Despite the title’s opening pun, what makes Durant’s show unique is neither his reference to Roman architecture, nor his roaming of the cultural landscape for the plunder of aesthetic booty (after all, artists have been appropriating the realms of fiction, reality and art history for some time.) Rather, in subjecting seemingly disparate phenomena to a process of recycling, improvisation and low-tech construction, he unites them even as they fiercely retain their own identities.
So how does he go about this? Perhaps the lucky Maneki-neko cat, that ushers us into BALTIC’s Level 2, can shed some light. The rise and fall of this painted talisman’s paw, governed by the opening and closing of a set of mechanised blinds, will remind anyone who saw Creed’s retrospective at the Haywood last year of his opening and closing curtains. While both artists parody the function of everyday objects to surreal ends, Durant’s feline quip steers the work away from Creed’s unheimlich and towards a Warholian kitsch, more in common with the visual language of advertising - just as the giant gherkin whizzing above our heads in the middle of the room, could easily be mistaken for a burger house mascot.
We are instantly reminded of that other famous gherkin, which seems odd, given one is constructed from chicken wire and embellished with tennis balls and the other, an award winning architectural feat, responsible for transforming London’s skyline. Yet, both delight in absurd overabundance - whether it is Durant’s oversized, over-painted gherkin or its southern counterpart, for many a symbol of corporate excess at a time when many Londoners are being priced out of the city. (Although, with the London Gherkin currently in receivership, it is perhaps Durant’s horizontal pickle, resembling a smile, that has the last laugh.)
As we move through the exhibition, dualities continue to abound: a seemingly comic flickering eyebrow is accompanied by a curious sense of loss; does its gesticulation signal the imparting of a code, a faulty bulb or is it memento mori to the absent eye? Except of course the eye has been there all along, in the form of the blind on the adjacent wall, so what we conceived as a benign mechanical billboard, becomes an inverse ocular shutter in which we glimpse our own movement through the space.
This heightened self-consciousness leaves us vulnerable to Durant’s latest affront in which a series of Neapolitan hand casts assure us everything is ‘ok’, before telling us to ‘fuck off’. Durant’s facsimiles are now unequivocal in their instruction, punctuating every wall and butting in between paintings. Their intrusion seems justified given that they are easily the most successful of the artist’s wall based pieces that include low-hung canvases, an unplayable keyboard and strung up tennis balls.
The problem with these more ‘peripheral’ works is that they are not strong enough to operate as pieces in themselves and only acquire meaning through the wider context of the show. Given Durant’s fascination with ruins, it is interesting that this proposition runs counter to the Romantic notion that a ruin is more loaded with meaning when it is a fragment rather than part of a whole. Or are we missing the point? Perhaps this perceived subjugation belies the more subtle resonance between his works that have more to do with challenging the idea of the autocratic object. If so, the final joke is on us.