BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 01 JAN 00
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BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 01 JAN 00

'Papermake' was a group show, the defining characteristic of which was the presence of the resident gallery dog, a sicko creature who brazenly stuck his nose up women's skirts and men's arses. He tended to compromise the special psychological experience expected of an art gallery by the visitor. The disgusting dog phenomenon, though - if happening to someone else - was not without its lighter moments: gallery goers pretended, out of collective embarrassment, that it wasn't happening, which lent an unworldly Emperor's New Clothes theme to the proceedings.

Any Emperor's New Clothes aspect of the show itself centred on its ostensible subject: that all the work included was made with, or on, paper. It's an idea which may be interesting in theory, but which became an invisible nothing in the general absence of a more imaginative approach. It's use is so common that it required a certain credulous willingness to remain respectful of the theme when faced with the actual works - it is a bit like basing a group show around the idea that artists have something in common because they all breathe air, drink beer and piss.

The few works which qualified the show for its theme included a paper cut out by Simon Periton, Garden of Earthly Delights (all works 1999) and a papier maché sculpture by Simon Bill, Duckrabbit. Periton's work, which makes reference to a record sleeve of the anarcho-punk band Crass, comprises two overlaid, differently coloured sheets of paper from which representational voids have been cut. Placed in deliberate, slight, misregistration, the effect is like a cheaply printed Soviet Block children's book. This ironically reflects the original art of the record sleeve, to which his work seems to be a simple homage - an enjoyably ludicrous juxtaposition to the complexity of the work's construction.

Bill's Duckrabbit is a papiermâché head modelled on an ambiguous cartoon of the kind found in art and visual psychology text books - a creature's head which may be perceived as either a rabbit or a duck. The three dimensional rotundity and optical puzzle of what was once a planar drawing is both ridiculous and formally very attractive. In the context, though, the masticated quality of the work induced a nostalgia for more definitive artist's works involving paper, such as John Latham's chewed and spat out library copy of Clement Greenberg's Art and Culture (1961).

Jim Lambie's Serpente Domestico is a collage of hundreds of human eyes cut out from magazines and which form the silhouette of two figures. The piece has an intensely introverted, teen-bedroom feel which it successfully transcends through obsessive, jewel-like application. Many of the other teen-bedroom works in the show don't transcend their material - Judy Darragh's Lovesongs, for example: film posters of LA-type babes and hunks which the artist has covered with puerile cartoon representations of bucketfuls of sperm. Similarly, Marnie Webber's Beaver Falls - photomontages of women wearing sheep heads, fuck-me underwear and offering their arses doggy fashion - proves (not that such proof should be necessary) that women are just as good as men when its comes to masterpieces of spotty bedroom wanking.

Elsewhere in the show were colourfully pretty or 'clever' works, most of which were similarly silly. This was a show of what you might call High Silliness, in which its intellectual, imaginative and aesthetic fine-tuning was brought by exquisite adjustments to an extreme pose, which quivered achingly at the very threshold of human sensibility.

And then the dog came in again.

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