On the role of public art, Polish artist Joanna Rajkowska suggests that ‘A gallery is a place where the context is nullified – the artist gives this place its significance and as such situates it in relation to external contexts.’
Works that exist in the public realm depend upon other factors for their contexts. The artist is forced to relinquish an amount of control, the parameters by which meaning is defined are altered and continue to alter throughout the lifespan of the work. What to think, then, about an immersive installation situated in the former porn-studio basement of a Soho gallery, run by emerging gallerists and functioning as a nightclub for a year?
On the night I visit Freddy Tuppen’s solo show, ‘Sous Sol’, the upstairs day gallery is empty, white walls and echoing rooms that provide a striking contrast to the installation below. The stairwell has been tiled white with stunning blue neon strips that make my eyes ache. It feels a lot like diving underwater, like entering a parallel universe, one where Narnia is also a club in Miami circa 1995. With this exhibition Tuppen has provided a full body experience. While it is a functioning club, the works are tactile and immersive, impressing themselves on the viewer, creating a narrative within the spaces. Coming out of the blinding stairs we enter neon-lit rooms with varied levels of light and sound. His cube stools are covered with pool-side toweling, evoking hot summers when stroked by a sweaty hand. The low tables are fringed with visors of florescent Perspex. A vertical strip of light-box shows a blurred impression of sunset over sea. The details of the rooms, from the geometric floor pattern in the main room to the wall embroidery of a side room, offer a skewed version of reality, one that is dark and fun and totally other from the well-lit galleries the artist has previously exhibited in.
When viewed within the context of the space’s history and its legacy within the myths and current society of Soho, these details describe the show as a complex exploration into the codes, the stand-ins and the language of Camp. As Susan Sontag puts it: ‘The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. […] One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.’ Seriousness and sincerity are uneasy bedfellows, emerging artists often denied the latter as they push the parameters of the former. Tuppen’s works use and transform the architecture of the space transcending its former purpose and offering a new perspective on ideas of installation. The title of the show, ‘Sous-sol’ or ‘Basement’, brings the viewer back to what the artist is trying to do. He has created a landscape within the consciousness of the community. His is a basement bar that speaks to the tradition of basement bars, using the walls, the floor and the body of the building to suck you in and spit you right back out.