Simon Bayliss: Meditations in an Emergency
Plymouth College of Art
11 October - 17 November, 2018
Review by Eva Szwarc
Meditations in an Emergency, by artist Simon Bayliss, is an exhibition of multitudes, crossing from pottery and electronic music to watercolour landscapes, poetry and performative film. It is a marriage of the seemingly incongruous, such as the neon sign alternating SIMON BAYLISS / SIN ON GAY BLISS reflecting on the glazing of his pottery. It is a joining, as the words inscribed on the pot reads, of ‘high and low with one another’.
There is an anti-clockwise direction implied by the arrangement of work, beginning with the music video Meditations. Accompanied by a dance track heard through remote headsets, the film combines clips found online of air marshals dancing flamboyantly, which lend themselves to the wider phenomenon of going viral, with the artist’s own footage of a performer in a unicorn mask cavorting around an abandoned airstrip in a remote field. On one level the video, with a lurid fuchsia colour cast, appears both absurd and fun. It works in layers of imitation - both the domino effect of the online trend and Bayliss’ own contribution - which feed into a wider dialogue. As the digital age seems to usher in a democracy of self-representation, Meditations instead takes focus on the extremities of stereotype and parody which can play out and proliferate online.
Our experience of the exhibition moves between being immense and intimate. From inflated pasties covered with swathes of coloured glaze to the intricate details and text of smaller ceramics, there is a sense of the private and personal intermingling with playful, grandiose statements. The very placement of Citizens of Nowhere, for instance, indicates intimacy; the work hangs away from those surrounding it, necessitating you to have to deliberately maneuver around to see it on the other side. Glowing in ultraviolet light and suspended like a Japanese scroll, the text subtly shifts between being personal, political and witty, alluding to the lost confidence of consumers, citizenship, and a tongue-in-cheek aspiration to become #homowners as well as mentioning to suck and be blown.
Across the lines of Citizens to Nowhere are recurring references to the South West and Cornwall, where the artist was raised. There are mentions of St Ives and the Tamar; ‘this Peninsular is narrow’, the text tells us. This formative place, and the artist’s complex relationship with it, inserts itself in the other works. Bayliss’ en plein air Cornish landscapes have been ripped from sketchbooks, yet placed almost reverentially within a glass case. Pots sit on top, one referencing the traditional symbol of a shrimp; another is ringed with a pattern of sperm. His clay moulds of pasties, a colloquial symbol of the region, are enlarged to an extent more humorous than deferential. Cornish tradition is both respected and rebelled against in the artist’s wide-ranging practice; at points, the exhibition seems to function in an external teasing-out of the artist’s own ongoing and unresolved history with the region.
More specifically Meditations in an Emergency is a visual unravelling of identity, from the performative assumptions of gender and sexuality in Meditations, to the personable and romantic nuances of poetry. In his pursuit of this, Bayliss is not afraid to cast his practice over wide-ranging territory, crossing and unifying a variety of mediums and imagery. This approach makes Meditations in an Emergency both refreshing and unpredictable, measured yet eclectic; reflective of the multitudes of which identity consists.