Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ (2001) was the unlikely source for the title of ‘Stay Forever and Ever and Ever’, a group show at South London Gallery curated by Andrew Renton. The song provided a good starting-point for the exhibition’s consideration of the relationship between objects and recollection, not so much for its lyrical obsession with memory as for the way it has uncannily infiltrated different corners of popular culture. Since its release, that three-minute piece of sleek disco has sold six million copies, been spliced with New Order (‘I Just Can’t Get Blue Monday Out of My Head’), been covered by both The Flaming Lips and Kid606 and been used as the central conceit for Words and Music, Paul Morley’s 2003 history of pop music. The precision of the original song, tightly assembled around Kylie’s ‘na-na-na’ refrain, inability to forget and gold hot pants, has been subsumed by time into an indefinite popular history. That which was once heard alone has seeped into collective memory.
With somewhat uneven results, ‘Stay Forever and Ever and Ever’ considered how these memories become bound up with objects to create a skein of cumulative associations. The nature of this curatorial premise was necessarily slippery, in that many pieces tried or purported to be something that they are not quite. The quiet centrepiece, Jeroen de Rijke/Willem de Rooij’s ephemeral sculpture Bouquet II (2003), assembled by a florist working from an interpretation of a newspaper report, entered gamely into this murky sport of subterfuge and ownership. There was a controlled looseness to the scattered installation of 21 works, which incorporated both frustration and negotiation into the act of looking. Sprawling out from the entrance, Monika Sosnowska’s Untitled (2006) comprised about two dozen matt black geometric icebergs of varying size, stymieing the viewer by blocking certain paths into the exhibition. The immersiveness of her untitled labyrinthine installation at the Serpentine Gallery in 2004 was here miniaturized to the point of annoyance – one knew neither where nor how to look.
Spartacus Chetwynd’s Hokusai’s Octopai (2004) was slumped in a corner, paper and latex spattered with paint, the plural title alluding to its nobler past, now distilled into a single, roughly made construction, amnesiac and deflated. Yet the piece has another history, having been used in a performance by the artist based on Hokusai’s The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife (1820). ‘Stay Forever and Ever and Ever’ functioned best as a kind of rejection of discrete objects and presences, from the specific qualities of objects to their capabilities – a movement towards props. That is, the prop functions within the structures of social relations, playing a supporting role rather than an autonomous one, always favouring the inappropriate and partially imagined over the realistic.
Georg Herold’s Quarterflag (2004) is an attempt to approximate a flag from spare timber, the impoverished materials resisting grand display. His Rude Museum One and Two (1993) presents rows of remnants of discarded items – scissors, razors and matches – in cabinets as in a museum; the broken objects’ only action is to stain the cardboard they lie on. Herold’s work always seems to give an embarrassed shrug, and here the legs of the cabinet were crowded by Sosnowksa’s black protrusions, making it awkward to see the display at all. Yet among these deliberate failures and stricken attempts at posterity the largest piece was a weak inclusion. Abraham Cruzvillegas’ Untitled (2007) consists of 20 found items suspended by twine from a T-shaped wooden frame as syntactic units of disrupted narrative: a franked parcel stuffed with glittering collages, a spoon glued to a shell, a cocoa tin taped to a can of soup. Any consciousness of the muted past narratives contained in the objects, present in the better work of Cruzvillegas, was upended by the portentousness of the glass-topped frame. A tendency towards verbose slackness weakened the otherwise intriguing questions that ‘Stay Forever and Ever and Ever’ asks: three pieces by Martin Boyce were featured where one would have sufficed, and the same could be said of Michael Fullerton’s inclusions. Elsewhere, two of Tony Conrad’s famous ‘Yellow Movies’ (1973), large sheets of paper that age imperceptibly as time passes, may as well be a default inclusion for any exhibition that affects memory or looking as its theme.
Much more successful was Ann Veronica Janssens’ Tropical Paradise (2006), a canopy of gold corrugated plastic angled high up on the wall, seeming to distil the recollection of sheltering from a rainstorm. As with Janssens’ other featured work, the light-piece Purple & Turquoise (2006), the chemical slickness posits a self-consciously reconfigured object against the idea of an original. Maarten Baas’ Smoke (2004), a charcoaled and broken version of Ettore Sottsass’ Carlton cabinet (1981), defaces an iconic original, its smooth primary colours now completely blackened. Despite occasional lapses, ‘Stay Forever and Ever and Ever’ considered the processes of memory, its synecdochic distillation and fuzzy verisimilitudes, with sometimes impressive acuity.