The title of the inaugural exhibition at Turf Projects – ‘Tru Luv’ – is suggestive of a certain naivety. Intended to challenge the value of love in contemporary art and to discuss the ethical questions raised by displaying the intimate, the teen-text reference of the exhibition’s title puts forward an ostensible sentimentality that is quickly undermined by the works on display.
‘Tru Luv’ draws attention to the linguistic mechanisms, signs, and signifiers of love as they are played out through the structures of contemporary culture. The simple gesture towards the idiosyncrasy of the text message also references the mobile phone as a prostheses of communication; one of the many platforms, modes and devices through which intimacy is channelled, distorted and re-formed. It is unfortunate that the exhibition does not extend this relationship between desire, affection, and their digital iterations, but instead stays focused on a more universal understanding of love and its emotive effects.
Works in the exhibition by John Messenbird and Josh Whitaker ironically address contemporary modes of image-making. The former’s ‘Singing for Leona’ (2006-2015) is a vitrine display of various fan sketches of X-Factor popstar, Leona Lewis; the obsessive act of rendering and re-rendering of the same image creates an uneasy assemblage of contemporary relics in a conflation of celebrity and religious aura. Whitaker subverts image-making of another kind through two framed photos with coloured glass. In one work, two disposable cameras are tied together with string whilst the image is overlaid by a romantic pink hue. The impasse of communication between the two cameras locked facing each other and the saturated surface repel the spectator; the image of romance is revealed as just that: a constructed representation.
The blurring of illusion and reality is a continuing theme throughout the exhibition, in particular the relation of this binary to the cinematic. Isabelle Southwood’s set of panel paintings depicting stock blue skies and deserted ground intermixes with Jack Strange’s fleeting music sample to create an awkward albeit humorous marriage of sound and image. Both of these works are united by their sense of absence. Southwood’s paintings recall the artificiality of Hollywood film sets, as their blank, actor-less middle grounds suggest an elision of narrative, whilst Strange’s sound piece promises sensuous musical gratification but quickly denies its listener more than a few seconds. The meta-narratives of love, desire and romance are playfully cut short.
Works by Lily Hawkes, Holly Hendry and Sophie Littman also intimate a sense of loss and emptiness: a product of and counter to the contemporary idealisation of love and its endless proliferation. Desire, mistrust, loneliness and the wish for self-improvement abound in these works. Hawkes’ large sculpture in the second gallery comprising mermaid-like, candy pink offcuts draped and studded on a cold, black frame is like a departed stage set: a collection of accessories and props that are at once intensely alluring and yet also functionless. Similarly, Hendry’s installation ‘Futomaki – a thick roll containing various things’ (2015) is a messy conglomeration of latex tubing, rawhide dog chews, and Slimfast powder that is strikingly human in its fleshy clumsiness.
In the final room there is a short film by Sophie Littman: a melancholic portrait of a man suspended in the in-between; a stark counter to the playfulness that has just been experienced. The pathos of Littman’s film reinstates the overarching state of absence that is inherent to expressions of intimacy, expressions which are often left unanswered. Alain de Botton states in ‘On Love’ (2006) that ‘we do not really exist until there is someone there to see us existing, we cannot properly speak until there is someone who can understand what we are saying in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved’. Certainly ‘Tru Luv’ addresses this longing to be understood and for our displays of selfhood to be reciprocated. Clearly it is not just a question of the value of love in contemporary art, but what is even more at stake here is the value of love in the contemporary.