ANCIENT & MODERN, 201 Whitecross Street London EC1Y 8QP

  • Collins Guide to Roses
    Title : Collins Guide to Roses
  • Emlyn Williams, the Collected Plays
    Title : Emlyn Williams, the Collected Plays
  • Golk
    Title : Golk
  • Three Faces of Eve
    Title : Three Faces of Eve

Review by Morgan Quaintance

Adam Gillam’s exhibition at ANCIENT & MODERN is a collaboration of sorts. Six new sculptural works have been made in response to a set of dust jackets, defaced by the late Joe Orton and his partner Kenneth Halliwell. Drawing from this playful act of transgression, Gillam uses its sense of mischief, play and puerility as a creative resource, driving his exploration of form and surface.

Divided along left and right hand sides of the gallery’s single narrow space, Gillam’s works hang, or stand, opposite the row of six framed book covers vandalised by Orton and Halliwell. In Racy Lingo, (2011), and Species Varieties, (2011), Gillam repeats the use of composite board and red vinyl tape. In both works the plastic boarding is covered with square segments of red tape, positioned over, under and above subsequent pieces. The resulting composite is similar in effect to a monochrome work, albeit with varying degrees of subtle protrusion cancelling out the illusion of a complete surface. Each field of red is actually a combination of several smaller fields, and while the use of industrial material points towards a practical disposition, the intricacy and care of application indicates a certain amount of attention to detail. The considered positioning of these squares formally mirrors the cut and paste technique’s Orton and Halliwell employ in their productions. Their process of customisation involved surreptitiously adding blocks of typed text or images, sticking them over existing material to create droll and surreal effects. Their work on Agatha Christie’s The Secret Life of Chimneys, transforms what must have been a dully-literal depiction into a nightmarish dreamscape of the genteel. Three large cats tower Godzilla like over tiny Venetian gondoliers, their famed machismo now called into question by giant, flower baring, pussies.

Across the oblong shapes dotted along the cover of Emylyn Williams collected plays, Orton and Halliwell stuck small boxes of prurient, caps-heavy text, reading: ‘KNICKERS MUST FALL’, ‘UP THE BACK’ and ‘FUCKED BY MONTY’. Directly opposite stands Gillam’s Murder Mystery (2011), two fragile looking rods of aluminium, stuck to a flat base. A piece of green plastic sits atop its highest point undermining the serious industrial material of its body.

Across Gillam, Orton and Halliwell’s display the successful dialogic exchange, along the channels of humour, are present, though not obvious. That Orton and Halliwell’s period of struggle against obscurity contained this phase of light naughtiness is also represented. What the exhibition glosses over is the subsequent 6-month jail term they both served (enforced by the same council who have loaned ANCIENT & MODERN their works); it also fails to mention the murder (by nine hammer blows) five years later of Orton by Halliwell. This annexation of details is a curious decision by Gillam. In any case, the chance to see Orton and Haliwell’s genteel (in hindsight) digressions, before jealousy and murder shattered their own domestic idyll, is the real draw here.

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