Lisson Gallery, 29 & 52'54 Bell Street, London, NW1 5BY

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Fusiform Gyrus
Lisson Gallery, London
12 July - 7 September 2013
Review by Henry Little

‘Fusiform Gyrus’, Lisson’s summer group exhibition curated by Raimundas Mala’auskas, the curator of the Lithuania and Cyprus Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, is a real puzzler. The title is borrowed from part of the encephalic anatomy attributed with facial recognition, colour processing, word recognition and ‘within category’ recognition. Conversely, damage, disease or disorders in this part of the brain are associated with an inability to recognise faces, and hallucinations, whether voluntary or involuntary. From the outset, such a title makes the show’s curatorial intent clear: at play are works, processes and interventions which mine the elusive bandwidth between coherent communication and non-sense. Flashes of interpretative clarity are sunk within a larger anti-narrative of related objects, texts, sound pieces and performances where meaning is intentionally obfuscated or denied, and categorisation thwarted.

Uljana Wolf’s poem ‘Five Fusiforms’ (2013), presented on the exhibition invite, betrays the show’s debt to Dada and Surrealism. The dense, labyrinthine tunnels of ideas, thoughts and images constructed in the poem share lineage with the structure and poetics of André Breton’s ‘Nadja’ (1928), or the automatic poems of Tristan Tzara and other Dada associates. In its freewheeling, questioning and associative prose, predicated upon an existential traversal through the ‘marvellous’ streets of Paris, where the very coherence of the ‘self’ is repeatedly disassembled, the images of Breton’s ‘Nadja’ are conjoined and drawn together, with dense, multivalent meanings conjured. Like reading ‘Nadja’, the hunt for cogent, readily accessible meaning is fraught with difficulty in ‘Fusiform Gyrus’.

Taking the Dada and Surrealist legacy as an entry point provides some purchase, but not much, the absurdist performance of the walking cocktail table with stocking clad, high heeled legs by Miet Warlop hanging somewhere between Meret Oppenheim’s ‘Spring Feast’ (1951) and ‘Table with Bird Legs’ (1938). Edible (or once edible) elements recur throughout the presented works. Sri Lankan conceptualist Aditya Mandayam’s ‘Taksi to the Astral Plane’ (2013) is comprised of goose eggs, porcelain and shiny cellophane. Huddled quietly in a corner, the work resembles a kind of offering, a ticket to the ‘astral plane’. Another of Mandayam’s works, ‘Ching-Chong China-Mynah Donkey-Monkey STOP’ (2013) had disappeared when I visited. Made of curds and whey, and highly perishable, the work had no doubt been removed long before. Across the street, Koenraad Dedobbeleer’s ‘Old sacrosand academic’ (2013), two hollow plastic spheres mounted on a short column, contained almonds and pistachios, their containers closely resembling out-sized bird feeders. For Eduardo Costa’s sound piece ‘Ruffs Orgy I Sum’ (2013), the curator asked the senior Argentine conceptualist to record his interactions with the local birds from his balcony. The extent to which his collocutors understood him is, however, not revealed.

The breakdown, translation or approximation of language, forms and ideas appears throughout the exhibition as the dominant leitmotif. Gintaras Didziapetris’ ‘Untitled (NJ) IV’ (2012), a large mural-scale wall paper mounted floor to ceiling, is a photographic view across the Hudson River in New York, looking from Harlem towards New Jersey. Cast in darkness with the pin pricks of street lamps arrayed along the horizon line, the geography of the city is discernible only by a messy assemblage of points. A faux street lamp from Berlin, recreated from memory by artist Phanos Kyriacou, ‘Illuminated Scene’ (2013), brings a momentary yellow glow into the gallery space. A falsification, or approximation of the original, the lamp also lies prostrate, disrupting its function. Above it, Rosalind Nashashibi’s ‘Sir Mousy Gruff’ (2013) is composed in two parts. On the wall, outline drawings of Micky Mouse’s gloved hands form the gesture of Buddha in prayer. Two established and immediately recognisable cultural codes are reduced to conflated synecdochic signs, generating an uncanny moment of recognition as we discern one language and then the other. The work’s other half, a section of English Hornbeam tree, with a photograph attached to its trunk, generates another discord. The tree seems full of personality, in a sideways march.

Liudvikas Buklys asked a carpenter to build a cabinet from MDF based on the dimensions and proportions of a cannabis plant; the artist sees the work as a ‘strange kind of hybridised cross-breeding of art and nature’. The resulting work, ‘Sum of Yor Figs’ (2012), denies the artist’s hand, deferring the constructive act to a third party craftsman. The finished object is, unsurprisingly, innocuous to look at, the simple but accomplished skill of its making plain enough. Reading the work as a sequence of transitions, the processed wooden sheets arranged in the dimensions of another natural form, it remains resolutely manmade, artificial. It stands, therefore, as neither entirely one nor the other. An in-between with no clear meaning. This predicament is matched by its use, or lack of: a functional object rendered unusable in the gallery space.

Another piece by Buklys, ‘If gyro furs mu’ (2013), continues the coding thematic. A robotic hoover, an iRobot Roomba, was reprogrammed to struggle recognising its surroundings and trawl aimlessly between the spaces. Like many of the performance and perishable elements in the exhibition, this piece wasn’t functioning, and sat motionless in a corner. Another artist, photographer Alex Bailey, has several small pieces within the exhibition: social snaps from clubbing nights out in his native Birmingham, but housed in typical family photograph frames. Placed on the front desks of the respective spaces these works engender a double take. They conflate contrasting, distinct cultural codes in the same manner as Nashashibi’s piece. This notion of coding, whether technological, cultural or social, is exploited at length in ‘Fusiform Gyrus’, to create confused combinations. Languages slip and rub against each other, or form problematic hybrids, simultaneously generating and disavowing communication, message and meaning.

An intervention by Didziapetris and Narbutaite, ‘Frigs Fumy Sour’ (2013), makes clear this lack of clarity. The artists repainted the gallery walls in one space with white gloss paint, instead of the orthodox white matt. At first, you perceive that something has shifted, part of the explicit coding of the white cube space has changed. It’s a small change, a modest intervention, but one which achieves an uncanny reappraisal of the received ‘white cube’ code. Like the rest of the exhibition, meaning is generated at precisely that point where languages, codes and symbols falter and mutate.

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