After fifteen hours on the Newcastle-Amsterdam ferry, I was hungover for ‘Over Hang’ at W139. I arrived, then, in the dual traditions of ‘creatives’ who’ve found that drink enables a more corpuscular encounter with art and those drunken tourists ruining Amsterdam for the locals. Or maybe, as curator and exhibiting artist Dan Walwin plausibly evokes, our post-human world is still dominated by a particular over hang of human customs, habits and feelings. On this complicated, junked planet, there are so many reasons to re-imagine life and to entertain pastoral fantasies.
At the gallery entrance, a felt drape embroidered clumsily with the title ‘over hang’ marks Jacob Dwyer’s soundwork, Keith’s Arcadia (2017), grounding the show in that mythical land. Its setting is not, however, the Peloponnese mountains but a Croydon shopping centre besieged by a rioting mob. As the group advances on the narrator, protected behind locked sliding doors, the centre’s reflection on the glass – a rear view on history – reveals elevators as waterfalls and a lizard, given to him by the titular Keith, scurrying into the mountains. Only when a launched traffic cone lodges halfway through the window does the crowd disperse, transfixed by this
A warped graphic of the suspended cone, one of several such images in the show, appears unattributed on the wall nearby. Hanging on a wall or from the ceiling, every work in ‘Over Hang’ is in suspension. Such self-aware, occasionally confounding, interventions are reflected in the space’s crepuscular lighting and modular seating system. Prosaically, it’s a practical solution for viewing video work, but the dank mise-en-scène perfectly frames the dreadful ennui of Jean Hubert’s computer-generated survivalist horror Waiting For Sleep (Part One) (2016). ‘I’m very careful. I don’t get bored. I read. I watch things on the internet. I build the fences’, the housebound protagonist explains to his mother on the phone, ‘It’s not penitence.’ Two baying zombies lurk outside his suburban home. The work’s floating point-of-view circles this strange island, clumsily passing through objects, suggesting nothingness beyond the animation’s mesh. The protagonist texts someone who never replies and we recognize this thing’s lack of awareness of its sublime isolation.
Intermittently, an auto-tuned whimper, like some injured synthetic animal, resounds through the gallery, echoing in the cavernous rear space. It animates hanging rows of works and video screens, with their distinct feel of the abattoir. In Green Peace (2017), Franziska Schulz’s large patchwork leather constructions, made from the hides of fly-tipped sofas, hang by red nylon rope, like the splayed pelts of animals. Parallel to this, hanging in loose fronds, Charlotte Weise’s red-wine-stained canvas is a mellifluous vision of Paolo Uccello and Hilma Af Klint via Hieronymus Bosch; a bruised schema of black bounding hounds and octopi merging with geometrical orbs. Those whimpering abattoir blues are the soundtrack of Marcia Gratton’s aphoristic video work Wisp (2016), which hangs among the service pipes. Ironically, Wisp documents the havoc whipped up by a dust devil somewhere in America: a weird flailing gazebo takes a ride on a spinning gyre of trash, lashing SUVs and a man in a cow costume.
Riffing on the ‘anthropocene’, scientists have dubbed our era the ‘plasticine’, citing plastic’s pervasiveness in the ecosystem. Rustan Söderling takes us here in his spectacular CGI video, Eternal September (2016). Like Hubert’s animation, Söderling’s work is indebted to the horror genre of survivalism. Where the former’s work evokes shonky ‘period’ CGI, the latter’s is stunningly realistic, looking through the blinking eyes of its protagonist. This disembodied, super-mobile megalomaniac viewpoint moves across watery paradisiacal landscapes littered with the wreckage of civilizations and modern apartments stacked with water bottles. In the gyre’s eye, we look up to catch an aircraft flying off. It’s a familiar trope of survivalism: fleeing the planet in the wake of environmental catastrophe. Will the super-rich experience hangovers in space?
Main image: ‘Over Hang’, 2017, installation view. Courtesy: W139, Amsterdam