Resplendent with a heart-attack inducing coffee poured by a local artisanal provider and hands formed into callouses from early winter rain I entered the concrete enclave of Assembly Point – a cavernous square based in a rustic residential block in Peckham. For this outing Jemma Egan displays five works unpacking the narrative of a wellness industry which is fast bedding down as a canonical part of our postmodern obsession with the self. The title ‘Turning to Dust’ becomes a fitting tribute for a solo show which mines the archaeology of the consumer wellness industry – a suggestive exploration into the potential of exploitation.
The grey skies of south London seem the best place to juxtapose our relationship with a story which has its foundations in the sun blushed streets of Los Angeles. Egan’s work is a visual dialogue not just on the aesthetics of consumer wellness but a smart sideways glance at the movement’s high priestess Amanda Chantal Bacon, founder of ‘Moon Juice’ a corporation seemingly capitalising on homeopathic dust favoured by the rich and famous. Cleansed through a prism of referential offerings to Bacon, the show begins with the work ‘Double tested for purity and potency’ (2017), a collaboration with Jessica Vallentin which involves a candle-like ornament; part homeopathic remedy, part ritualistic decoration the work is ‘activated’ each morning, becoming a tangential blessing. This act is in and of itself the smearing of a potent mixture – the ingredients of which you have to Google. The very existence of this process requires the audience to suspend their judgement and accept its role as relevant to both our experience of the show and to our contact with the work.
Revitalised and recharged with a clear head full of hinoki wood, labdanum and oakmoss we feel empowered to plan our future relationship in holistic servitude. Our previous self is figuratively presented by the works ‘Just so busy meditating’ (2017) which stands facing our future self ‘The Activator’ (2017) – expectation versus reality. On the left hand wall a film of a hand rewriting the word ‘meditation’ scrolled across a weekly planner. The hand becomes increasingly erratic – frustrated by the listless lifestyle tools supposedly there to improve, instead becoming impediments in the quest for our happy place. Mirroring this a conveyor belt of cashews – a surreal travellator expressing our 21st century obsession with exotic, carbon footprint creating, expensive whole food. A hand picks and examines each nut in turn finally locating the golden nut of choice activating a sacramental bell toll.
Egan’s work is not only beautifully acerbic but calmingly so. It captures the mysticism of our increasing reliance of being told how best to conduct our lives by a cast of characters whom we have never met, punctuated by a menu we struggle to locate. It questions this reinvention culture – detoxing the ideological requirement to continually locate a better, cleaner and more centred self. It clarifies this culture as problematic through the saddening realisation that by future proofing our physical and spiritual self we intrinsically enable these quests to become bargaining chips between ourselves, our time and our money.