On a crisp winter morning I find myself in the four-storey Grade II listed Victorian tower home to Pump House Gallery in Battersea Park. It seems the perfect space to experience a new exhibition from working duo Pil and Galia Kollectiv exploring psychedelic and institutionalised medical treatments.
The first work displayed is a wall-mounted television screening a performance that was filmed a week before the exhibition’s opening. The video consists of three performances by individuals interacting with a series of clinically precise sculptures made from white cardboard and black gaffer tape. These obviously staged acts are representations of video documentations of acid trips, psychedelic dancing and radical psychotherapy treatments. Their illustrations include facial gurning and abstract dancing – physical behaviours typically associated with experiences of hallucination. The performances are set on each of the gallery’s floors with further cardboard installations encompassing the entire building.
Aesthetically the exhibition is comparable to a Franz Kline painting or to Kurt Schwitters’ ‘Merzbau’. The manipulation of the building seems to have been concisely reworked by a mathematician condensing and carving up the surrounding exhibition space. From the third floor balcony sound descends from the top to the bottom of the building, similar to a series of instructions being recited. The balcony overlooks the second floor setting and performance space, constituting a sound system of echoing voices. The clinical aesthetic puts me in mind of a combination of conversations amongst doctors, nurses and patients. This is accompanied by a repetitive bleeping noise and a circular arrangement of stools, as if a group discussion has taken place. Further investigation reveals the recording and setting is inspired by Charles Dederich’s ‘Synanon’, a drug rehabilitation programme founded in California in 1958 based on residential care and an aggressive form of therapy called ‘The Game’.
Embedded within the work is the impact of prescribed medication, tranquilisers and illegal narcotics on mind and body, described as ‘chemical straight jackets’ by R. D. Laing. The artists seem to have created an oppressed space thwarting the viewer’s active position. The subject of rehabilitation and medicine is significant – as if the debris of an active hospital or clinic ward has been left behind in the tower.
After leaving the show I felt frustrated by the lack of live performance. The lack of movement and apparently abandoned setting, however, reflects those heavily structured and hard-nosed rehabilitation centres that smothered patients rather than restoring their health.
The space will be activated as the show continues. A new video is being created whilst the exhibition is closed at night and will be screened on the penultimate day of the exhibition. I imagine this video will give further insight into the complexities and methodologies of a totalitarian institution. The successfully suppressive environment exploits the viewer, moving us between roles of public and patient, and enabling us to reflect upon our medically enhanced relationship with sculpture, sound and video.