Broughton & Birnie : BERLIN
The Forger’s Tale: The Quest for Fame and Fortune
WW Gallery, London
22 May - 13 July 2013
Review by Beverley Knowles
Rudolf Schlichter’s pig in a German soldier’s uniform hangs from the ceiling. Where once the sign around its neck read: hanged by the revolution, now it reads: I am the Antichrist, I am the Anarchist. Where once the face was purely porcine now we’re surprised to detect subtle but unmistakeable hints of Boris Johnson’s aristocratic chops. Images of our stately mayor hanging from a broken zip wire float to the surface of the mind’s archive of willingly forgotten historical tableaux.
Around the dangling pig in high heeled boots a crazed Dada-inspired Salon is installed. Everywhere we see images we recognise or half recognise. Always something is not quite right. Here an Otto Dix, there an Egon Schiele, a Picasso or two, the disturbing collage of Raoul Hausmann and photomontage suggesting the hand of his lover Hannah Hoch. Cleverly and subtly intercut are images of figures who might be more widely identifiable to a 21st-century audience: David Cameron, Simon Cowell, Rupert Murdoch, Lily Cole, Johnny Depp, Madonna, Ronald McDonald. Elsewhere technology, design, the trauma of the post-internet age and our contemporary culture of voracious and never ending consumption are all referenced at once in the simple outline of a bitten apple. Never has the myth of Eve seemed so prescient and so relevant.
All of this is done with such sleight of hand as to be barely observable to the casual viewer, who might perceive only a strobe of baffling cut-outs or a quirky museological hang. Hours and hours could be lost in this small space following clues that lead to who knows where. It is a strange, exciting but claustrophobic reality that closes in on itself and begs the viewer to forget about the outside world. In its entirety the show could be read as a timely metaphor for our fast paced and hyper networked but ultimately atrophic age. Who knows where we are headed. But if this exhibition presents us with our reflection, as it seems to, then the story of the catastrophe that followed the brief and hedonistic Weimar does not suggest reprieve.
The phantasmagoria of images that Broughton & Birnie have created at WW Gallery is so dense and overwhelming that it is difficult for me to superimpose any sort of meaningful linearity over the pocked contours of its anarchic face. They have transformed the gallery into an eternal maze forever doubling back on itself, a surreal rhizomatic map to nowhere. In many ways that is enough. But there remains much for the enthusiast to unearth. Tales of a fragmented and quasi-fictitious individual who lived from 1893 to 1937 are interwoven: a forger, a gambler, an adventurer, who moved to Berlin at the turn of the century and whose life there during the Weimar Republic intersected with its artistic and criminal worlds. His end too was both tragic and mysterious.
This is a show so filled with fun and grotesque and lavish enticements it is an almost overwhelming temptation to bite, but at its heart lies a warning as to the effects of hidden poison. The show is a modern day fable. The metaphor goes on and on. It’s a hall of mirrors in there.