A friend recounted how her child refused to enter the room of Harminder Judge’s exhibition at New Gallery Walsall, In This Strange House. It’s said young children have an extra level or perception that is lost as we age, perhaps she sensed some of the paranormal activity that the ECG scanner, the artist installed in the space, failed to pick up.
The exhibition takes it title from a line by the 19th century writer Edward Bulwer-Lytton, he is famed for two particular phrases rather than any of his works in their entirety; one being ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ the second, ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. This selective appreciation of Bulwer-Lytton’s literary output is mirrored by the show itself, which navigates between a curiousity about the paranormal, while revelling in, and mocking the clichéd visual tropes by which paranormal activity is usually portrayed.
A black bed with surreally extended legs, hovers above the majority of the exhibits; reminding me of Dali’s disturbingly long limbed horses or elephants. The underside is embedded with a dead monitor, the gloss reflection of the screen, promises the Ring-like emergence of ‘something’ when the gallery shuts down each night. This everyday object has been tampered and hacked, the notion of a bed itself defamiliarised. The childhood fear of what lies beneath is perennial, but that anxiety could never be engendered here, the sheer physical space brushes away the imaginary one. Perhaps that is the point’ By exaggerating the space beneath to a point of ridiculousness, we are asked to consider how we construct fear for ourselves. . . On the other hand imagine yourself on the bed and it’s a different story: stranded, Rapunzel-like, too high to get down safely.
In this Strange House can be seen as a series of investigations of the means by which the body, or more loosely ‘presences’ might be alluded to without being present; as evidenced by the flickering and ever reconstituted figure of a crouched child traced by a laser, the manipulated photograph of a David Bowie concert, in which the star himself has been cropped, so that we are left with a field of entangled arms, straining towards the stage after an object of desire that has been pictorially removed. We are left witness to the fans’ zombie-like-lurching, the lurid fluorescents, the open wailing mouths, like Bacon’s screaming popes. Could it also be read as a shift in the artist’s practice itself’ A decided move away from the more theatrical live performance-installations of his early career, towards a more lens and object based body of work’
Exploiting the full height of the space is a totemic, wooden slatted structure with geometric protrusions: as though an alien intelligence dismantled a shed and began to rebuild it into some unfathomable new structure. The surface evokes countless film-set porches of the ‘Gothic American South’, bits of chip wood lay at the ground, the remnants left by the artist hacking away at the lexicon of Hollywood horror.
Opposite the slatted structure are a series of prints produced through digital manipulation of reproductions of works from the permanent collection of New Gallery Walsall; the human figures have been removed, the images sapped of their colour, captioned by fragile spidery handwriting scrawled directly on the wall. They deftly stage a chain of absences, shifting the tone of the paintings. Their cumulative effect evokes the watching an empty stage, having entered the auditorium at such a moment you are unable to determine whether somebody has recently left, or just about to enter.