BY Adrian Searle in Reviews | 06 NOV 94
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Issue 19

This is the Show and the Show is Many Things

BY Adrian Searle in Reviews | 06 NOV 94

This is the Show... is a fun palace, a rumpus room, a discount warehouse, a museum without walls, a wasteland and a Wunder-Kabinett of the marvellous and the inconsequential. Many of the works are being made, unmade, adapted and changed by the participants while the show is running. Nothing is labelled and the galleries are a confusing mixture of work areas, incomplete installations, storage spaces, spontaneous liaisons and those petty acts of aesthetic terrorism which probably seemed like a good idea at the time. There are many, many things here alright, too many things.

The aim of the show is to present a series of ongoing 'conversations' between its 13 participants. Louise Bourgeois didn't show up, but sent drawings of spiders and a magnificent, haunting, sculpture of a nest of gigantic arachnids. The other artists have largely opted for doing their weird stuff in situ, and several of them were hanging around in studious inactivity as I wandered through. Apparently most of the action takes place after lights-out. The whole show, anyhow, takes place in the twilight of Luc Tuymans' lighting arrangement. By adjusting the translucence of the skylights he has restricted the natural daylight which normally floods in, casting the galleries in various shades of crepuscular gloom.

The visitor enters through Fabrice Hybert's mock-up version of the hotel door in the Jaques Tati film, 'Mr Hulot's Holiday'. There's a plectrum fixed to the door where the catch should be, which strikes an amplified length of cello string when visitors enter and leave. Dong it goes, dong. What visitors to the adjacent exhibition of Gothic sculpture, or to the museum's permanent collection, which has been 'invaded' by one of Mark Manders' grimly alien figures, make of it, I don't know.

Once through Hybert's door they are as likely to feel as bemused and mystified by the wacky world of modern art as Hulot was by everyday life. On my opening day visit, for example, Jason Rhoades, seemed to be spending his time moving truckloads of materials from one room to another, and amidst his chandlery of tools, toys, and lumber stood a motorbike leaking oil onto a metal tray. Whether this was meant as an exhibit or was just a way of doing a spot of handyman mechanics in between spasms of art-making was unclear. Rhoades has the kind of deranged mentality that can equate a Jacuzzi with the fountain in Jan van Eyck's Ghent altarpiece. Instead of the Mystic Lamb, though, we get lots of placards saying 'PORK', which seems to be one of the few words Rhoades can spell.

Bart de Baere, the curator, takes a couple of bewildered critics on safari through the show. 'You can sit on this!', de Baere says, hunkering down on a bench which forms part of the work of Anne Decock; and 'You can take one of these!', offering us some pictures of children, which possibly form part of Uri Tzaig's 'Library'. But when he stopped a Swedish critic from pulling down a chair which hung temptingly from a counterbalanced arrangement of pulleys and strings It became clear that it was impossible to tell what you are allowed to play with and what you are not. de Baere patrolled the galleries like a primary school teacher on playground duty.

Henrietta Lehtonen has re-sited the Museum cafe and designed the crockery, so this is art you can sit on and drink out of, but don't, whatever you do, muck about with Eran Schaerf's work station. The trouble with the hinterland between art and life is that you never know how to behave. The liberated space of the museum-as-playpen is a world as regulated as any other, a repressive charade of freedom for artist and spectator alike. But there's liberalism for you.

Stepping from one pile of rubbish to another, admiring the potted redwood trees and scrunched-up bits of paper, we followed a snaking length of string which wound its intermittent way between studio areas, works in progress, works broken down and works barely begun, till we found ourselves in a small back room at the string's end, right beside the museum staff's kitchen sink.

There were nuggets amongst the wilful dross and wild schemes: Manders' creepy humanoids, Bourgeois' sculptures, Maria Roosen's hand-blown glass breasts and Jason Rhoades' lethal, home-made high velocity gun, powered by hairspray, which fires potatoes. They are presented as anonymous fragments in the larger project, and might well be subsumed as the show progresses. This Is The Show... attempts to be more a process than a fixed and final entity, an organic collaboration which refutes the supremacy of authorship, and which hands the control of the museum over to the artists. This is a sham, of course, and more than anything else the show is an exhausting curatorial conceit.