Revolver, Part III, Matt’s Gallery
Reviewed by Eliza Apperly
With four exhibiting artists and a number of multi-part pieces, Revolver part III is a suitably grand finale to this bold three-part series. Transforming its interior in just five days of turnover time since the close of Part II, the gallery has opened up to maximum capacity, creating a total of nine display spaces which snake round the dimmest depths of the site.
For all the abundant content, the autonomous area remains integral to the show. With careful use of walls, doors and temporary partitions, each work is accommodated in its own spatial bracket, allowed to speak for itself as much as it contributes to the impressive chorus. Indeed, the continuity from piece to piece appears particularly striking in this final installation, with moving images and hallucinatory encounters present throughout, alongside resonances back to September, and the start of the Revolver initiative. As the viewer journeys around the show, the works of Tina Keane, Rachel Lowe, William Cobbing and Benedict Drew not only speak to each other, but also to the Revolvers that have gone before them. Dizzying video recalls Layla Curtis’ ‘Tong Tana’ and Kötting’s ‘Klipperty Klöpp’ while Benedict Drew takes up the same question of the technological object as Juneau Projects. The demolition referenced by both Keane and Cobbing, meanwhile, readily echoes Anna Barham’s ‘Arena’ and Graham Gussin’s ‘Lens’.
Tina Keane’s ‘Demolition/Escape’ (1983), the earliest work in the entire series, piles up diagonals in a mixed-media installation of a model steam engine, a column of video monitors and a slanting line, fixed on the wall, of blue neon numbers from nine to one. The model train shunts back and forth on its track, illuminated in red from above. The towered monitors play a topsy-turvy pre-recorded performance of the artist as she crawls along the floor, grasps a rope ladder and hauls herself up. The neon numbers, meanwhile, slide down the wall in an inverse proportion of ascent and descent: one at the top, nine nearest the floor. The viewer is invited into the central space between this triadic ensemble, adding to the three-dimensional triangles that leap across the display and entering into the play of motion and purpose that each element considers, distorts and confounds.
Next door, Rachel Lowe’s ‘Revolving Woman’ (2008) presents further instance of repetitive movement. Her video installation uses footage of a rotating mannequin, shot by the artist in a Brazilian shopping mall. The grainy image of the ever-revolving figure is interspersed with bright blocks of primary colour and hard-edged geometries which flash up on the screen almost too quickly to be processed. The dizzying visual effect concocts a hyper-sensitivity to the technical operations of the image and, too, to our own cognition of what we see. Do we approach this sexualised clothes horse critically’ Or is she, with flouncing skirt and arm on hip, as much of a standardised contour as the circle or triangle’
In ‘The Kiss’ (2004) William Cobbing overtly adopts a standardised image, taking up the kiss motif that populates modern Art History in particular, and materialising it into an anonymous, mucky, material mass. His video shows two figures, conjoined as if in love, but with their faces engulfed by great globes of wet clay. At times tenderly, at times impassioned, their hands knead, paw, spread and smear each other’s muddy masks, pinching peaks and carving hollows into the clay. It is at once a gorgeous and a glutinous spectacle, exploring the psychology of touch and our own conflicting responses of attraction and repulsion. Above all, ‘The Kiss’ re-imagines the pre-eminent picture of affection as a mesmerizingly tactile encounter while simultaneously transforming the human act of affection into an exclusively tangible sensory encounter.
Cobbing’s ‘Demolition’ and ‘Excavation’ (both 2004) similarly efface the individual face, encasing the head in large lumps of concrete. With hammer and chisel, the protagonist vigorously chips away at the stone that surrounds them, with currents of the absurd and the Sisyphean speaking across the decades and the show to Tina Keane’s ‘Demolition/Escape’. As hard edge chisel hits hard stone, the repeated, vigorous action at once intrigues and unnerves the viewer, connoting self-discovery or self-shaping as much as it does grave self-injury, as if the figure were cleaving away to some integral identity behind this faceless form.
The face - schematic or suggested - is also central to each of Benedict Drew’s technological object pieces in ‘The Persuaders’ (2011). Through analogue and digital apparatus, Drew creates ambiguous, humanoid forms, with a particular emphasis on eyes and mouths. From star shapes and a protractor on an overhead projector, projecting a hemispheric grin, to clay heads with foil cavities which seemingly squeak and beep at sudden, excitable instances, Drew plays on our - at times urgent - instinct to read the human face and to communicate with it. The viewer becomes complicit in the import of each piece, automatically filtering each light and object construction as that which we recognise best. With the incorporation of outmoded or obsolete technology within this peculiar hall of mirrors, Drew plays out this corporeal/artificial tension with particular incisiveness, juxtaposing our organic, intuitive facial recognition with the energetic march of technological advance.
The most populated of the entire initiative, Revolver Part III is a dense, busy and invigorating display, offering one careful, considered encounter after another. It allows each piece the space and the calm to impact autonomously, while re-configuring and re-energising each work with the emergent conversation of the complete Revolver series. As in Parts I and II before it, this is engaged, inquisitive curatorship, championing the sum of its parts, and the new life of the part within that sum.