A playful cluster of oversized twisted bronze stick figures posed in various stances, self-portraits by Tim Noble and Sue Webster, can currently be seen through the vast window of Blain|Southern. Their exaggerated expressions, dishevelled hair and naked bodies rendered with a cartoonish aesthetic make an adequate mockery of the Mayfair surroundings. The artists are seemingly running riot in their white cube play-pen.
Entering the gallery, the personalities of the artists, arranged as three self-portrait diptychs, become stronger and the audience is presented with a sincere and darker view of the facets of their tumultuous relationship. With all the sculptures naked, this is overtly concerned with their sexual escapades, and following their practice as artists-as-art, the show strikes the viewer as perhaps a consolidation of their four-year marriage, which ended in 2013.
The show encompasses a range of emotions and the figures construe a tension between the couple’s sexual compulsion and revulsion. This dynamic is embodied by the focal sculpture, ‘The African Couple (Seated)’ (2017). In this, two naked figures ungainly crouch towards each other with solemn expressions, lit to cast shadows on the polished concrete floor. Their eyes do not meet, yet a familiarity is struck between them through incongruous rods of bronze, which extrude from both their bodies into the floor. Following this appendage and letting the eye work through the bronze, it becomes clear that Noble is urinating and Webster lactating.
This aspect of the sculptures continues the artists’ longstanding interest in bodily functions. They are known for their interest in blood and urine but this also raises questions. Webster is not commonly known as a mother. Is this therefore superfluous stream of milk voicing her desire for a child, perhaps noting infertility or is it potentially associated with a miscarriage? The messy combination of thick and thin twisted bronze knotted around Webster’s neck and breast suggests grief and sorrow. Given the artists’ penchant for frank work, a revelation of this type would not be unexpected.
The other figures surrounding this pair, ’A Lovely Pair (Standing)’ (2017) and ‘The Simple Ones (Squatting)’ (2017), in contrast have a cheeky, lightheartedness. Cast using a lost wax technique the figures are lighter and their spindly forms are in closer proximity, more engaged with each other – there is even the suggestion of a smile. A sense of angst however remains and the exchanges between the pairs offer further views on their sexual relationship. This is made to be amusing: in ‘A Lovely Pair (Standing)’, Noble is shown with an erect penis chasing an ambivalent looking Webster whose lower back turns away from him. ‘The Simple Ones (Squatting)’ is a inverse composition: Webster splays her legs, shows her perfectly pert breasts and invitingly cocks her head towards Noble whose penis points away in the opposite direction.
These intimate snapshots owe much to the artists’ new use of bronze. The material and its scale impresses the duo’s personae upon the viewer and are characteristic of what has been described as their ‘kitchen sink’ reality – the work is frank and brash. The emotional potency of this show, however, should not be overlooked, for within this unapologetic expression there appears to be something of an elegy.