The lighting, music and layout are such key parts of Richard Sides’ work that ‘Invisible World’ is an exhibition to experience rather than see. This is apt given Sides’ overarching concerns with the effects produced by our attempts to represent invisible worlds. These ideas of invisibility, aspiration, escape and anxiety are neatly summed up by the show’s subtitle: ‘live no life no more’.
The three paintings in the entrance of Carlos/Ishikawa, insulated from the cacophony of colour and sound in the main gallery, provide a quiet introduction to Sides’ themes. The most focused is ‘time hands’ which shows a person wearing a tie and winking to the viewer as they place their hands on those of a large clock. As a representation of a complex invisible world (that of time), the clock is crude and inadequate. The meeting of its hands with that of the figure invites us to consider a parallel inadequacy in our representations of another invisible word: our own consciousness. By breaking the fourth wall to engage the viewer with a knowing wink, Sides’ figure seems fully aware of this insufficiency. Conversely, our engagement with the crude visibility of the personal ‘invisible world’ within the endless stream of social media lacks this self-awareness. For the majority of people, despite ‘knowing’ that images are heavily edited and curated, social networks nevertheless become a mixed source of anxiety, aspiration and a desire to escape as our subjective realities are compared to idealised versions of others. In ‘time hands’ Sides presents a heady existential cocktail and indictment of our increasing inability to parse reality and representation.
Entering the main space, the visible and audible noise heightens and the collage series ‘party politics’ shifts the focus from personal to political. Flashing coloured lights make these aggressively ugly collages of politicians, porn, and advertising appear to dance on the wall. Here, politics is depicted from the perspective of someone who feels invisible to it. Sides’ collages present a politics so unconcerned with and inaccessible to ordinary people, that it has become devalued to the point it occupies the same status as other fantasies such as porn and advertising. This could be perceived as trite and adolescent were it not for the alternately yearning, abrasive, euphoric and rebellious sounds blaring throughout the space. Almost too loud, the soundscape gives an emotional charge to the collages that re-frames their clumsiness as experience felt too strongly to be successfully refined.
Adolescent outpourings feature again in Sides’ video ‘INVISIBLE WORLD’ where hackneyed declarations of love and anxiety compete with disquieting, inane and humorous scenes. ‘INVISIBLE WORLD’ is shown on a huge screen, in a space with a low ceiling that you can look on top of before stooping to enter; claustrophobia competes here with cosiness. This unease is exacerbated by a life-size emergency exit painting by the entrance and long sections of video spent travelling through never-ending doorways.
When unease and abrasiveness are key components in an exhibition it inevitably becomes hard to write a completely emphatic recommendation. This isn’t to say ‘Invisible World’ is without reward. It’s just that, like most worthwhile experiences, the reward only emerges after enduring some initial discomfort.