Ceri Hand Gallery, 6 Copperfield Street, London SE1 0EP

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Samantha Donnelly: Rubbernecker
Ceri Hand Gallery
31 January - 1 March 2014
Review by Edwina Attlee

The title of the exhibition is suggestive and grotesque. ‘Rubbernecker’ refers to the experience of craning one’s neck to get a better view of a road accident. Donnelly has said she is interested in the morbid curiosity we have in other people’s secret lives and what is striking about the exhibition is the way in which she manages to convey how innate and automatic that curiosity has become.

‘Shades’, a series of black and white hand-printed images on resin-coated paper, is sinister and arresting. Donnelly references Werner Herzog’s ‘Heart of Glass’, a film whose cast performed whilst under hypnosis. The lines they spoke had been scripted and memorised but the gestures and movements they made were said to have emerged spontaneously. The prints evoke this uncanny sense of unbidden gesture, as if the inanimate or programmed were suddenly animate and intelligent. The images recall the shapes made through accidents with scanners and photocopiers; they are grainy and beautiful and I am indeed craning my neck to read them. Distorted and familiar shapes from fashion magazines loom like cartoon ghosts from under sheets.

The sculptures compound this tongue in cheek titillation, drawing the viewer further into the car crash of the title’s imaginary nightmare. They comprise an artful and perilous arrangement of body parts, splay-legged plexi-glass prints, bolted jeans, bull dog tagged leather trousers, the bloody fronds of venetian blinds, unspooled cassettes and an unblinking printed eye. Most disturbing of all are the ceramic splurges of intestine thick ribbons which tumble out of trouser tops like spools of innards. The small eyes carved into the liquid-like skins, are monstrous, accusatory, trapped and judgmental all at once.

The installation resembles a series of posed and collapsing bodies which look like totem poles or lopsided bust-topped plinths. Throughout the show themes of worship and adulation are spliced with the violent and the voyeuristic. The repeating motif of venetian blinds, fanned like a ritual headdress, stabbed like dagger blades, reasserts this sense of unwanted attention. They are also reminiscent of the noir-like worlds of the Coen brothers’ ‘Barton Fink’ or J. G. Ballard’s ‘Memories of the Space Age’ where put-upon men hide behind them in the hope that the world outside will leave them alone. Perhaps Donnelly is suggesting that like these anti-heroes, us rubberneckers too are sadly doomed.

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