Bryan Dooley: Rabbit is Rich
Rod Barton Gallery, London
9 May - 15 June 2013
Review by Ciara Moloney
A shiny green tube of adhesive is just about visible in ‘Mount Judge (Avocado + grip fill)’, the first work encountered in Bryan Dooley’s recent exhibition ‘Rabbit is Rich’. Presumably a teasing reference to the viewer’s efforts to understand the work, Dooley presents a disparate iconography across the five exhibited pieces, from axes, cars and log cabins to avocadoes and bottles of whisky. Attempts at piecing everything together are similarly frustrated by the press release, which appears to be the transcript of sports commentary, and the exhibition title which could imply judgement on a rich meal, or perhaps remark upon on a lapine-nicknamed individual. Ambiguity reigns supreme.
Back to basics: for this exhibition - his first solo show at Rod Barton - Dooley exhibits five panel works, including one diptych, across the gallery’s three small interconnecting spaces. Each work comprises an adhesive print on pale-coloured aluminium panels, in which the generous relationship of ground to subject create a Polaroid-like effect. This combination has the effect of rendering the photographic image of equal weight to the panel, becoming clearly demarcated as flat graphic, rather than fictive space. Yet this unerring flatness is complicated somewhat by Dooley’s draping of long strings of beads across a number of the panels.
Combined with the works’ taped sides, which are alternately brightly patterned and coloured, the artist plays with the hierarchies of form to produce work midway between photograph and sculpture. This approach is reminiscent of artists like Annette Kelm or Elad Lassry, particularly the latter whose terming of the photograph as ‘image’ which, once framed, becomes the ‘picture’, reinforces the objecthood of pictures, thereby extending pictorial space into actual space.
The dialogue of the press release, seemingly an excerpt from an ESPN American football show, is replete with references to manoeuvres such as ‘Right log, cab-him’, ‘180 timber right’ and ‘little kiss and vinegar’. The work’s imagery appears throughout the text, evoking the macho culture of American college football with its emphasis on athleticism, the great outdoors and hard-drinking. Further inspection of the beads (apparently reconfigured car seat covers) and the tropicana motifs of the tape conjure up the Mardi Gras antics of a Spring Break crowd, familiar to anyone with a passing interest in American teen movies. The still life compositions and glossy interiors captured by Dooley exude the languid ease of a lifestyle magazine spread, suggesting the listlessness of the postmodern condition in which escape is desired and sold through glamorous getaways, glossy cars and alcohol.
Yet the show’s mystery endures despite assiduous application of critical grip fill. With droll, deadpan subjects and mischievous titles like ‘Macho Act (II)’, Dooley appears to treat male posturing with gentle humour rather than passing judgement from any particular critical or political stance. His relation to the image content seems almost arbitrary - it feels as if the works could just as easily have emerged in response to the text as have inspired it. Despite the confusion of signifiers, Dooley’s work is formally intriguing and, in disrupting conventions of photographic display, establishes an intelligent dialogue with the contemporary condition of the medium.