The NewBridge Project, 16 New Bridge Street West, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 8AW, UK

37 Pieces of Flair

The NewBridge Project, Newcastle

21 November 2014 - 17 January 2015

Review by Peter-Ashley Jackson

‘37 Pieces of Flair’ is a three-fold project, which existed as a film season from September through to November and continues in a newspaper format, as well as an exhibition currently running at The NewBridge Project. The exhibition component engages a thoughtful and humorous reflection on our perceptions and misconceptions of the ‘ordinary’ and the effect this has on the wellbeing of our collective mental health.

The concept and curation of ‘37 Pieces of Flair’ was brought to fruition by the artist duo Andrew Wilson + Toby Phips Lloyd. The project takes its title from a scene in Mike Judge’s 1999 film ‘Office Space’, in which the young, slacker waitress Joanna is informed by her boss to express herself with more than the minimum required fifteen pieces of enforced work attire known as flair (badges). We are greeted at the entrance to the exhibition with a television set playing a video loop of the precise scene from Judge’s film that inspired the project.

Glasgow based performance artist David Sherry appears to embody the very stereotype of mainstream ‘madness’. In his video ‘Red Sauce Brown Sauce Mania(2013) we witness Sherry lying with his head upon the floor pouring and squirting blood-like sauces over his head until completely covered in lo-fi gore. All the while, Sherry can be heard monologuing a familiar domestic scenario, making plans to meet friends and then making excuses for not keeping appointments. Without pause Sherry thinks up continually more mundane and ridiculous excuses; “Just say your sister is through with the kids, send a text, don’t send a text that looks bad” and “Say I’ve got a bug, I’m throwing up and I’m away.” Through his prolonged ramble Sherry turns the label of ‘madness’ back onto the mainstream of everyday banality.

Around the next corner we encounter ‘1000 Questions’ (2007) by Graham Dolphin, a scrolling projection of text that asks a relentless array of questions taken from the lines of songs. The often-familiar lyrics generate an effective and seemingly never ending inquisitive despair, which never concludes any answers. The lines read like a provocative and obsessive thought process, yet rhythmically the rolling text becomes hypnotic to the point of meditation.

The meditation continues in John Smith’s short video work ‘OM’ (1988). The film starts with a short haired, contemplative looking man dressed in the yellow cloth of a monk. Incense appears to rise as we watch and listen to the figure perform the peaceful Hindu mantra of vocal reverberation that is a prolonged ‘OM’ sound. Suddenly, another figure comes in to view, brandishing a pair of electric barber shears from which we realise the sound is actually omitting. The monk’s head is shaved and then disrobed to reveal a skinhead stereotype clad in Fred Perry white polo shirt and braces. The character leans forward, pulls up a lit cigarette and takes a drag. The piece challenges our understanding of how we focus differing attentions towards figures based on common assumptions and misperceptions.

A series of about a dozen short video television commercials (1970s – 1990s) by Roy Anderson are projected. Each advert features an amusing comic twist and depicts cultural character types in familiar mainstream concerns engaged in similar domestic strife to that seen in Sherry’s video. In Anderson’s film for Dyrups paint we witness the setting of a night scene in which a half awake husband sprays at an irritating fly as it buzzes around the bedroom. His sleeping wife wakes up and switches on the light to assist his efforts only for the pair to realise that the he is using green spray paint. Their bedroom walls are now unintentionally graffitied by his action. Domestic discomfort is once again presented as the cause of a mental anguish.

From all this we begin to see a picture that acknowledges mainstream social thought and daily discord of modern life as hindering the overall mental wellbeing of our society. One starts to grow suspicious that it is in fact the domestic disagreements, popular music, perpetual stereotyping and consumer culture as well as our own follies (not reading the label on the can!) that is keeping us down and under control.

The exhibition has hosted a programme of events in the gallery, where Lloyd and Wilson have created a new temporary pub, which follows on from previous incarnations of their ongoing public house project previously seen in ‘Convention, Habit or Custom’ in 2013, and ‘A NewBridge Enquiry’ of 2012. The pub contains a small library of related reading material selected by the artists. On the walls hang David Foggo’s comical and melancholic boomerang series, aptly titled ‘Throwaway Series(ongoing). Across more than thirty boomerangs Foggo has written words such as ‘terror’, ‘failure’ and ‘regret’. The implied irony of these themes writ large across these aboriginal instruments is that daily gripes inevitably return to haunt us. The pub itself serves a selection of brews crafted by Wilson and Lloyd as well as other contributors. The combination of setting and beverages intends and succeeds in facilitating stimulating discussion around subjects within the exhibition.

The discussions began before the exhibition had even opened its doors. A pre-opening event saw freelance researcher Lynne Friedli speak about how society is treating the unemployed as unsocial and psychological abnormalities by forcing mainstream society to adopt certain ways of thinking and being; social activist Chris Erskine posed the question of whether we are all involved in the re-creation of a new capitalist social relation, which some of us thought we were perhaps overcoming; David Korowicz delivered a talk entitled ‘Crisis and Mythology’ and artist Mike Aitken gave a performance in the gallery.

Returning briefly to the inspiration for the project and Judge’s film, Joanna eventually quits her ‘McJob’ and jumps from the frying pan into the fire. Throughout ’37 Pieces of Flair’ there is a similar sense of longing to abandon the daily grind. In summary, these artworks and discussions encourage viewers and participants to engage in reassessing their routine struggles. The project proposes that we embrace the conscientiousness of an idler, like Joanna, who feels the benefit of forgetting ones’ troubles to ultimately improve ones’ wellbeing.

Published on