which are surmounted by dimly-glowing bulbs, ‘Non-Stop-Super-De-Lux’ offers no bright hues or sharp forms to catch the eye. Godet Thomas has said that he likes the idea of making ‘public sculpture which might disappear into the language of the built environment’. By evening, the installation seems of a piece with the windows above. 

Charlie Godet Thomas, Night Song, Morning Song, 2019, acrylic and pencil on paper, cut painted paper fragment, wood, plastic, light fitting, 164 x 20 x 18 cm. Courtesy: Vitrine, London; photograph: Jonathon Bassett

The artist dubs his relief paintings ‘illuminated manuscripts’, though they appear more like models for stage sets. Annotated with lines of text and titled as songs of various sorts, they gesture to William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience (1789), but use very different idioms and motifs. Song of Concern (Unfinished Floating World, all works 2019) pictures a large icebox between two vents with a text that might be aimed at the Sainsbury’s Local next door. Supermarket layouts, we are told, are ‘adjusted week to week … to strengthen / our confusion / confusion / to the point of / buying one / but paying for two’. 

If Song of Concern (Unfinished Floating World) alludes to over-consumption, the more complex Song of Concern (Vague Ends) connects to the problems caused by the petrol engine, placing us in the driver’s seat of a car. A starry sky is represented through a windscreen, its constellation spelling out the words ‘Dead End’. The pendulum light that hangs above illuminates the street scene and hints at the intellectual aspect of ‘illumination’. Fixed inside a plastic water bottle that’s been sliced in half, the glowing bulb simultaneously evokes the environmental crisis and the custom of protecting streetlights from the rain in Mexico City, where the British-Bermudian artist is currently based. Above the car, fragments of text begin optimistically – ‘new verse / fresh start’ – before moving on to ‘bright lights / bar fights’ and concluding with ‘crack up / crack on / gone’. The visual element of this mise-en-scène is muted, reassuring, perhaps a little nostalgic, while the words imply a darker subtext. ‘Don’t be deceived’, they might be saying, ‘by the ease and convenience of our current Non-Stop-Super-De-Lux way of living. That is about to end.’ 

Charlie Godet Thomas, Song of Concern (Vague Ends), 2019, acrylic on paper, wood, coloured pencil, pins, light fitting, cut plastic water bottle, leather steering wheel cover, 143 x 152.5 x 2.5  cm / 71.5 x 152.5 x 2.5 cm. Courtesy: Vitrine, London; photograph: Jonathon Bassett

One of the five stage sets is somewhat different: no bulb, no ‘song’ in the title. The Poet Preparing Traps is a miniature billboard, dwarfed by an insect zapper, the form of which it echoes. The reason it isn’t a song, I guess, is that you can’t read any words: they are present, but on cut-out shards of card, which appear to have fallen from the billboard like leaves from a tree. I suspect these are the eponymous traps, laid down by the poet-artist, luring readers in and then denying them any coherent meaning. Seen in conjunction with the other paintings, The Poet Preparing Traps suggests that the linguistic landscape is deteriorating along with the ecological one. Chiming with the unassertive nature of the installation as a whole, Godet Thomas conjures a broken language on the brink of disappearing.

Charlie Godet Thomas, The Poet Preparing Traps, 2019, acrylic on paper, cut painted card fragments, wood, commercial insect light, 69 x 180 x 18 cm. Courtesy: Vitrine, London; photograph: Jonathon Bassett

Wondering what Godet Thomas’s traps might be, and the damage they might have caused, I pondered the difficulties of challenging habitual ways of thinking. The prevalence of social media, for example – for all the previous norms it has disrupted –  reduces the likelihood that we will revisit our set positions by feeding us the views of people like ourselves. We can read 'Non-Stop-Super-De-Lux' as quietly pointing to the dangers of such traps. 

Main image: Charlie Godet Thomas, 'NON-STOP-SUPER-DE-LUX', 2019, Installation view. Courtesy: Vitrine, London; photograph: Jonathon Bassett

Paul Carey-Kent is a writer and curator based in Southampton, UK.