Benedict Drew: The Persuaders, review by Iris Aspinall Priest
‘The Persuaders’ is Benedict Drew’s latest work commissioned by CIRCA Projects as part of AV Festival 12: As Slow As Possible. Conceived in response to the theme of AV12 ‘The Persuaders’ is an immersive, strange and hypnagogic solo show which deliberately manipulates the audience’s sense of time and pace.
Experienced as a ‘ghost-train like’ sequence of encounters, the dark, interior spaces of the show are populated by the spectres of obsolete technology and by ambiguous, amorphous creatures which gradually insinuate the uncertain boundaries between organic, corporeal life and the inorganic, artificial life of technology. This rupturing of divisional structures - between life and machine, analogue and digital, self and other - begins with the first encounter upon entering the Stephenson Works in which the show is located: the audience is greeted by the videos of two glistening, golem-like sentries who slowly revolve either side of the entrance. Combined with a sound like cow bells being ground-down in a stone flour mill or of a heavy potters’ wheel turning, a simple mastery of these creatures is consistently clouded as they oscillate between seeming weighty and hard then nebulous, soft and liquescent (due to the play of coloured lights across their wet, lumpy surface). Although weird and somewhat unknowable - like the gelatinous B-movie monsters of ‘The Blob’ and ‘The Stuff’ - they are nonetheless curiously appealing, inviting the viewer’s confidence as they declare mutely (via the aid of subtitles):
‘You are safe here’
‘Then’ ‘Everything is going to be ok’ ‘
The anthropomorphic characteristic of these two gaping lumps of matter recurs throughout the show in various motifs and guises. These repeated instances of pareidolia* slowly underline the viewer’s own complicity in the work and the construction of meaning via their own subjective projections, desires and interpretations.
The perpetual tensions and tidal forces (of intoxicating pushes and pulls) draw the viewer ever onwards into, and through, the dark enclosed spaces of the show. At times visual reality itself becomes volatised as more of the blob creatures warp and melt, dissolve entirely into luminous, digital energy only to later reappear, corporeal and gurgling, in the same three-dimensional space of the viewer. At other times the viewer is gently and wholly enfolded in the perceptual experience of the work; immersed in a six-sided room of warm, humming OHP projections, hypnotised by the shapes and colours cast by an evocative oil-wheel projection or seduced into union between themselves and the projected image, becoming gently possessed by the command to ‘breathe in’ - ‘breathe out’‘
‘The Persuaders’ is as concerned with the invisible, the underlying and the incomprehensible - the evolution and flow of persuasive, latent technology - as it is with the visible, perceptual and kinaesthetic. What it leaves the viewer with, in the daylight which supersedes it, is a complex matrix of thoughts and experiences whose conclusions are wholly dependent upon their subjective interpretation and their own willingness to engage but also to interrogate.
*(the phenomenon in which faces are perceived in random or unrelated objects)