The ‘Mulberry Tree Press’ is a fictitious publishing house created specifically for this exhibition. The name is inspired by the last remaining tree from a garden in Deptford designed by the diarist John Evelyn. This exhibition reflects on the relationship between space, object and text, how they exist one in the other, side-by-side, and separate.
Review by Freddy Syborn
On the last page of Melville’s Bartleby, the novella around which SE8 has co-ordinated their installation, the reader is asked ‘dead letters! does it not sound like dead men’, and whether we see ourselves in text seems to me the underlying question of the Mulberry Press. More, this reflection is multivalent. A book by Yoko Ono has been left open to tell us that ‘instead of obtaining a mirror’ we should ‘obtain a person’. With this relationship established between the physical and the image, Jamie Shovlin’s Chat (Reconfigured) tries to find a pattern to the colour or form of the small ads in Chat magazine. Each small square card begins with a stock state - Coping, Betrayed, Shocked, Petrified, Loved - and follows with the same promise: ‘Tell us about it and we’ll pay up to £400 for each true story’. The squares suggest pixels but add up to nothing. Instead, their incessant questioning becomes our audience, seeking to translate us into a truth they understand. ‘True stories’ are expected of us, as long as they fit the audience’s expectations.
Even if we, like Bartleby, ‘would prefer not to’ be reflected, refusal to participate is still a kind of participation. In a cabinet lies a framed email from Mike Harte, refusing to contribute any work of his to an exhibition themed around refusal. Harte’s refusal is re-appropriated, translated into a participating object, a reflective surface. Translation engages other artists in the show. A display of political pamphlets whose form - fonts, colours, the quality of photographs - date them within the Cold War period. Their titles, however, are unchanging: ‘World Economic Crisis’, ‘Stop The War’ and ‘The Case For Public Ownership’ were headlines before, and remain headlines after, the time they superficially belong to. Form translates permanent anxieties, and in Shovlin’s ‘The Ecstasy of Communication’, another re-appropriation refuses the argument of the original piece - even our experience of it is restructured.
Baudrillard’s book is cut up, each page pinned in order to a board. Some pages are blank, some with phrases picked out apparently at random. One page isolates the line, ‘today the scene and the mirror have given way to a screen and a network. There is no longer any transcendence.’ But by respatialising the book into a non-linear form, by translating information unchronologically above a constraining material logic, Baudrillard’s reflections are themselves transcended. This transcendence has a destabilising, even nightmarish quality in Gary Hill’s film. A man looks at his reflection. He vomits as printed words are overlaid with water. The film suggests to me the tension between the easily dissolved physical existence of ideas and their unbodily endurance, the way they can stick in the throat.
There are lighter evocations in SE8. Pablo Bronstein has drawn figures for dances; Eleanor vonne Brown has translated the figures into cold, mapped forms (‘Man 1: 1 clap, 2 clap’‘), then instructions arranged like poems (‘remove jacket : square audience : stretch both arms out at nipple height’‘). These dances have since been performed at the gallery, information again escaping its original material and into a new spontaneity. And the installation will end this week with its own final translation, into a brochure created by the curators, artists and audience. After these ‘true stories’ and new forms, its subtle refusals and reflections, this brochure will be worth obtaining.
ANTEPRESS, RUTH BEALE, BECKY BEASLEY, SEAN BORODALE,
ELEANOR VONNE BROWN, RODERICK BUCHANAN, BEN CAIN,
RICHARD DYER, DOUG FISHBONE, HOLLIS FRAMPTON, ALEX FROST,
KATIE GUGGENHEIM, EMMA HART, MIKE HARTE, GARY HILL,
GEORGE HENRY LONGLY, MARIA MARSHALL, ANTHONY MCCALL,
JEREMY MILLAR, ST PIERRE & MIQUELON, TOM CHIVERS,
KATE OWENS, GEORGE QUASHA, MARTHA ROSLER, JAMIE SHOVLIN,
JOHN SMITH, MATTHEW SMITH, ANDREW TYNDALL, GEOPOLYPHONIES
Cabinets part 2 curated by Laura Mclean Ferris
Films curated by Gilly Fox