Review by Henry Little
‘Gossip, Scandal and Good Manners,’ a solo exhibition of the little-known Mexican artist, writer and publisher Ulises Carrión, is an earnest show orchestrated by the exacting hand of the first year MA curating class at the RCA.
Carrión’s oeuvre has a pronounced Fluxus character and his work betrays a fascination with information exchange. It is, in particular, marginal patterns of information exchange such as gossip and innovative forms of expression such as concrete poetry that comprise much of his output. Mail art was another key activity. For Carrión it was not the content that mattered, but the method. Mail art and the exchange of ideas with other artists and writers was a creative exercise in that it nurtured a collection of connections and relationships. This network, like the synapses of the brain, formed a living and metaphysical art work that for Carrión had a deeply social and communitarian purpose.
The curators exhibit some intelligent approaches to the issues of display unique to Carrión’s work. Book works, given their very nature, present a distinctive problem. To address this, one book has been dismembered and displayed sequentially on a large board. This proves to be a perfect method for fully appreciating Carrión’s concrete poetry - a form of expression in which the typographical arrangement of words is as important in conveying the intended effect as the conventional elements of the poem. This work, which contained almost endless permutations of arrangements of names organised in repetitious patterns, was intuitively placed next to a video work in which two pairs of hands, viewed from above, point and click toy guns at each other in a sequential dance around the screen.
Visually the exhibition has the appearance of a temporary library or reading room - an ambience that Carrión would have no doubt approved of. Showing in the same month as Impressionist and Modern sales at Sotheby’s and Christies, in which not one but several works have been given estimates of £30 - £40 million, this exhibition provides the perfect foil to such overblown financial transactions. It’s also natural that an exhibition organised by an educational institution would have such an educational tone, but this exhibition should also be understood as existing far beyond and beside a collection of objects in a room. Like Carrión’s work, the meaning and content of the show is barely contained within the four walls of The Show Room and is more constituted in the significant raft of events, performances and film screenings which accompany it. Martha Hellion, one of Carrión’s long time collaborators, has also worked extensively on the exhibition with the MA class and there is consequently a living thread between artist and exhibition. The show can then quite convincingly be seen as a contemporary manifestation of the Carriónian spirit in its anti-commodity emphasis on collaboration, events and learning.