Review by Siofra McSherry
South Tower Social at the Old Mayfair Carpet Gallery is a pop-up project on Borough High Street that has taken over an old carpet shop. A temporary installation by artists Patrick Staff, Eden Mitsenmacher and Chris Land plays host to a series of interventions, films and collaborations by other artists and members of the local community. Each week a new project or installation will be introduced into the space to run alongside the existing installation. Studio space is also provided for local emergent artists. Run collectively and collaboratively, the South Tower Social is an ambiguous space responding to the interventions of the artists and the works which appear in it; at once a speakeasy, a sinister holiday resort, a Bermuda triangle in which bearings can easily be lost, or a World War II bunker-full of conspiracy.
Patrick Staff’s work represents the space as a lost region, a Bermuda triangle of lost sureties and uncomfortable uncertainty. Black Cauldron, Shitty Coven constructs an ill-defined space where plyboard walls and piled-up pallets challenge the viewer to acknowledge that the piece or even the building is finished. Video records performances, experiences and thoughts but obscures them from full view. A sensory response to the artist’s experience of the space, the installation creates powerfully unsettling alternative architectures, where queerness is likely to be the most comfortable state.
Little clusters of chemical trees sprout like sinisterly cheerful fungi in corners of the space, drawing all eyes to the floors and corners and edges. Israeli artist Eden Mitsenmacher’s unsettling outing opens with an eye-catching row of screens, on which the lips of a diffident narrator recites Madonna’s ‘Holiday’ over kitsch images of tropical paradise. This is engaging and amusing work, and her strikingly sculptural paper clouds and swans dominate the space, setting the tone of provisionality and paper-thin cheerfulness.
Chris Land’s pieces evoke conspiracy theories, World War II imagery and the attempt to engage with place through the back roads of history. His monochrome paintings resemble shadowy Lichtensteins, as a rocket crashes and generals crowd round a blank screen. Neither these dramatic shadows nor the painstaking work required to construct a miniature model of the HMS Belfast allow us to reach a fixed conclusion about the nature of history, which slips from the grasp to enter the fabric of this imaginary social space.
There is no final product here, the nature of the space changing as artists and members of the community enter and intervene in the space. From the 21st January, Blue Curry has dotted around some of his eerily desirable flashing conch shells, work which resonates strongly with both Patrick Staff’s lost landscape off Bermuda and Eden Mitsenmacher’s tropical nightmares. The rear of the space has been transformed into a projection area to screen Sophie Brown and Catherine Evelid’s amusingly unproductive encounter with the Norwegian landscape, ‘It’s Time To Give In’. These landscapes are easily absorbed into South Tower Social’s imaginary vistas.
Future projects provide the fascinating prospect of collaboration with a local war games club, who will perform a choreographed display battle and folklore and stories from the Southwark area. These community groups will further complicate the nature of the space by imprinting their own vision of its function within the local area. This pop-up project allows itself to be gloriously appropriated and moulded to the expectations of those that encounter it - one member of the public knocked on the door and asked Gail Pickering, rehearsing her performance piece, if she could join the aerobics class. The South Tower Social is a chaotically inspirational arena of endless fascination.
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