It doesn't often happen that I find myself drinking whisky before noon on a sunny day in a dark gallery. But Peter Land has a way of drawing you into his two-sided relationship with alcohol. As utilised in his work, it can either transport the drinker to another plane of consciousness, opening his eyes to a vast terrain of existential possibilities, or function as a stumbling block that trips him up while he goes about his business.
In his video projection The Lake (1999), Land dons the apparel of the old-school Wanderer (knee-breeches, boots and floppy hat) carrying his shotgun and trusty bottle of Scotch on a hike through the woods. Strolling to the uplifting strains of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, he slowly makes his way to a small lake - taking a swig from his bottle on the way - and sets out in a rowing boat. After tethering the boat to a post a short distance offshore, Land stands up and blows a hole through the floor, then sits down and calmly waits for his craft to sink. Finally, only his floating hat remains and the camera pans back over elements of the forest surroundings, accompanied only by the noise of birds chirping.
Getting lost, both literally and metaphorically, seems to be at the heart of Land's latest work. Just as his body is absorbed into the environment in The Lake, the eight large drawings - all pencil and watercolour on paper - that accompany the video represent his character being 'swallowed up' by the woods in the best tradition of fairy-tales. These images, drawn in a style that suggests children's book illustration, depict scenes loosely based on the tape, providing an incomplete story-board. In one of them, Walks and Wonders in the Jeanette Forest (Black hole) (1999), a liquor bottle spilling its contents lies on the trail near the mouth of a deep abyss in the earth. The hiker's attempt to commune with nature is compromised from the outset, a premonition borne out in the lake scene.
A second room in the gallery offered the opportunity to test for oneself whether booze and outdoor recreation are compatible. In Everybody is a Star (1998), one could sip Scotch from pint glasses, listen to space-themed tunes (e.g. Sinatra's Fly Me to the Moon or the Beatles' Across the Universe) on headphones, while gazing at a glow-in-the-dark wall drawing of a schematic cosmological chart mapping the great beyond. Standing nearby was Land's Survival Kit (1999), which includes a telescope, a wooden box bearing the inscription 'Device for Putting Things into Perspective' and yet another bottle of whisky with a glass.
The brand of escapism evident in these works is quite benign and largely avoids the painful side of many of Land's past projects, in which he performed repetitious acts of abject failure before the camera: tumbling down stairs, falling from a stepladder or a stool, dancing wildly while doing a striptease, etc. Whereas in these earlier pieces Land had highlighted his own body as the primary site of his research into comedic misadventure, here he focuses on alcohol as the Great Enabler, the ally that propels the artist to risk hurting and/or embarrassing himself partly for the sake of exploring his and the spectator's definition of social boundaries.
Joie de Vivre (1998) expresses most clearly the role of laughter in bridging the gap between Land and his audience. Two monitors in opposite corners each contain Land's bobbing and rolling head, his puffy, stubble-covered face contorted in an extended bout of guffawing. The tape has been slowed so that the sounds he emits take on an underwater, nightmarish quality. Simultaneously induced to laugh along and repulsed by his grotesque expression, the viewer is caught off balance. This work is closer in tone to his prior material, which combines Bruce Nauman's aggressiveness with Martin Kippenberger's sophomoric satire.
Like watching a stand-up comedian whose punch line is heavily telegraphed, a sense of inevitability makes itself felt in all of Land's output. He offers up a string of one-liners, forcing us to accept or reject the 'truths' he presents and, in the process, weeds out the believers from the non-believers.
A final work in the show, a series of seven etchings from 1998 titled 'Bar Songs' is a short tribute to intoxication. Land's character hallucinates in bars, sings arm-in-arm with a giant bottle of Johnnie Walker, throws up in a bathroom and stumbles home under the moonlight. Despite the drawbacks, Land ultimately places his faith in drink and its powers of enlightenment.