Dean Blunt at Cubitt is as succinct as an exhibition can be: there is a high-pitched noise on a constant loop and one stock image on the wall of a good-looking couple enjoying a coffee.
Though information on the show has been minimal to non-existent, that this exhibition is unusual should come as no surprise to followers of Blunt’s work, an artist and musician known for deliberately working with mixed signals, mixed mediums and mixed results. In recent years his unorthodox antics have included selling toy Foxton Mini Coopers with marijuana in the boot on eBay, a show at the ICA that screened a full DVD of comedian Kevin Hart and releasing an album in 2015 called ‘Black Metal’ that was more A.R. Kane than Immortal.
Though initially a little disappointed with how laconic and small the show is, once you get used to it you realise it’s actually a simple idea done quite well. As always with Blunt, it’s really influenced by Britain and youth, as well as the feeling of being an outsider. The UK is obsessed with surveillance, with more CCTV per person than any other country, and the use of the Mosquito Anti-Loitering Device in the exhibition is typical of this de facto criminalisation of young people. The device was created by British company, Compound Security Systems, and has been used by both police forces and private companies to disperse and deter those deemed antisocial. The audience here is in the position of the unwanted teenager, as if loitering on some industrial complex or suburban cul-de-sac, and just like a security team or concerned adult, this installation doesn’t want you to be there and makes no attempts to hide that feeling.
Blunt also highlights this alienation by dramatically reducing the space of the gallery. A basic white wall (with charming orange trim) pushes all of the installation into one small section of the site. The connotations draw comparisons to the role of a gallery and curator with that of a developer and security team. They both control who can and can’t access a site and even though most galleries, like buildings in the city, allow some entry, they’re selling art/architecture that the general public couldn’t ever hope to afford.
This is also shown with the only picture at the exhibition, a stock image of two well-dressed, attractive people smiling and laughing while drinking a coffee. It’s all the clichés and promises developers employ: well to do, successful people enjoying their new fancy office block/apartment/complex in a clean environment. It’s a consumer utopia that’s far from the job prospects most young people in Britain face, as well as being far from the reality that these buildings require constant supervision and policing.
I should mention that despite the stand-offish nature of this exhibition and its subject matter, its delivery is done in a really funny way. The combination of the ridiculous constant sound with the gleeful image is typical of Blunt’s previous work, managing to be both silly, charming and slightly annoying at the same time. People’s reactions to the exhibition were also was fun to see, with many dumbfoundingly asking each other and Cubitt staff questions of:
“Is this literally it?”
“Excuse me, what’s going on?”
“What am I supposed to be looking at?”
Dean Blunt at Cubitt does quite a lot with a little and raises some interesting questions about the privatisation of space and access. That said it’s not a typical exhibition experience that will keep you hooked or stay with you forever but instead works better in the context of a consistently surprising and prolific artist.