Standing in the shop window of Tenderpixel, backed by a soft pink luminescence, is a speculative book holder on which is balanced a copy of ‘Fighting Terms’ by the British poet Thom Gunn. This is ‘Lubricants & Literature’, a solo show by artist Richard Healy. Moving into the room there are more of these curious objects, precisely bent and joined with rods used to reinforce concrete, powder coated to a bright pink, each holding one piece of literature and a single candle. One also includes a bunch of charred sage leaves. They speak of design and of magic but they also offer us an opportunity to peruse this collection, all bought from the surrounding bookshops of Cecil Court, with varying degrees of ease (the architectural magazine ‘Pin-Up’ was, true to its name, held at top shelf height).
The exhibition takes as its starting point a story in the history of Cecil Court, namely an incantation that occurred in Watkins bookshop in which the famed occultist Aleister Crowley managed to make all the books in the shop both disappear and reappear simultaneously. For the exhibition, the artist has been interested in occupying the space created in the moment before the books reappeared. The literature on display in the ground floor gallery, which includes Crowley’s infamously erotic ‘Snowdrops from a Curate’s Garden’, forms the basis for a video installation in the basement.
As with much of Healy’s work, these speculative objects partner an equally speculative video, the contents of which are informed by the collected literature. The piece takes the form of a first-person tour through a range of digitally rendered architectural environments, all narrated by a nameless, ambiguous character who seems to be part inhabitant, part creator. From the shamanic work of AA Bronson to the occultist Crowley, via a number of lifestyle-themed references, the work extravagantly imagines a diaspora of erotically charged areas which together form a single building. Functioning like a tower of luxuries, this building spans an aquarium, via a Venice lagoon view to a rooftop bar for peacocking, all while attempting to eat oysters in boxing gloves.
The recurring use of magic acts as a tool for abstraction, mirroring the way that the video moves through locations. It is as though we are jumping dimensions – as AA Bronson is quoted – “his entry into magic was marked by a butt massage in Alberta”, but Alberta is definitely not where we end. The work’s somewhat episodic progress is both mesmerising and confusing; a series of jump cuts overlaid with an audio track which is so assured as to deny any change at all. Yet it is this dislocation that gives the work its strength, a strange sense of calm familiarity while being confronted by a labyrinthine palace of story and ornament. When you finally emerge back into the soft pink light of the upstairs gallery you feel a kind of temporal disconnect, not sure how long you’ve been immersed in this other world. It may well be that this is akin to the moment when all of Watkins’ books reappeared.