Some recurring images in four of Hardeep Pandhal’s animated films, currently on view at Cubitt: a Sikh man’s head sprouts spermatozoids, lady liberty, a bullet morphs into a breast and a white man embraces a globe, thrusting deep into the Atlantic Ocean. The video works layer lurid cartoons, psychedelic narratives and deadpan rap music; they are accompanied by production drawings and a sculpture. Pandhal, a 2013 Glasgow MFA graduate who is known for knitting collaborations with his mum, creates in ‘Liar Hydrant’ a disorientating experience of accrued imagery, text and song that sometimes edges on the nauseating but never bores.
Pandhal creates cartoonish tableaux filled with anthropomorphic animals, wonky angles, rippling pecs and pendulous breasts. Aesthetically, it reminds me of the Hairy Who (especially Suellen Rocca), with their fascination of muscle over intellect and base teenage humour, bodies melting and detaching into autonomous beings, all caresses and penetration, fluid outlines recalling bodily fluids or a broken balloon. There are suggestions of violence – physical, verbal and structural – yet we do not know whether we should cry or laugh.
Cartoons are normally easily legible, childishly so. But there is no clear way to decode Pandhal’s films. Everything is constantly moving, with no static situation; some scenes endlessly reappear, even in separate films, creating a narration simultaneously disjointed and repetitive. We seek comfort in the lyrics and written words – surely language will authoritatively describe and clarify, providing some stability. But they often contradict each other, or appear completely disconnected from the other narrative hints, thereby intensifying the works’ slippery meaning.
I found myself desperately glancing at the press release, wondering what the hell is this miasma of visuals, text and audio about, exactly? I am told ‘Nightmare on BAME Street’ is about loitering characters in Birmingham and ‘The Rebirth of Sacred Cow Mixtape’ riffs on the machismo of rap videos; ‘Konfessions of a Klabautemann’ speaks of male coming of age rituals while ‘Pool Party Pilot Episode’ shows a hypothetical vision of human evolution from aquatic apes. Sure! These subjects and their critiques of sexism and racism may become evident after several viewings but the time-pressed visitor can find themselves blindly grasping whatever narrative thread we are fed to not feel completely overrun by the confusion of Pandhal’s videos.
And I think that is precisely the point: our unquestioning acceptance language’s authority. In front of the videos, Pandhal offers us a sculpture that doubles as a bench. But like the scribbles, thought bubbles, dialogs and essays that inhabit his works, it only offers the illusion of comfort. The bench, which is covered with graffiti spelling out ‘victim’, hides two large springs, as though it will seesaw anytime. A sardonic kindness in the face of the visual and auditory onslaught of the videos, it acknowledges the feeling of unease his work provokes and an invites us to loiter, just a bit longer