Picnic Picnic is an international residency and exhibitions programme taking place in a terrace house in Sheffield’s S2. Established by David McLeavy and Pippa Cook, the project invites both international and British artists to explore their practice within the confines of the domestic setting, blurring the line between the studio and exhibition environment.
The duo’s first show, by German artist Benjamin Hirte, was slick and seamless. The viewer felt a sense that both the artist and the curators had brooded over the works, allowing them to command the space in order to devoid the house of its domesticity. The second, a group show entitled ‘Tuff Crowd’, functions contrastingly, bringing the domestic setting to the forefront of the exhibition by asking artists to forge works that engage with the temperamental structure of the gallery.
Curated by McLeavy, Tuff Crowd is a group exhibition of new work by Monty, Harry Meadley and Joe Fletcher Orr. Taking its inspiration from the punch-lines and pitfalls of creating entertaining and amusing work, McLeavy has invited artists whose practice absorbs and highlights the humour in the act of being an artist, asking the audience to broaden their understanding of what conceptual art can be.
The exhibition is as a series of conversation starters, allowing its audience to engage with the work, their surroundings and more prominently, each other. On entering the house, the viewer is confronted with Monty’s work, a scrabble board that they are told contains the highest scoring game recorded between a carpenter and a deli counter worker in a basement in Pennsylvania. Instantly the viewer is filled with a sense of homeliness, as the prominence of the positioning of the game in the middle of the room suggests to the viewer that the artworks and artists are playfully competing against one another, akin to a form of sibling rivalry. For his two pieces ‘I think I might be…’ and ‘…a benevolent sexist’ Meadly has glued the doors to the walls of the exhibition, an action that literally opens the door to dialogues regarding inherent chivalry. On the adjacent wall, Monty has pushed a found and unusable screw into the wall at the height of his belly button. It almost comes up to my shoulder. These works feel like practical jokes, small hints of deception that add an underlying tension to the exhibition as the viewer wonders if they are sharing the joke, or if the joke is on them.
Amongst the instantaneous slapstick humour of Monty’s interventions (using his teeth to bite into the structure of the house, playing a scratched CD of pop songs intermittently), there are works by Meadley and Orr that are less sensationalist and verge on self-parody. Meadley’s work ‘Patriot’ is a sculpture consisting of lightweight domestic objects arranged symmetrically on an ostentatiously large plinth placed in the middle of the room. It’s an impenetrable work whose title hints at an inside joke that Meadley wants it to be inaccessible to the viewer. Contrastingly, Joe Fletcher Orr’s work ‘The Game pt 3’ seems to mock the self-importance of the artist, the illusive artists signature adding to the weight and value of the already dense balls.
However, there are also bittersweet works such as Orr’s found neon sign, a blazing empty declaration of love that both saddens and amuses us; Meadley’s beautiful multi layered mind palace, based on a memory exercise twinned housed within a fictional Stedelijk Museum.
‘Tuff Crowd’ is such a successful exhibition due to its inherent confidence in its delivery. In negating the tempting conclusion of a punchline, Monty, Meadley and Orr allow their audience to deduce their own meaning, which makes for an engaging and challenging viewing experience.