BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 03 MAR 98
Featured in
Issue 39

Sean Dower

BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 03 MAR 98

No Room In Hell (Absent Qualia) (1997) is a 15-minute 3D video which parodies George Romero's classic horror film Night of The Living Dead (1968). The large screen onto which it is projected rests on the floor of the gallery at a casual angle. 3D spectacles, but no seats are provided, and the concrete floor of the gallery is cruelly, arse-destroyingly cold. The video was shot in the gallery and its environs, thus corresponding with the viewer's own arrival, entrance and occupation of the gallery space. Were the video to be seen elsewhere it would be much diminished, making the ratio of the expense of its creation to its exhibition longevity a generous gift.

We see first a number of young people of both sexes shuffling, zombie-fashion, towards the gallery, through the wastelands and parklands that surround it. Matt's Gallery exists in blasted isolation, and this, together with the surrounding geography of municipal flatlands, introduces a pointed sense of powerful magnetism or atavistic homecoming over the zombie youths. These look a bit like Harry Enfield's 'Teenager', but have sinister, sallow complexions and badly pustulated skin. They are hunched, and stumble as if suffering from a listless automatism. They conform quite nicely to the received prejudice of what an art student should look like, at least prior to the new generation of steely eyed, determinedly ambitious careerists.

As these de-souled creatures enter the gallery space, they begin a dumb, stupefied, playing about with detritus and objects they have acquired on their way to the gallery, or which they find inside it. These playthings are the usual props of consumerist adolescent culture: clothes, a telephone, a sofa, a TV, and a shopping trolley, dragged around in a psycho-stoned manner familiar to drug connoisseurs and the mentally ill, or to those who have been dumped by a lover and decide to rearrange a room at 2 am. One zombie cradles a TV set in his arms, others aimlessly put string inside their mouths, or their heads inside cardboard boxes while lying on the floor.

The undead creatures are distracted from play when they become aware that we, the camera, are watching them. They begin to gather round in a hostile manner, eventually surrounding us. The effect of this is unpleasantly consciousness raising, as being surrounded by the zombified undead always is, (as experienced at gallery openings). We then find ourselves knocked to the floor, looking upward as pallid, menacing faces close in upon us. The scene darkens as the zombie's heads eclipse the light, until finally our consciousness is extinguished, and the video ends.

No Room in Hell is convincingly filmic, and - mostly - authoritatively shot and constructed. The 3D effect is enjoyably silly and appropriate, and the scale is impressive. It seems intended that within the work there should be a frisson between the fab retro humour and a more redeeming critique that questions credulous behaviours. Whether this questioning is directed towards the internalised practices of the art world, or is more general, remains ambiguous. However, as it is principally members of the art world who are credulous enough to sit in the dark getting icy arses watching this video, then it must be the art world that identifies with the protagonist's camera, and their extinction.

Having made the effort of getting to (the admittedly beautiful) space of Matt's Gallery, only to be told, in essence, that one is a complacent, gullible moron, it is possible to consider No Room in Hell as offensive, rather than subversive. Dower is, however, probably right in his observations, so it is better to be gracious and accept this criticism, consoling ourselves with the thought that whatever depth of shit we are in, so too is Dower.

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