SS Blue Jacket
KARST, 22 George Place, Stonehouse, Plymouth, PL1 3NY
31 October - 17 November 2013
Review from Karl Musson
Some years ago there was a restaurant in Berlin called Abendsbrot. It had no lights, choosing to allow dinners to dine in darkness. The premise was that, if one cannot see what one is eating, one pays more attention to the taste and smell of the chef’s creations. Much the same approach is taken in the curation of SS Blue Jacket. The outside of the KARST space, a grey-painted, unremarkable brick building, gives no indication of what is inside. Only the intercom next to the closed door gives a hint to the white cube within.
The gallery space appears loud initially, and conflicting acoustics forges an awareness of more than one can see at first glance. Taking up the invitation to sit in one of an arrangement of deck chairs, a video piece is comfortable watching. Set in Cornwall, ‘Polverton’ (2013) by Lucy Stein and Shana Moulton, would in one sense appear to be an enactment of Peter Lanyon’s proposals for ‘taking nature unawares’. While references to Dali and Schiaparelli might seem clear enough from the animated sea creatures, which talk to Stein and Moulton and also become hats, we are left to decide for ourselves whether references to Greek mythology are coincidental or intentional. This sense that there might be more going on than one is aware of is one of the most entrancing qualities of SS Blue Jacket. Already there is an interesting paradox. Polverton (2013) is a video piece showing people acting in the way people only behave in video art. At the very least therefore, Stein and Moulton are using the familiar vocabulary we expect of video art. But in the context of the exhibition as a whole, this becomes more complex.
Looking onto the main space exposes a refreshing curatorial decision. There are no text panels detailing the artist’s name and title of the work next to any of the works. Lineage of voice - such as whether an artist is already established - has no rightful place the public sphere, Jürgen Habermas argued. What is of true importance is what is being said and how it is meaningful to the recipient of communication - not the symbolic capital of the communicator. That all said, it would be difficult to not recognise a Peter Lanyon painting in this or any context, and as the proposal of democracy in a group show is once again challenged.
Freed from labels, for their time aboard the SS Blue Jacket at least, the works in this show are able to interact with each other on a meritocratic basis. Beryl Cook’s ‘Lockyer Street Tavern’ (1976) presents a bar specific to Plymouth, but a type of bar common to many towns. In an abstract sense, Cook’s stylised but highly figurative paintings offer us a considered reflection on the relationship between people and culture, and we might be wise to remember Homi K Bhabha’s assertion that it is not people who make culture but culture, which makes people. The impact of place on people is more literally depicted in Peter Lanyon’s ‘Portrait’ (1962), which through almost cubist execution proposes human facial and cartographic features simultaneously.
A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. While the honesty of high-modernism may have been in materials, as exquisitely exampled in Edward Stein’s marble carvings, post-modernism’s honesty might be said to be in the efficacy of simulacrum. Indeed, the trueness of the copy in this case, is not why Patrick Heron’s stripe painting was copied. Attached to the back of this canvas, as if a giant label in electronic form, a video piece details the provenance of the thinking behind the exhibition. While not a label in a traditional way, it is a concession to explanation - held off until the last moment and with the delayed gratification thereof.
‘The Mirror Stage’ (2009 - on-going), by Simon Fujiwara, shows us the extensive scope of humour. In his book The Sufis, Idries Shah proposes that most fables contain some truth, allowing us to ‘absorb ideas which ordinary patterns of thinking prevent’. Fujiwara appears to be using humour to the same end. As a video piece displayed on the back of a painting, the front of the painting becomes one of the subjects of the video.
A seemingly growing number of restaurants today appear proud of the lengths they go to so as to use local ingredients in a bid for authenticity. In that light, it is often helpful to be able to see, as well as taste and smell, what one is eating. Interestingly, the vocabulary of this exhibition is not overtly visible. But why should it be’