For his solo commission at Whitechapel Gallery, ‘The Trickle-Down Syndrome’, Benedict Drew has created what could be considered his most ambitious public art project in the UK. ‘The Trickle-Down Syndrome’ is a large-scale installation, which consists of five interconnected yet individual rooms, inspired both by 1930s backdrops of Hollywood director Busby Berkeley and the Surrealist works of Max Ernst. The exhibition title takes its name from an economic concept developed in the 1980s, which suggests that an increase in financial earnings for the wealthy will eventually trickle down to the rest of society. Drew attempts to reproduce the effects of this theory as an overwhelming dream by using psychedelic projections, human-like sculptures and experimental compositions. The exhibition becomes a kind of journey, where you feel you are leaving the world outside. Inanimate objects become animate as if you are entering an imaginary space.
A network of five installations pulsates throughout the gallery like an incessant nervous system that leads the visitor on a sensory journey. In the central space there is a stage which seems to mimic the big band of Duke Ellington. On the stage there are several things: a dizzying composition of video imagery, anthropomorphic objects and an experimental sound structure, which is surrounded by large hand-drawn vinyl banners that hang on the walls. There is a video installation over two television screens that display American actress Gretchen Egolf. She seems to discuss socio-political and environmental issues, however her fragmented account becomes indistinct amid the chaos. One of the lines Egolf says is ‘trust the visions’, which somehow conveys the artist’s interest in the potential of what lies beyond reality, what we might hallucinate or daydream about. The main room also presents sets of drums, on which Drew has painted threatening eyes that seem to watch us. Above one there is a large cymbal. The musical instruments resound together with the audio, which beats with concern. The room acts as a sort of expanded cinema, where the images have oozed out of the screen and emerged into the space.
In the following room, every twenty minutes, two large fans flutter heaps of newspapers, which can be grabbed by visitors. Drew has printed the word ‘slush’ on the front page, while inside, he has drawn images, which have been digitally distorted in order to convey chaos and alarm for the human condition. Projected on a wall is a phrase, ‘that sinking feeling’, that looks down on a video screen. The film shows two legs that weakly attempt to cross a muddy ground. We suddenly feel overwhelmed by this sense of chaos caused by the trickle-down syndrome. It doesn’t feel like wealth trickles down. It feels like something else trickles down. It feels like these devices produce something and it’s not money, but maybe a kind of mud or a slime that we are all crawling around in. Drew’s anarchic presentation inevitably causes hopelessness, but at the same time is also thrilling: a psychedelic dream charged with existential anxiety.